Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

Reality Tinkering

As Likely As Not: Sculpture by Alex Bay, and R.L. Croft, at McLean Project for the Arts (1234 Ingleside Ave, McLean).


R.L. Croft’s “Platform, Madrid.”

The exhibit runs through Jan. 9. The gallery is open Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and on Saturday, from 1 – 5 p.m. The gallery will be closed from Christmas Eve, Dec. 24 – New Years Day, Jan. 1. For more information, call 703-790-1953 or visit

Alex Bay, of the Virginia Piedmont region, and R.L. Croft of Manassas are two Virginia sculptors sharing the main gallery space at McLean Project for the Arts.

While Bay shows a clear preference for time worn, and weathered textural materials, Croft prefers to work with smooth and shiny, yet often distressed aluminum. In fact, Croft’s pieces are more textural than one might give them credit for at first blush. Taking disparate bits from junk yard hunting, Croft then assembles them into faux artifacts. Most notably, four of his pieces seem to be either large-scale shrapnel torn and flung off from urban bombing sites, or other stuff hit by flying debris. “Fragment,


Croft’s “Fragment, vendor.”

vendor” looks like part of a hot dog vendor’s cart, “Fragment, rollup” looks like part of a warehouse tambour garage door. “Platform, Madrid” seems the most poignant of all. The piece is Croft’s response to the March 11, 2004 terrorist train bombings in Madrid, Spain. Aside from the ripped away electrical conduit, Croft has a small collection of nail polish bottles in disarray. It’s a clear statement about both the fragility of life, and how catastrophic events reorient our values. Selecting a fashionable nail color seems absurdly trivial in the wake of mass destruction, and the loss of life.

Alex Bay has a similar, yet far less dramatic way of depicting the fragility of life. Bay’s sculptures often rely on old weathered wood, and rusted metal bits to express the passage of time, and ultimately the passage of life.

Bay’s assemblage piece titled “Revels Ended” has story boxes containing fragments relating to stories told about various people late in life, or how they died, or so on. A black man reminisces about segregated baseball in his youth, and how his Negro ball club once played a white team, trouncing them 13 to 3. Another tells of a woman accountant once wanted by the FBI for embezzlement of a lawyer. Yet another tells of a WWII bomber crash, that lead to the discovery of leukemia in one of the survivors, and his death weeks later. In effect, dying of both leukemia and the plane crash. All of these story boxes hung on the wall are wired to a small cart in front of the wall. Bay is telling us that we are all isolated, and yet exist in a communal network.

This notion is writ large in Bay’s major work here. “Night Life” is a mammoth collection of


Bay’s “Night Life.”

cubbyholes, each containing some miniature sculpture, or twine-wound weathered paper. At 22-by-4 feet it’s a bit overwhelming, in a good way. Lateral motion provided by a hand crank at one end sets all the sculptural models in motion. This is Bay at his mesmerizing and highly playful best. Virtually all of the mini-sculptures are worthy of being executed at much larger scale. The awesome genius of Bay’s vision invokes a sense of childhood play in its viewers. It seems to be some dusty 3-D ideation shelf from a tinkerer’s workshop circa 1950. It might be described as tinkering gone wonderfully mad.

Not to imply that Croft’s work lacks a sense of play about it. In fact, “Pilgrim (One step forward, two steps back)” is about as playful as you can get. Here Croft has crafted a three-tiered wooden assemblage for rolling wooden balls and watching them bang around repeatedly, and loudly drop from level to level. It’s a childhood play toy for adults, and the inner child in all of us seems unable to resist dropping a few balls through it.


Bay’s “Revels Ended.”

The Atrium Gallery houses the Work of 2002 MICA grad Melissa Dickenson. These paintings on handmade paper are then mounted on laser cut acrylic panels. They’re cut out in a fashion reminiscent of old silhouette works. The paintings also remind one of allegorical children’s book illustrations of assorted animals, and their anthropomorphic interactions.


Artist Opportunity

Artist Studio Space is available at Art And Frame, 111 Park Ave., Falls Church City. Roughly 200 square feet of space, with 24/7 access for $650 a month. See Tom at Art and Frame, (703) 534-4202.

The Northern Virginia Art Beat is compiled by Kevin Mellema. To e-mail submissions, e-mail them to