Thursday, July 24, 2014

Alper Initiative for Washington Art

Every once in a while I go the Kojo Nmandi show on WAMU to discuss DC area visual art stuff… and at one of those radio shows, many years ago, I was discussing the lack of interest, or better still, apathy, that most Washington area museum curators exhibit (pun intended) towards our DMV area artists.

In what was to become a battle cry of the ignored, I noted that “it was easier for a local DC area museum curator or director to take a cab to Dulles to catch a flight to Berlin, or London, or Madrid, etc. in order to visit an emerging artist’s studio, than to take a cab to Georgetown, or Arlington, or Rockville to do the same.”

A few years after American University’s gorgeous American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center opened, I updated that statement by noting that the Katzen had taken the lead (in a one horse race) in showcasing, exhibiting and documenting the DMV art scene.  The Katzen had become, and remains, the only major DC area art museum that pays attention to its own backyard!

The driver here is the Katzen’s energetic director Jack Rasmussen. This is a man with a deep connection to the DC area art scene that goes back many decades, and it was a brilliant coup by the AU leadership to hire him.  And I say that not only based on the Katzen’s interest and support of its own city’s artists, but also because Rasmussen has proven to the other area art museums that an intelligent combination of regional artists with national and international artists can be accomplished.

What does that take? I’m not sure, but the libertarian part of me suspects a certain degree of “taking the path of least resistance” on the daily workload of other local museum curators/directors, many of which are government employees; it is much easier to take a traveling exhibition, let’s say, than organizing one from scratch.  I know that I am generalizing here, and often that’s a bad thing, but in the multiple conversations that I’ve had over the years with several generations of curators from the Hirshhorn, NGA, NPG, the Corcoran and others (yes, even other local Universities) I’ve gathered both empirical and anecdotal data to back up that impression.

Any of those museums is welcomed to please prove me wrong!

And it is because of Rasmussen’s stellar leadership and guiding hand, and the Katzen’s record with its own community that I can report the following:
Left to right, Jack Rasmussen, AU Museum Director and Curator, Carolyn Alper, and AU President Neil Kerwin
Photo by Jeff Watts, American University
“… Thanks to a major gift from alumna and art advocate Carolyn Alper, BA/CAS ’68, to the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, more resources will be allocated to the study and exhibition of Washington art.
Alper’s gift will establish the Alper Initiative for Washington Art at the American University Museum. The initiative will dedicate space for displaying the work of Washington artists, including more tightly focused, historical shows; development of space for archives of Washington art (available for both members of the public and AU students); an endowment to support more programming of events, gatherings, lectures and films; and digitization of AU’s growing collection of Washington art.”
According to AU Museum Curator and Director Jack Rasmussen: “Carolyn’s gift provides American University Museum the funds necessary to elevate Washington art to the place of prominence it deserves. All of Washington should be grateful as Carolyn has put her contributions where her heart is.”

Need more evidence? Five of the six exhibits on display at the museum through Aug. 17 feature Washington artists and collectors: Mynd Alive by B.K. ADAMS/I AM ART; Syzygy by William Newman; Continental Drift (Being Here and Being There) by Judy Byron; Passionate Collectors: The Washington Print Club at 50, with prints curated from Washington collections; and The Franz and Virginia Bader Fund: Second Act, with art by grant recipients from the region.
Thank you Ms. Alper, thank you AU and thank you Jack!

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