We’ve been sitting on an interesting D.C. art scene story, waiting for the situation to develop enough that the telling of it won’t ruin it. The situation is still in a state of flux, and still a few weeks shy of full disclosure, but solidifies by the day. We can tell you some of it now.
Speculation at the Daily Campello Art News (www.dcartnews.blogspot.com) has been that someone was looking to sign a short term lease for the much lauded, but still vacant old Numark Gallery space downtown. The educated conclusion being drawn was that a temporary gallery might be going into that space. We can confirm the rumors as being true, as far as they go. The lease was, in fact, signed on Tuesday of this week, so now it’s full speed ahead.
In a matter of weeks there will be a curated temporary exhibition of contemporary artists from New York, Los Angeles and D.C. And the gallery will feature work in a variety of mediums.
As regular readers know, we’ve been shouting for this from the highest hill tops for quite a while now. A select few around town also know we’ve been pushing heavily for this sort of thing behind the scenes as well. Despite a palatable hunger for more than an endless stream of business as usual, none of it has found much traction, until now.
It’s a simple fact of life. If the D.C. art scene ever hopes to be seen as anything but a regional afterthought, it can’t continue to operate in a regional bubble. D.C. area artists have to engage the art world at large. They’ve got to be seen playing on the same field, and holding their own with the folks from NYC, LA, etc. We need this, and we’re ready for it. As the saying goes: Run with the big dogs, or stay on the porch.
Competition is good for you. It makes you better. A steady diet of this sort of thing would do us all a world of good.
Mind the Walls
Maggie Michael “Tattoos of Ships,” at George Mason University’s Fine Art Gallery, on the second floor of the School of Art Building (4400 University Drive, Fairfax). The exhibit runs through this Saturday, Feb. 13. The gallery is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday. For more details, call 703-993-8950, or visit www.gmu.edu/gallery.
The closing reception for this show will be on Saturday, Feb. 13, from noon – 6 p.m.
GMU has grown to just under a 100 buildings now. Quite a change from is original four building quadrant. When you’re there, get a campus map: The School of Art Building is #3 on the map. It’s a yellow brick building with aluminum details.
Unlike many campus art galleries, this one is a cavernous gallery space truly of museum proportions. It’s a major undertaking to fill such a space. Maggie Michael, with the help of campus volunteers, got the job done in two weeks. Unlike a traditional show, where the art works are hauled in and hung, a great deal of this work is done directly on the wall surfaces themselves. And it must be said, will be destroyed (i.e., painted over) when the show run is over. It literally is art for art’s sake. As wholly removed from the world of commerce as anything in the art world ever is these days.
Taking the show title from a CocoRosie tune, Michael wondered what it would be like to have a tattoo of ships, dream of travel and find safe passage home.
As befits that inspirational thread, Tattoos of Ships is a vector-filled piece. Tape lines work their way throughout the gallery walls. The tape, as well as other objects, are also used as masking for spray painted elements, leaving behind their negative space shadow. A sort of visual device akin to memory. In a way, it’s quite similar to how we experience things on a trip. We typically get one short glimpse of the people and places around us. From that point forward, they mainly exist as foggy impressions on our memory bank.
This is the fourth, and biggest installation piece for Michael. She’s filled this one with a riot of mixed media. Jumping from painting, to photography, to lighting effects, and sculptural elements, the mind reels and tries to grasp the meaning of it all.
That this piece has its roots in abstract traditions is fairly obvious. At times, Michael makes near-literal references to El Lissitzky and Constructivist use of space, and to line vectors in general. It doesn’t take much exposure to the work to get a sense that it also has deeper metaphoric value as well.
There are some fairly esoteric subtle references here. If you miss them, or they fall outside of your knowledge base, you can wind up lost at sea pretty quickly. But even at that, all is not lost. You can fall back to the visual detailing, of which there is an abundance.
One of my favorite visual passages is a player piano instruction roll hung vertically. On the wall beside this we find a spray paint shadow of another roll. This shadow image seems especially inspired as the die cut instructions for the player piano read as windows in its sister shadow version, with the whole shadow image reading as a sky scraper. Or as Michael intends, a monument such as the one we’ve built honoring Washington.
The gallery window in the corner of the room is also referred to in the objects near it, nut you’ll have to be fairly fast on your feet to grasp the full meaning of it.
Tangential tension points, and shadow lighting effects are also not to be missed here. For all it’s apparent chaos, Tattoos of Ships is a carefully crafted, and executed piece.
The Northern Virginia Art Beat is compiled by Kevin Mellema. To e-mail submissions, e-mail them to [email protected]m