Saturday, November 21, 2015

Transformer Auction Tonight

Perhaps the crown jewel of the Greater Washington DC visual arts scene, and easily one of the top museum art spaces in the nation, is the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center

Under the brilliant leadership of Jack Rasmussen, who will forget more about regional DC area artists than all other DC art museum curators put together will ever learn, the museum has forged a singularly unique presence in a capital city full of museums and art centers.

Rasmussen has crafted an intelligent array of national, international and regional art exhibits that manage to cover such a wide area that AU’s Museum is hard to paint into a corner. This is not easy to do, and thus why most museum curators avoid it like the plague, and instead flood the DC art scene with either “hand me downs” exhibitions curated by other museums (like the Morris Louis exhibition a few years ago, which should have been a DC-museum based initiative), or “safe” exhibitions of second tier blue chip artists.

Yesterday I headed to the Katzen to look at the exhibitions there and to meet Ms. Carolyn Alper, an AU alumna who has established the Alper Initiative for Washington Art. 

The Alper Initiative will support the creation of a space on the museum’s first floor for display of work by DC artists and for a digital archive of Washington art. The initiative will sponsor lectures, films, and other events as well. If you are a DC area artist, you have got to visit this page and become aware of the process and sign up now!

However, once I got to the museum, I got distracted.

Another precious jewel of the area’s visual arts tapestry is Transformer, a nonprofit art space located on P Street, NW, and truly a gift to the area's visual arts scene.

For the past 12 years Transformer has been conducting a fund raising art auction, and when I arrived, a small army of professional art hangers, decked out in black T-shirts and black jeans was in the process of installing the donated artwork on the hall walls of the center, as it was the day before the auction.

The temptation was too much! Here was a chance to view and write about a show without any labels, any artists’ names, any information; the reactions would be purely triggered by the artwork.

This is somewhat futile. Since I’ve been writing about area artists for over two decades now, by now I can easily recognize many of them via their artwork.

The gorgeous drawing by Ben Tolman is one of the first things that you see when you started looking at the walls on the left, and Tolman’s magic with the black line steals this show almost right away. His obsessive attention to the minutest of details fools the eye in the sense that Tolman actually tricks your perception of what is reality by atomizing the subject into his tiny handwork to deliver exceptionally and super busy realistic drawings. 

Ben Tolman's work at the Transformer auction
Five gets you ten that his work will be one of the ones at the top of the bid scale tonight.

Any donated, fund raising art auction is a bit like a mini Artomatic: You usually see work by the area’s blue chip artists, lots of work by emerging artists who are relatively unknown, and a lot of really bad, amateurish work (in this case maybe by “well known” artists? Oh Dear! What are you doing Lenster?).

The Transformer auction was no exception.

But it is all original artwork, and the worst original work of art is always better than any reproduction. And this is auction is for a great cause.

The artists whose work I thought that I recognized (unless someone is channeling them) were Margaret Boozer (update: seems someone is indeed channeling her) as there was one of those gorgeously black and organic wall tar pieces that Boozer debuted at the old Strand on Volta Gallery in Georgetown in 2004, a super busy elegant print by Linn Myers, the usual sexy boots by Carolina Mayorga, a haunting photo by Holly Bass (one of the few good photographs in a sea of mediocre photos), a superbly elegant piece by Rania Hassan continuing her reinvention of what painting + sculpture + knitting is… Hassan has invented a whole new art genre all by herself!

Mixed media piece by Rania Hassan
I recognized Matt Sesow’s frenetic work (easily the DMV's hardest working artist), a refreshing abstract piece by Anne Marchand, Jessica van Brakle, Bridget Sue Lambert (again, standing out as one of the few strong photographic images), a superbly minimalist and elegant piece by Irene Clouthier (whose work has matured into one of the region’s coolest work), Dana Ellyn's boxing painting, and someone possibly channeling Dean Kessman (I wasn’t sure if it was DK).

Also noticeable was work by Adrienne Gaither (whom I mentored a while back), Joan Belmar's elegant abstract, and a cute piece by Akemi Maegawa’s of her very famous pet Chikkun. I suspected possible work by Dan Steinhilber: there was a couch-like sculpture on the wall, but it looked kinda like an ice cream sandwich, so maybe that was Cory Oberndorfer... there was also a flashlight with a light bulb?

There was also a possible Yuriko Yamaguchi vinyl tubey organicky sculpture on the wall. Also I possibly sighted a Robin Rose, as there was an elegant abstract piece on those honey-combed aluminum panels that Rose likes to work on.

All these works and several others for which I didn't recognize the artist (such as a striking porcelain piece with gold spiky teeth) make this auction a winner for those who will get these pieces.

Because I am a Kahlophile, I also couldn't help but notice the below Kahlophilia drawing, where the artist (have no idea who it is) has married Kahlo with Velazquez's Las Meninas (possibly the greatest painting ever produced by Western Civilization). It is an interesting work, but just as the Washington Post once described my drawings as "heavy handed," what distracts me from this otherwise unusual drawing (other than some issues with proportions) is how "light handed" it is! It is so ephemeral, that I was afraid The Infanta would disappear in front of my eyes!

Khalo, Spain's Infanta, and the Kahlodeer
When I first got there none of the videos were running, but by the time I finished walking through the exhibit for the third time, a very circa 2002 wall of TVs was playing a series of multiple videos like you used to see at the entrance of the major art fairs a few years ago.

This was a really good exercise to prove that art is in the eyes of the beholder. At the risk of possibly insulting some well-known artists, the images below are of those pieces that would even be considered at the low end of the scale, even by Artomatic free-for-all wonderful policy. Whoever was the member of the Artist Nominating Committee who recommended these guys/gals… ahhh…

I have no idea who these artists are:

This is almost straight out of Collage 101 class: busy, message-less and
so full of (possibly) inside meanings that it lost me at the tiger leaping below the stripper,

This just looks... well... unfinished - Reminds me of Rachel Dolezal's "real" work.

A huge thank you to all the artists who donated work to this superb cause! Please go to the auction and buy art!

12th Annual Transformer Silent Auction and Benefit Party
Saturday, November 21, 2015
8 – 11 pm
American University’s Katzen Arts Center

 Visit to purchase your tickets today! 
Update: Just told that tickets are sold out!!!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this piece... It really helped me as a newbie art collector and I ended up with one of your recommendations!

Anne Marchand said...

Lenny, Thank you for writing this review and bringing this great Transformer DC event to a broader art public.

Anonymous said...

Echo the first commenter... same case here