DC -- American University -- Katzen Arts Center -- 2014A Winter Exhibitions:
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Description of Pictures: Pieces from these 2014 Winter exhibitions:
* Agustín Fernández: Ultimate Surrealist
* Washington Art Matters II: 1940s-1980s
* Sightlines: Ann Pibal, Jill Downen
Agustín Fernández: Ultimate Surrealist
January 25 to March 16, 2014
The work of Agustín Fernández is most recognizable for its ambiguous and precariously balanced forms, erotic overtones, surreal juxtapositions, and metallic palette. Inspired by the demands of survival in an urban environment and the mundane objects that clutter its alleys and streets. Agustín Fernández: Ultimate Surrealist is organized by the Agustín Fernández Foundation and curated by Donald Kuspit. The Agustín Fernández Foundation would like to thank the international platform G-Global for its support as well as the following individuals: Joseph Hage Aaronson LLC, Darlene and Jorge Perez, Gilbert and Judy Shelton, Dr. Emilio Suarez. Additional support provided by: Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, Zor and Irina Gorelov, John and Lauren Oramas, Hilda Capo and Blas Reyes, The Yoshida Family, and Damian J. Fernandez.
Washington Art Matters II: 1940s-1980s
January 25 to March 16, 2014
This exhibition is our second attempt to tell the history of Washington art from the 1940s through the 1980s. It was selected by three curators, different from those who chose our first Washington Art Matters exhibition. Ninety artists will represent what was best of Washington art over those five decades. Curated by Benjamin Forgey, Andrea Pollan, and Jack Rasmussen.
Sightlines: Ann Pibal, Jill Downen
January 25 to March 16, 2014
Sightlines is a group exhibition of works by Ann Pibal, Jill Downen, Frank Trankina, and Dean Smith curated by AU faculty member Tim Doud. Artists meet artists throughout their careers, and no one can predict what kind of work or which artists will have a long lasting impact. Doud structured the show around artists he met in different contexts and at different points in his career. Each of the artists included in this exhibit, often retrospectively, expanded Doud’s line of sight.
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KATZEX_140125_001.JPG: Washington Art Matters II
The intention of this exhibition is straightforward: To demonstrate the historical vitality and variety of the Washington art scene. Like its predecessor, Washington Art Matters I, displayed in this museum in the summer of 2013, this show is devoted to the art made in the 1940s to 1980s and is arranged in a roughly chronological sequence. The necessity of mounting a second exhibition became evident even as the first show was being installed. Though it contained individual pieces or documentary evidence of works by 93 artists working in the Washington region during those decades, that exhibition was not nearly big enough to encompass the size and complexity of the D.C. art world. By focusing on works by 99 different artists, thereby more than doubling the number of artists represented in both shows, this exhibition is able to give a more expansive picture of art in Washington during those years. Even so, this exhibition cannot claim to present a full and accurate reflection of the energy and quality of art made in and around Washington in the mid- to late-20th century. For a variety of reasons, including access to and availability of works and space limitations in the museum, many excellent artists of those times remain unaccounted for in these two exhibitions. Though unfortunate, this fact does underline this show's basic premise regarding art life in the city.
The initial WAM exhibition was timed to coincide with the release of the book, "Washington Art Matters: Art Life in the Capital 1940 1990," the final project of the Washington Arts Museum, an organization founded in 1999 by Renee Butler and Giorgio Furioso. The works in that show were selected largely by the authors of the decades chapters in that publication, Jean Lawlor Cohen for the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Elizabeth Tebow for the 1970s, and Sidney Lawrence for the 1980s. The artists and works in the present exhibition were selected by Jack Rasmussen, Director and Curator of the American University Museum, Washington gallerist and curator Andrea Pollan, and critic Benjamin Forgey, author of the Afterword in the WAM publication. By its very nature this exhibition offers a view that both enhances and subtly contrasts with themes of the initial exhibition. The range of expression and processes is impressively broad, the reach of ambition and achievement is high, wide and deep, and vitality and variety remain the critical constants.
