DC ART SCENE JEWELS
By F. Lennox Campello
Perhaps the crown jewel of the Greater Washington DC visual arts scene, and easily one of the top museum art spaces in the nation, is the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center – the subject of this column last month. Under the brilliant leadership of Jack Rasmussen, who will forget more about regional DC area artists than all other DC art museum curators put together will ever learn, the museum has forged a singularly unique presence in a capital city full of museums and art centers.
Rasmussen has crafted an intelligent array of national, international and regional art exhibits that manage to cover such a wide area that AU’s Museum is hard to paint into a corner. This is not easy to do, and thus why most museum curators avoid it like the plague, and instead flood the DC art scene with either “hand me downs” exhibitions curated by other museums (like the Morris Louis exhibition a few years ago, which should have been a DC-museum based initiative), or “safe” exhibitions of second tier blue chip artists.
I headed to the Katzen recently to look at the exhibitions there and to meet Ms. Carolyn Alper, an AU alumna who has established the Alper Initiative for Washington Art. As a reminder, the Alper Initiative will support the creation of a space on the museum’s first floor for display of work by DC artists and for a digital archive of Washington art. The initiative will sponsor lectures, films, and other events as well.
However, once I got to the museum, I got distracted.
Another jewel of the area’s visual arts tapestry is Transformer, a nonprofit art space located on P Street, NW, across from the MLK Library. For the past 12 years Transformer has been conducting a fund raising art auction, and when I arrived, a small army of professional art hangers, decked out in black T-shirts and black jeans was in the process of installing the donated artwork on the hall walls of the center, as it was the day before the auction.
The temptation was too much! Here was a chance to view and write about a show without any labels, any artists’ names, any information; the reactions would be purely triggered by the artwork.
This is somewhat futile, as I’ve been writing about area artists for over two decades now. This means that I can recognize many of them via their artwork.
The gorgeous drawing by Ben Tolman is one of the first things that you saw when you started looking at the walls, and Tolman’s magic with the black line steals this show almost right away. His obsessive attention to the minutest of details fools the eye in the sense that Tolman actually tricks your perception of what is reality by atomizing the subject into his tiny handwork to deliver exceptionally and super busy realistic drawings. Five gets you ten that his work was one of the ones at the top of the bid scale the next night.
Any donated art auction is a bit like a mini Artomatic: You usually see work by the area’s blue chip artists, lots of work by emerging artists who are relatively unknown, and a lot of really bad, amateurish work (in this case maybe by “well known” artists? Oh Dear!).
But it is all original artwork, and the worst original work of art is always better than any reproduction.
The Transformer auction was no exception.
The artists whose work I recognized (unless someone is channeling them) were Margaret Boozer (again: I think it was her work, unless someone is channeling her) as there was one of those gorgeously black and organic wall tar pieces that Boozer debuted at the old Strand on Volta Gallery in Georgetown in 2004, a super busy print, elegant as always, by Linn Myers, the usual sexy boots by Carolina Mayorga, a haunting photo by Holly Bass (one of the few good photographs in a sea of mediocre photos), a superbly elegant piece by Rania Hassan continuing her reinvention of what painting + sculpture + knitting is… Hassan has invented a whole new art genre all by herself!
I recognized Matt Sesow’s frenetic work, a cool piece by Anne Marchand, Jessica van Brakle, a superbly minimalist and elegant piece by Irene Clouthier (whose work has matured into one of the region’s coolest work), and someone possibly channeling Dean Kessman (I wasn’t sure if it was DK).
Also noticeable was work by Adrienne Gaither (whom I mentored a while back), and a cute piece by Akemi Maegawa’s of her very famous pet Chikkun,
I suspected possible work by Dan Steinhilber (there was a couch on the wall)… or was it Cory Oberndorfer (it looked like a giant ice cream sandwich).
When I first got there none of the videos were running, but by the time I finished walking through the exhibit for the third time, a very circa 2002 wall of TVs was playing a series of multiple videos like you used to see at the entrance of the major art fairs a few years ago.
This was a really good exercise to prove that art is in the eyes of the beholder. At the risk of possibly insulting some well-known artists, the images for this piece are of those pieces that would even be considered at the low end of the scale, even by Artomatic free-for-all wonderful policy. Whoever was the member of the Artist Nominating Committee who recommended these guys/gals… ahhh…
By the way, Artomatic (the planet’s largest group art show) is on through December 12 – do not miss it! Details at www.artomatic.org