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TO OCT. 1
Roy Lichtenstein. There, I got him out of the way. It is absolutely forbidden to discuss comic-book panels hanging on art gallery walls without invoking Lichtenstein, the popularizer, though not originator, of that particular Pop Art style. And, there are, indeed, some echoes of Lichtenstein in the paintings in Niagara’s new show “The Bad & the Beautiful”—I doubt the name Brad appears in her word balloons by coincidence. Nary a Ben-day dot in sight, though; the Detroit painter and chanteuse (now in Dark Carnival, a collaboration with ex-Stooge Ron Asheton, her partner in the ’70s punk band Destroy All Monsters) prefers acrylic color fields to exaggerate her flat surfaces. Niagara has gone back to the trashy source for her inspiration, real comics. Her style is reminiscent of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, ’40s-era Batman comics, and Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. But Niagara would probably depict not Nick, but his girlfriend, Val Allegro de Fontaine, or some other female spy of the ’60s—say, Modesty Blaise, Cathy Gale, or Pussy Galore. A Niagara woman is empowered, armed, and dangerous; she flaunts her sexuality, wielding it as yet another weapon. A machine-gun-spraying heroine sneers, “THAT’S FOR YOUR BAD MANNERS” (pictured). A topless Asian babe points a semiautomatic while declaring, “GEISHA THIS.” Other canvases feature film noir icons Bette Davis and Veronica Lake. Like the neo-noir movie The Last Seduction, Niagara’s art turns genre conventions upside-down, rendering the formerly doomed femme fatale triumphant. On view from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, to Friday, Oct. 1, at Conner Contemporary Art, 1730 Connecticut Ave. NW, Second Floor. Free. (202) 588-8750. (Mark W. Sullivan)