KATZEX_140125_004.JPG: Portrait of Vice Admiral Ross T. McIntire, Surgeon General of the Navy, Physician to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1942
KATZEX_140125_027.JPG: Untitled, c 1945
KATZEX_140125_031.JPG: Figure Study #1, 1965
KATZEX_140125_036.JPG: Cows Resting, 1972
KATZEX_140125_053.JPG: John Rasmussen
Director of Art Gallery & Curator
KATZEX_140125_081.JPG: Blue Horn, 1985
KATZEX_140125_085.JPG: Migratory Habits
KATZEX_140125_092.JPG: Kimono, 1972
KATZEX_140125_097.JPG: Rothko at Yale, 1979
KATZEX_140125_106.JPG: Learn to paint like Rembrandt in three easy steps, 1971
KATZEX_140125_115.JPG: Madonna Table, 1978
KATZEX_140125_124.JPG: Bird V, 1975
KATZEX_140125_135.JPG: The Survival Game, 1980
Margarida Kendall Hull
KATZEX_140125_152.JPG: Self Portrait with a Swelled Head, 1988
Every exhibition is an argument, and the argument of this exhibition is that Agustín Fernández is the "ultimate surrealist," by reason of his climactically bizarre treatment of the female body, the obsessive theme of a great many surrealist works, and because, to use André Breton's words, his works have a more "immediate sense of absurdity" than other surrealistic works, particularly if absurdity is understood to signal unresolved conflict between conscious perception and unconscious fantasy.
The exhibition focuses on Fernández's paintings and drawings, presenting a selection of some 50 major works, made over a forty-year period (ca. 1960-2000). The female figure, fragmented into parts, with a special emphasis on her breasts, often serially repeated as though they were minimalist forms at once pure geometry and taunting flesh, and thus doubly perverse becomes a symbol of what Goethe called "the eternal feminine that leads us on." "On," it seems, from Fernández's perspective, to emotional hell, however nominally heavenly their form. Fernández's female figure is the intimidating Magna Mater, the multi-breasted Great Goddess, familiar from prehistory and antiquity, an updated confrontational version of the Venus of Willendorf and Diana of Ephesus, among other primitive fertility goddesses.
Fernández was not simply influenced by Surrealism, but conveyed its essence in a way no other Surrealist has done. He kept Surrealism alive beyond its pre-war heyday by revealing the secret identity of Surreal Woman, with a perversity and ambivalence even more emotionally telling than in earlier Surrealism. Woman was the object of the Surrealist's violent love, and, if Fernández's imagery is any due, his love for her was more violent-violated her body more than that of the earlier "classical" Surrealists. I am arguing that Fernández's Surrealism is profounder than theirs. He is more compulsively absorbed in her body and fascinated by her breasts than any of them.
Like so many modern artists, whatever their stylistic persuasion, Fernández sees the world-and Woman with a child's perversely imaginative eye, as Picasso said it took him a lifetime to learn to do. Fernández does so spontaneously, as though acknowledging the truth of Kandinsky's famous celebration of the "child as the greatest imaginer." The idea of the artist as a child, full of imaginative wonder-depending on his inner child for his creativity-is an idea that, like so many modern ideas, can be traced back to Baudelaire's romantic conception of the imagination as "the greatest faculty" because it creatively de-composes and re-composes objects according to "the deepest laws of the soul," that is, the unconscious. It was also Baudelaire who thematized woman as a contradiction in terms, as his two poems about the "Voyage to Cythera" make clear. It was the mythical birthplace of Venus; in one poem he celebrates her majestic beauty, in another he hangs her rotting body from a gallows. Fernández never loses touch with his imaginative unconscious, which spontaneously dreams of Woman's body, destroying it in the act of adulating it, as his works repeatedly demonstrate. Clearly he is the ultimate Surrealist.
Agustín Fernández was born in Havana, Cuba on April 16, 1928 and died on June 2, 2006 in New York City, where he spent the last 34 years of his life. Prior to moving to New York, he also lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico (1968-1972) and in Paris, France (1959-1968).
In addition to studying at Havana's the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro, Fernandez also worked under George Grosz and Yasuo Kuniyoshi at the Art Students League in New York.
