We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Success! You're on the list.


Michael Kenna’s current Ralls Collection exhibition is, superficially, a bit different from his last—2001’s “Night Work.” This time, Kenna photographed in Japan rather than in Europe, and he often worked during the day—which enabled him to capture purer whites than were evident in his last round of moody, grainy images. But though these new photographs’ compositions and mountings are as crisp, orderly, and professional as ever (Pier and Nakashima Islands, Toya Lake, Hokkaido, Japan is pictured), the exhibition seems more a recapitulation of old themes than an advancement of new ones. Yes, the current show tinkers with Japanese aesthetics—placid mountains, still lakes, and foggy, minimalist horizons—but such visual cues influenced his prior work. Kenna’s new portrayals of trees are pretty—rendering them as weightlessly graceful and bonsai-perfect—yet none pack the collective impact of Ten Trees, Peterhof, Russia, a 1999 image included in the show that features 10 perfectly spaced trees hovering above a long, fancy, segmented balustrade. Even a pair of Kenna’s most pleasing Japanese images—slight, snaking fence lines against pure, white snow—replicate visual ideas pioneered decades ago by Harry Callahan. Only one image from “Japan” demonstrates an approach that is adventurous by Kenna standards: Spider and Sacred Text, Gokuraku Temple, Shikoku, Japan, in which the title arachnid hovers in space while out-of-focus Japanese calligraphy lingers, enigmatically, in the background. The show is on view from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, to Sunday, Feb. 1, at the Ralls Collection, 1516 31st St. NW. Free. (202) 342-1754. (Louis Jacobson)