Simultaneous exhibits at Hillyer Art Space—-photographs by David Myers and paintings by Elizabeth Holtry—-explore the relationship between animals and humans, for the most part fruitfully. Myers, whose day job is serving as CEO of the American Institutes for Research, a prominent scientific outfit in Washington, traveled to zoos and aquariums to photograph animals in their confines, often “presented to people in ways that were appealing to the audiences, but not necessarily the animals.” That’s actually putting it somewhat generously: Myers’ unflashy color images capture settings that aren’t all that appealing to human visitors, either. Zebras are enclosed by two relentless grids, one of tile and the other of fencing (above); an orangutan rests in an enclosure with a hopelessly inadequate painting of a forest covering the rear wall; a red panda leans plaintively against the glass; a giraffe plods around a depressing enclosure with door handles the animal can’t possibly open. Myers’ photographs aren’t as powerful as the black-and-white images of aquarium dwellers by Henry Horenstein, seen in D.C. in 2003, but they’re thoughtful nonetheless. Holtry, for her part, makes paintings in the style of toile de jouy, an 18th century French fabric decorated with pastoral scenes. Holtry’s twist is to offer scenes that are anything but pastoral, featuring vultures, termites, naked mole rats, and hyenas tearing open carcasses. Combining painstakingly detailed brushstrokes with broad, uniform color fields, Holtry harnesses unusual but bracing combinations of hues, such as Wedgwood blue on peach and red wine on lavender. Holtry’s paintings don’t pack the emotional punch of Myers’ photographs, but they’re brainier and in many ways more inspired.
The exhibitions are on view noon to 5 p.m. Monday and Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday to Feb. 24 at Hillyer Art Space. Free.