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Washington Art Matters: Katzen

Kitty Klaidman

Washington, DC, the Capitol of the United States, and by some accounts the world, is host to a show entitled Washington Art Matters, running from June 15- August 11, 2013 at The Katzen. In a city filled with museums of national and international stature with the attendant imprimatur and support of government budgets one might ask why this is such an important event.

The simple fact is that Washington art has been flying under the radar for a long time. Jack Rasmussen, the director, has been a champion of Washington artists in his role as a curator and administrator and has expressed the importance of an engaged, participatory, living community of artists who interact with the greater world around them. "Museums were not showing Washington Art except on very rare occasions" he said in a recent interview with American magazine. Washington Art Matters: 1940s-1980s, offers a valuable historic perspective based on a book entitled Washington Art Matters: Art Life in the Capital 1940-1990. Published by the Washington Artists Museum and co-authored by Jean Lawlor Cohen, Benjamin Forgey, Sidney Lawrence and Elizabeth Tebow. The authors’ point of view serves as a map for a journey through several decades of Washington art and contains a compendium of names of artists not on exhibit, but no less part of the journey.

The 40s -80s are arranged in historic modules on the top floor of the museum. In the "stew" of traditional and avant-garde trends of the 40’s and 50’s one encounters a modest snap shot of what artists were doing everywhere in the art world as they tried to continue existing traditions while pushing the envelope in new directions. The dramatic and seismic schism with the past is immediately visible as one enters the 60’s. Pure line, color texture, space, stained, ungessoed canvas, a conversation with the timeless and transcendent. The Color School contains within it a language that hints at a yearning for the eternal and for an orderly, structured, Apollonian universe.

Washington art did not begin and end with the Color School as we soon discover, crossing an architectural bridge of sorts, guarded by a fantastic angelic presence. The sculpture appears as a signpost along the way suggesting that as we enter the 80s and 90s we have embraced the diversity and complexity of an evolution toward what is now Washington art. Paintings, works on paper, sculpture, photography, and later installations and video art, produced by a living community of artists in this time and place.

On the second floor of the Katzen as one descends from the historic overview of Washington art, an exhibition of paintings from the San Francisco Bay area by Chester Arnold entitled Accumulations and Dispersals occupies the entire floor. It both celebrates the history of art as it mourns the dispersal of the ephemeral. In the paintings are deeply existential questions and conundrums about the value of art itself and the constant destruction and rebirth of life itself.

Finally, as one descends to the main floor the exhibition splits into four separate exhibitions by contemporary Washington artists Tim Tate, Raya Bodnarchuk, Nan Montgomery (to be reviewed later) and Kitty Klaidman. These four artists offer the viewer a chance to enjoy four distinct personal explorations in the areas of conceptual video installation, sculpture and painting.

The show in its entirety is a validation of the credo "Washington Art Matters". It matters because it is part of our time and place. Washington Art Matters because its craft is practiced by artists we encounter in this time and place. They tell us something about ourselves and the world we share. They are our fellow travelers.

Alla Rogers writer for