Manufacturing unity: Parker�s industrial output

James Parker, "Seagulls in the Living Room."

When putting together exhibitions, artists often struggle with just what to include. Some feel compelled to present every single thing they’ve made, which leads to a mishmash that overwhelms viewers with too much to see. Others get so caught up in presenting a theme that nearly indistinguishable works flow together in an unmemorable yawn. Listen up: there is a difference between “unified” and “uniform.”

Offering a lesson in how to do it right is James Parker’s “What Goes Around, Comes Around,” currently on display at the McGuffey Art Center. The show encompasses mostly abstract painting, sculpture, and mixed-media pieces, but Parker keeps his disparate works in conversation by cleverly cross-referencing materials, forms, and palette.

For example, several of his sculptures incorporate cast concrete, which he also uses to frame paintings. The domes and stacked disks central to Parker’s freestanding and wall sculptures find counterparts in two-dimensional painted circles. Likewise, the rippling effects the artist favors in several paintings find echoes in sculptural textures.

An aesthetic interest in mechanical production runs throughout the show, presented outright in pieces like “The Pearl Factory,” but also suggested via an industrial palette of grays and off-whites as well as shapes presented in assembly-line-like multiples.

In several of Parker’s most interesting pieces, he wittily combines mechanical elements with organic or anatomical forms (perhaps alluding to the human impulse to control, produce, and acquire). In “The Pearl Factory,” a pocked concrete dome, placed against three discs of the same diameter, extends from the wall. Beneath it an outstretched human arm with upturned palm, also cast in concrete, catches a string of pearls issuing from a hole in the middle of the dome. Simultaneously industrial and fecund, the piece is gently humorous.

Nearby, “The Collector,” features an almost mirror image of the pearl-gathering hand. Here, however, it reaches down from within a freestanding white frame toward a dish of small grey and white disc-and-globe “eggs” that appear to have fallen from the grey bottom of a goose neck-like stack of white discs that ascends up and out of the frame.

The only discordant note in Parker’s otherwise well-orchestrated show is “XOXOXOXOXO,” which features a horizontal series of black and white photographs of mimes holding up X’s and O’s, all framed within a network of wire arches. Although the palette and repetition are consonant with the rest of the exhibition, the shift in media and style is jarring.

James Parker’s exhibition, “What Goes Around, Comes Around” is on view through February 1 in the main gallery of the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. SW. 295-7973.