AU’s Katzen Art Museum recently opened eight exhibitions that showcase different corners of the visual art world.
The first four, “Gifts from the Katherine Dreier Estate;” “William H. Calfee and the Washington Modernists;” “Carlos Saura: Flamenco” and “Mark Cameron Boyd: Logocentric Playground,” opened on Nov. 14 and share space on the first floor of the museum.
Since opening on Nov. 21, the second and third floors have featured “High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975;” “Twenty-First Century Ibero-American Art;” “Talia Greene: Entropy Filigree” and “Guy Dill: A Decade.”
In total, half of the museum is devoted to installations of particular artists and the other half is comprised of exhibits with a common theme. This combination creates an unusual challenge well suited to the variety of rooms and surfaces the museum has to offer.
The installations from the featured artists are all extremely different. Mark Cameron Boyd’s three chalkboards greet visitors outside the doors to the museum. Boyd, a local artist, invites passersby to write with the chalk. Every two weeks, Boyd readjusts his “Logocentric Playground,” furthering the interaction between artist and audience.
Just inside the museum are photographs of Carlos Saura. A famous Spanish flamenco director, Saura was able to capture the intensity of his cast and crew. Saura’s photos have a rare energy in black and white, and thankfully, there are a lot of them to see.
Outside in the sculpture garden and around the building are the large bronze works of Guy Dill. The installation covers Dill’s progress over the last ten years. The pieces vary in size from thirty inches to twelve feet high. When viewed from the window, their movement and smoothness fit in surprisingly well with the natural surroundings.
Upstairs, in one of the more unusual installations, Philadelphia artist Talia Green has wallpapered the space outside the bathrooms with her own digital photo collage of “hair, dried flora, and bug parts.” It’s called “Entrophy Filigree” and it really must be seen to be believed.
The two exhibits downstairs, “Gifts from the Katherine Dreier Estate,” and “William H. Calfee and the Washington Modernists,” work together to tell a story of arts at AU in the middle of the 20th century.
“In the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, AU was Washington’s avant-garde art school,” said Jack Rasmussen, director of the museum.
According to Rasmussen, this was because Katherine Dreier’s estate was here, which gave students the opportunity to learn from real art of the time. Also, important modernist artists of the time were working here as guest professors.
In tribute to AU’s relationship with the Washington Modernists, the exhibits feature works of the professors (including Karl Knaths, Herman Maril and sculptor William Calfee) and many European works that influenced them and their students.
The result is a room where a Paul Klee painting can be right next to a Karl Knaths painting, and influence is clear. Calfee’s fanciful bronze sculptures help fill the large rooms.
The second and third floors are the complete rejection of modernist schools. In “High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975,” there is a room of non-conformist paintings on the third floor. These artists all wanted to push their work to new limits but didn’t want to abandon painting. The results are surprising and interesting.
“Who would’ve thought? Who are these people?” asked Sydney Lawrence, an Arts consultant for AU.
On the second floor is what Rasmussen calls “the party room.” This is a fun corridor to walk through because some of the stuff is really “out there” art but not in a way most people would expect from this time period. Harmony Hammond’s circle carpet, “Floorpiece VI,” is fantastic.
Finally, the last and best exhibit, “Twenty-First Century Ibero-American Art,” is a compilation of contemporary artists from 20 different Spanish-speaking countries.
Federico Muelas of Spain created a project that beeps whenever someone is present in the room, entitled, “What do Apples sound like?” When one of the little metal spheres is touched, a little video of an apple being scanned at a grocery story plays.
Like much of the art here, it seemed futuristic and weird but eccentric and enjoyable nonetheless. Most interesting was “Animal House (Spot the Differences),” which is a very difficult still photography version of the “spot the differences” drawings in the children’s magazine “Highlights.”
These exhibits arm Katzen with a formidable art arsenal, which the museum will be celebrating with events in the coming weeks. Even if the visit is only to write on one of the chalkboards, the museum is a fantastic distraction from the drudgery of end-of-semester work.