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Somewhere above the gallery chat, the cheddar, and the Gallo, there’s a distinct buzz. Three black-clad men in sharp eyeglasses sense the presence of bees—their eyes scan the ceiling and walls of the 16-foot-square room—but they can’t find them. Whiffs of beeswax ooze through the air—-the cloying scent envelops the men. Quizzically, one of them asks, “Where’s that drone coming from?”

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It’s a tape. The sound is coming from speakers embedded behind the Sheetrock panels surrounding them on four sides, part of an installation, called Tranquil Crisis, by D.C. artist Robin Rose that opened last week at WPACorcoran’s downtown projectspace. The installation marks the 52-year-old artist’s departure from the studio canvases he’s painted for over 25 years.

The bee soundtrack loops every three-and-a-half minutes, a figure Rose proudly likens to the length of the average pop song. It’s also, he calculates, the extent of the human attention span these days.

In recent weeks, Rose has spent days hunched over the wall panels, painting delicate strips of beeswax along their length. In his Southern lilt, Rose explains that beehives symbolize organic communities and the tensions that arise within: “‘Tranquil crisis’ is an oxymoron,” he says. “It’s a state of equilibrium and tension where things don’t give way.” At the center of the room, a 30-gallon hexagonal aquarium brims with equal parts oil and water. The visitors stare curiously, waiting for one element to surrender to the other.

Around the base of the room lie alternating mounds of coal and rice, commodities whose value fluctuates according to consumer confidence. Rose says it’s a metaphor for how society values art. “In New York, art addresses issues of finance, entertainment, and advertising,” Rose argues. “But District art is different because our city trades on information. Just look at all the information organizations we have here—the CIA, IMF, think tanks, NIH.”

Sure, just look….Rose, it happens, has another motive: He wants to get his work installed in the lobbies of government agencies, so he’s invited officials from the departments of Energy and Commerce to come and see his latest piece. He’s hoping the suits will catch a buzz sniffing the fragrant beeswax, though his art is rather strange by government standards.—Jessica Dawson

Tranquil Crisis is on view at WPACorcoran projectspace, 625 E St. NW, to Oct. 3.