Feature

Ellen Harvey: The Alien’s Guide to the Ruins of Washington, D.C.

What sense would extraterrestrial travelers make of a ruined and desolate Washington, D.C.?

Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.Through Oct. 6

Even in the dystopian future conjured by Ellen Harvey’s “quirky, humorous show,” Washington, D.C., is overflowing with tourists, said Sophie Gilbert in Washingtonian.com. Visiting the area after a mysterious plague has wiped out all of mankind, a group of aliens attempts to make sense of the city’s grand, crumbling neoclassical buildings, much as an archaeologist would study newly discovered artifacts. The extraterrestrials get a lot wrong: Harvey’s installation includes printed text that explains their theory of how a race of “pillar-builders” swam up the Potomac to spawn before building the pillared structures still found across Capitol Hill, which in turn inspired replicas in Greece and Rome. Yet Harvey isn’t just displaying a flair for the ridiculous. Like the aliens, she’s “clearly baffled, in a good-natured way, by the cross-cultural dominance of a single architectural form,” and her work inspires the viewer to think about what our architecture might say about us after we’re gone.

The aliens treat these landmarks much like we do, said Kristen Page-Kirby in the Washington, D.C., Express. Harvey’s multipart exhibit includes a kiosk where extraterrestrial travelers can get paintings of the ruins they just saw, and a 20-foot-tall luxury-model spaceship that the aliens modeled after a Corinthian column. Harvey even littered Washington’s hotels and tourist spots with the space creatures’ “colossally botched” map of the area. Yet her world isn’t as fully fleshed out as it could have been, said Kriston Capps in the Washington City Paper. A viewer might be forgiven for losing the plot of this installation’s complicated, digressive backstory. Harvey’s an accomplished, thought-provoking artist, but “The Alien’s Guide” is “only an exercise—one that left me wanting more.”

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