Fernandez' work has significant roots in international modernism and is marked by the independent and cosmopolitan context in which he lived much of his life. From his career beginnings in Havana through the many years that he spent outside Cuba, Agustín Fernández dedicated himself to the production of paintings, drawings, and graphics. He also created assemblages, sculptures and artist's books.
By the time he arrived in Europe at the age of thirty-one, in addition to a solo exhibition at the Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas, he had had eleven one-man shows that presented his work to audiences in Havana, New York, Madrid, Caracas, and Washington D.C. During the next four decades Fernández went on to have more than 30 solo exhibitions in important galleries, museums, and art fairs around the world. In 1992 The Art Museum, Florida International University organized a major retrospective of his work. Most recently his works on paper were showcased at The Patricia and Philip Frost Art Museum and The Snite Museum of Art in a 2013 show entitled Form's Transgressions: The Drawings of Agustin Fernández.
In the course of his career Fernández was included in over 100 group-shows worldwide. The first of his more than 30 collective museum exhibitions was in 1958 at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (where he showed again in 1966 and 1967) and the following year he was part of a show held at The Art Institute of Chicago. He also took part in the travelling exhibition and major resource publication, The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970, which was originated by The Bronx Museum of Art in New York and travelled across the US.
Fernández participated in important gallery projects including Tanguy Dali Bellmer Fernández Roy at Galerie André Francois Petit in Paris (1966) and Latin America: New Paintings and Sculpture (Juan Downey, Agustín Fernández, Gego, Gabriel Morera) at Center for Inter American Relations in New York (1969). Later, his work was also included in the exhibitions, The Coincident Eye: Hans Bellmer, Agustín Fernández, Robert Mapplethorpe, (1997) at 123 Watts Gallery in New York and Project for a Revolution, (2007) at the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York.
Throughout his long and prolific years as an artist Fernández distinguished himself with a unique style and masterful technique. Today, his work is most recognizable for its ambiguous and precariously balanced forms, erotic overtones, surreal juxtapositions, and metallic palette. The various media that he worked in are related and complementary and further complicate the identification of organic versus inorganic forms; human and machine; real and imagined; obsessive and cerebral.
Drawing is inherently a more experimental, "improvisatory" medium than painting-at least since the Renaissance methods, forms, and ideas were "tried out" before they were finalized in a painting-and, as the abundance of Fernández's drawings indicate, he was an endless experimenter. They're a veritable cornucopia of creative possibilities. But each drawing also reads as a finished product-as highly finished as his paintings, if smaller and more intimate. They may be experiments, all the more so because they are often ambiguously abstract and representational, but every line in them is decisively given, however elementary its energy, indicating that they are informed by the same insistent perfectionism as Fernández's more intimidating grand paintings. The drawings are fully realized works of art, not simply stepping stones to the paintings, even as they are also "working drawings," showing, up close, the workings of Fernández's creative process-his hard creative work, focused and intense, exploratory and intricate. Fernández's drawings show that he was driven by an elemental curiosity about forms, conceived as ends in themselves, as well as about the human body, especially the female breast, also conceived as an end in itself.
Like the figurative fragments in Fernández's smaller drawings, the majestic figures on the scrolls also exist in the white silence of the paper, suggesting their archaic monumentality hides their muteness. They are inert and expressionless-unmoved by Fernández's longing lines, which struggle to get a response from her. She doesn't bleed when she's cut by Fernández's razor-like lines-sadistically sharp even when blending together in a soft shadow-nor does she feel pain when he binds her with the straps the black lines sometimes form. For she's more of an unfeeling and mindless machine than a feeling and thoughtful person. The mechanical way she is constructed suggests as much. Fernández's drawings dissect her, take her apart as though to understand her mystery, focusing on her breasts, which are her only organic part-their emphatic fullness seems to promise eternal life, which is why they eternally repeat in his art, as though to emphasize their special importance, their inherent value-suggesting they are the site of her soul. But they are clearly soulless flesh in Fernández's hands, an ornamental expression of the emptiness of the white paper, positive space as negative space in seductive disguise, indifference somatized.
KATZEX_140125_423.JPG: Figura en Paisaje #1, 1980
KATZEX_140125_433.JPG: Red Top Cabs, 1982
KATZEX_140125_461.JPG: Shadows and Green Glass (detail), 1984
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