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21.11.07

CONFRONTation Continues @ Katzen Center

Norman Irving, Crucifixion @ The KatzenI had meant to return to posting about my visit to the Katzen, but travel and spotty Wi-fi - in California no less - made that impossible, so here goes. In addition to the fabulous Botero exhibit the remaining two floors are no less remarkable. As you descend the stairs form the 3rd-floor Botero exhibit you are expecting a little reprieve, maybe a more positive spin to our times, but Irving Norman’s fantastical visions of the dark side of life won’t allow that. His large-scale canvases, which I first saw at the American Visionary Museum, are crammed with clone-like figures involved in any number of mechanical acts.

As a veteran returning from the Spanish Civil War in 1938 he started drawing and eventually painting through his horrific experiences, moving on to the general foibles and inequities of modern life. These big, extremely intense canvases, 25 in all, though very personal are also a mix of German expressionist and visionary comic book art, with a nod to the Mexican muralists. The latter is especially true of the 25’ tall Crucifixion: it’s three panels held together by door hinges, a fabulous piece.

Norman’s art is by no means easy: he slams you at each turn, but you’ll be taken by the wonder of it all and pleased knowing that there was, and thankfully still is, art being created with complete disregard for market values or auction results. Imagine making art about greed, depravity, and fear of the military industrial complex in our time: what could possibly inspire that? Dark Metropolis: Irving Norman’s Social Surrealism, part of the Katzen's Art of CONFRONTation trio of exhibits is all about the art and its message.

As I made my way to the first floor I could hear laughter coming from the staff offices. I knew everything was going to be OK: how horrific could Claiming Space: Some American Originators be?

Not at all, it’s actually a great flash back to much of the art being made by women when I was in art school (whooh, getting old). Claiming space is just what they were doing, proudly incorporating the materials and processes associated with women’s work and going head-on with the work being produced by men. The scales are still not even in the art world, but many of the materials and subject matters have been embraced.

Cynthia Mailman's large painting God (shown here) sums up the show best: hear her roar. We're all familiar with Faith Ringgold's book illustrations, but I was not aware, as I should have been, of her earlier work. The images in this show are big difiant statements and quite good, as with the painting The Flag is Bleeding.

Jane Kaufman's, Pearl Screen is an eye catcher, exploring the seductive and protective qualities of a woman's string of pearls. The one piece that may revive the chills of the previous exhibits is Judith Berstein's Five Panel Vertical, a penetrating series, pun intended, of five large paper scrolls, each with beautifully drawn and very intimidating phallic screws, ouch.

The three current exhibits will add up to an amazing 75 shows that the Katzen has produced in its first two and a half years of opperation! Under the direction of Jack Rasmussen, one of the smartest and nicest guys in art land, and his staff the Katzen Center is a prominent part of the Mid-Atlantic art scene. Congratulations, Jack -- more, more!

The Art of CONFRONTation runs through January 27 at the Katzen Arts Center, on the campus of American University.

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