Old Town Crier

Art Legends and Newcomers

By F. Lennox Campello

Hang Purge by Laura Beth Konopinski

Sometimes an exhibition is so cool and important, and captures a slice of art that no one else thought of capturing before, that one must just cut and paste what the creator describes… word for word.

Here we go, with some of my words sprinkled into the storyline.

For many artists, making the transition from gallery to public art is about growing awareness of their work, and larger paychecks. For D.C. arts legends Rockne Krebs and my good friend Sam Gilliam, public artworks were not only an important component of how they made a living, but a compelling motivator in their artistic development.

Rockne Krebs (1938-2011) was a sculpture wunderkind, whose early success was compounded by timely experiments with technology.  Krebs’ career started with Plexiglas and aluminum sculptures that exploded the viewer’s sense of their own location, and in 1968 Paul Richard wrote in the Washington Post that Krebs early work, “exhibits an intensity and restraint that is rare indeed.” In 1973 Krebs began to create “Sculpture without object” – primarily works made with lasers. His first experiments (in DC) turned into city wide installations across the country, and globe.

This new exhibition features public artworks built and unbuilt; proposals never funded, and proposals and documentation of works that came into being.

American legend Sam Gilliam (1933 – ) is a planetary artistic legend who stretched the definition of painting via his color-washed canvases removed from the stretcher. In 1971, Paul Richard in the Washington Post wrote that Gilliam’s swooping canvases, hung from walls and ceilings, “have the look of revolution, old conventions overturned, the past abandoned.” Gilliam’s early success opened the door to public art commissions, and a DC gallerist then connected Gilliam with architect Steven Spurlock to help the artist with his first proposal preparation. Over the next twenty years, as he independently rose to leadership as an architect, Spurlock continued to assist Gilliam, and this exhibition includes the architect’s never-before-displayed drawings, plans, and photographs.

Curator Mollie Berger writes, “The objective is to represent the planning and design of public art projects, both built and unbuilt, by two artists who used vastly different materials, but seem to be concerned with similar elements of space, color and presence… Gilliam’s brightly colored, interlocking shapes offer a counterpoint to the gray steel and stone that surround them.  Krebs’s penetrating light displays surpass the physical space itself and reach for the sun and stars that inspired the artist.”

By the way, this project is funded through a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts to project director Robert Bettmann, and produced through partnerships with the non-profits Day Eight and The Washington Studio School.  The mission of Day Eight is to empower individuals and communities to participate in the arts through the production, publication, and promotion of creative projects. For more information, visit dayeight.org.

Another thematic exhibition that you cannot miss this summer is the one at the Greater Reston Arts Center at the Reston Town Center, and curated by Erica Harrison and focused on artists who explore alternate realities and invent new history for objects.

The artists in this exhibition “share an interest in the role of science fiction, scientific fact, and fantasy in the changing nature of our relationship to our fears, ideals, and questions about being human. Recognizing that our retelling of the past changes constantly and opening ourselves to new possibilities can help to identify the biases of our accepted histories. The artists in this exhibition create their own worlds, including cultural references and artifacts, to question the assumptions of history-making and truth-telling.”

The exhibition is titled Building Worlds, and features the work of Michael Booker, Rachel Guardiola, Timothy Harper, Laura Beth Konopinski, and Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann. And my early peek at some of the images in this exhibition already tells me that this is going to be a terrific show.