The art of “Fragmentation” sponsored by the National Museum of Women in the Women (closed due to renovation work) consists of prints and collages. Some of the 21 artists use the images and printmaking techniques found to collect repetitive or related images into larger works.
Thus, Christiane Baumgartner’s minimalist yet striking “Stairs to Heaven” fills a large wall with five woodblock prints modeled on static video photographs, but the landscape. Suggests. They are staggered so that what looks like the horizon is aligned across them all. Similarly, inspired by the airport’s sophisticated design, Sarah Morris’s “Dulles” is a set of nine framed prints with clean, brightly colored blocks flowing into each other.
Jennifer Bartlett is also playing in the form of architecture, each with a colorful grid screen print that incorporates the basic shapes of the house. Although not rectangular, it is still reminiscent of the building’s multi-level collage of Nikola Lopez’s swirling architectural and industrial details.
Another large group of theme variations is a series of images using a wide range of printmaking techniques by Ellen Gallagher, who screens source material from magazine advertisements published for black consumers in the mid-20th century. Artists change the marketing of hair and cosmetics (including whitening potions) and gambling scams by adding forms of text, glitter, gold leaf and plasticin. Nearby is another commentary on ethnic minority culture and partial assimilation. The lithograph by Wendy Red Star incorporates photographs of cars decorated for the Crow Fair, an annual gathering for the Great Plains tribe, and the boundaries of traditional Indian decorative motifs.
Among the artists focused on the body are two of the show’s most famous artists: Louise Bourgeois and Judy Chicago, who died in 2010, and Wange Kimtu. The iconic renderings of Chicago’s female genitals are sleek and beautifully designed, suggesting that there is less human flesh than the machine-made plastic abstractions of her early careers. However, Mutu evokes physical weakness by overlaying a print of her face on a medical illustration of a 19th-century uterine tumor.
Another type of vulnerability is the subject of “Talassa,” a depiction of the ancient Greek sea spirits created in response to a deepwater horizon oil spill by Caledonia curry working under the name Soon. Surrounded by aquatic life, this silkscreen print was mounted on a tattered white wooden door that made it feel damaged and vulnerable. However, this work, like many of the “Positive Fragmentation” works, shows a bold ambition to push paper works to unprecedented size, shape and format.
The second show, Fields and Formations: A Survey of Mid-Atlantic Abstractions, is a version of what was previously performed at Wilmington’s art space, Delaware Contemporary. Introducing the work of 12 women and non-binary artists from the Mid-Atlantic region. Some of them are familiar to regular DC Gallery visitors.
These include the two who have made the most physically overwhelming contributions. Jae Ko, a sculptor in the Washington area, and Linling Lu, a Baltimore who frequently appears in Hemphill Artworks in DC. Ko’s “flow” is a huge wavy shape made by stacking and rolling white paper. It’s quietly, but horribly, at the top, opposite Lu’s “Eye of Wisdom,” with 10 large circular color field paintings lined up around an even larger one. Fully composed of brightly colored concentric circles, Lu’s perfectly handcrafted photos look like a game lover but a cerebrum.
Fields and Formations is located on the 3rd floor of the museum, with a high-ceiling gallery (hosting Ko and Lu’s work) and a low-ceiling gallery. Most of the other DC artists, including those known to work great, are in the latter. The room has moderately scaled artwork by Carole Brown Goldberg. It contains two brilliant paintings with borders marked by a field of silver dots. Lynn Myers shows intricately vibrating pictures on graph paper and book pages, from which everything is cut out except for a few words. A little bigger are two handsome abstractions by painter Maggie Michael, especially one in watery blue, black and earth tones.
The Philadelphia artist is Natessa Amin, who has taken advantage of diverse decorative traditions such as India, Africa and Pennsylvania Dutch. Jesse Harrod, a fiber artist whose 3D walls are graduated in color and undulating shape. Arden Bendler Browning, his energetic paintings are free-form but with great care. Alexis Granwell emphasizes the white papier-mâché sculpture with a touch of color.
The rest of Baltimore’s delegation is made up of Joe Smile, whose patterned abstraction incorporates African textiles. Alex Epstein creates sculptures from materials such as cut-up yoga mats. And Malen Hasinger is very tidy, in contrast to Lou’s painting style, where the circular nest of twisted newspaper debris is juxtaposed on the cover of the show’s catalog. Between the Hassinger crowd and Lou’s pristine orbit, there is an entire realm of modern abstraction.
Positive Fragmentation: From the Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation
Fields and Formations: Mid-Atlantic Abstraction Survey
Both are on display at the Katzen Arts Center, the American University Museum, northwest of 4400 Massachusetts Avenue. 202-885-1300. american.edu/cas/museum.