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TO DEC. 28
From abstract sculpture to traditional statuary, ceramics to cartoons, murals to silkscreens, virtually all media have at least glanced at the Vietnam War. But it remains primarily the province of photography, brought home on the TV screen and in the pages of the newsweeklies. The strength of photography—its reproducibility—is, however, also its bane. How many of us really see the iconic images anymore—the summary execution, the fleeing helicopter, the napalmed girl? Though the majority of the pictures in “Vietnam Now & Then” are of the war, none, not even the Pulitzer Prize-winner, are overly familiar. There’s a shot of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc torching himself, but not the one so ubiquitous you can get it on a Winamp skin. War nevertheless makes evergreens of certain poses. In a Vietnamese counterpart to the infamous picture from Kent State, a woman bends over a corpse, shrieking her grief. And in a durable Pieta riff, a man carries a dead teenage boy out of a bomb crater. The pictures that hit hardest embrace the casual surrealism of wartime: a road filled with boots jettisoned by men horrified at the prospect of being identified as soldiers, a mangrove-swamp operating-theater scene (pictured) whose accidental composition rivals that of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. Splitting the ranks of decades-old shots are photos of what might as well be another country. But whether pictured as an increasingly capitalist up-and-comer ready for its close-up or a pictorialist paradise time forgot, the new Vietnam—the one that actually exists—never seems as real as the old one, which, right now especially, is never far from our thoughts. The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and by appointment, to Saturday, Dec. 28, at Hemphill Fine Arts, 1027 33rd St. NW. Free. (202) 342-5610. (Glenn Dixon)