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Anarchy, Revolution, and Anti-Terrorism at the AU Museum

By Maggie Barrett

An image of one of the works in  the Norse Soul exhibition.

Arne Ekeland. "Svart Sol"("Black Sun"), 1972. Oil on canvas, 146 x 173 cm.

 A 2004 survey conducted by the Norwegian conference by:larm asked “Finnes det norske? ... og i så fall hvordan kan det beskrives?” (“Does Norwegianness exist? And if so, can it be described?”)

The answer to both questions is “yes,” but an actual picture of Norwegianness or what some call “the Norse soul” is not so swiftly realized or easily presented through the region’s rich art history.

But presenting this picture in all its complexity is indeed the goal of Norse Soul: The Legacy of Edvard Munch, Social Democracy, Old Myths, Anarchy, and Death Longings , a new exhibition opening at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center on Saturday, June 12.    

“When I was asked to mount an exhibition for the American University Museum on Norwegian art from Edvard Munch (1863–1944) to the present day, the task seemed overwhelming,” commented Dag Aak Sveinar, the exhibition’s curator. “Both because Munch is undoubtedly Norway’s most significant artist so far and because he has been succeeded by so many interesting artists.”

Instead of charting the development of Norwegian art since Munch, Sveinar decided to present a shifting, kaleidoscopic perspective on the distinctive features of Norwegian art by focusing on the work of only four artists: Arne Ekeland, Marianne Heske, Bjarne Melgaard, and Marthe Thorshaug.    

Ekeland’s work shows his distinct style which incorporates the recurring themes of class struggle and is influenced by German expressionism, surrealism, and cubism. Heske is one of Norway’s most well known artists and is recognized internationally for her installations and video-manipulated landscapes.  

Melgaard made his breakthrough in the 1990s, and is represented in the exhibition with numerous works, most notably paintings with clear references to anarchy and societal subcultures.  Thorshaug is exhibiting her most recent video work, The Legend of Ygg, a video that shows a closed sisterhood where the members will stop at nothing to be one with their horses.

As indicated by the all-embracing title, the exhibition and the individual works can be interpreted in many ways and viewed from many different angles. And although works range from drawings to videos, a common thread unites them.

“We have an unbroken tradition of painting that dates back to the nineteenth century artist I.C. Dahl that still runs through the work of many of our artists—a deeply felt relationship with nature, and a propensity for figurative art,” said Sveinar.

In addition to Norse Soul: The Legacy of Edvard Munch, Social Democracy, Old Myths, Anarchy, and Death Longings, four other exhibitions will open at the American University Museum on June 12: Soaring Voices: Recent Ceramics by Women of Japan; Gary De Smet: See Something? Say Something!; Good Things Come in Small Packages: The Collection of Elisabeth French; and Jacob Kainen.

A Revolution in Clay

The art of Japanese ceramics dates back to when humans first learned to grow food and domesticate animals.  Yet because of centuries old cultural beliefs about the sanctity of wood-firing (only men could handle fire), it was not until the 1950s that Japanese women started a revolution in clay to claim their rightful spot behind the potter’s wheel and at the kiln.

Soaring Voices: Recent Ceramics by Women of Japan, demonstrates the revloutionary shift in Japanese society toward individual female artists being acknowledged in an artistic field conventionally held by males.

While the Japanese ceramic tradition prohibited women  from taking on the actual sculpting and firing, it allowed them to be involved  in just about everything else—from glazing to record keeping—in support of their fathers, fathers-in-law, husbands, sons, and brothers. Ultimately, this tradition denied women the role of artistic creators.

The exhibition provides contemporary interpretations of a traditional art form through the work of women artists using a range of methods, materials and motifs, many inspired from the natural world.   It features pioneering ceramicists spanning generations, including members of the founding generation of Japanese female potters, such as Asuka Tsubio, Kiyoko Koyama and Takako Araki whose colorful works are innovative in form and concept.

Art Inspired by D.C. Metro Campaign

Waiting for the Washington, D.C., Metro and the New York City Subway, Flemish painter Gery De Smet heard a female voice through a loudspeaker repeating—almost singing—"See something? Say something!” encouraging riders to stay alert to the threat of terrorist attacks and other security risks.  The artist, constantly influenced by these facts of reality, was inspired to create a show and a book after the evocative phrase.

De Smet works in a variety of media including installations, videos, happenings, multiples and graphics, often in combination with text, but remains first and foremost a painter.  

In his first time showing paintings in the United States, De Smet will exhibit works out of the complete series Today all circuits are closed together with works from Running mate, U loot I shoot, and the film The crazyness in us. All works in the show are new and created within the past year.  Immediately after its exhibition at the American University Museum, See Something? Say Something!  travels to Artetage, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Vladivostok, Russia.

Good Things Come in Small Packages

Long-time area collector Elisabeth French lends works from her private collection—formerly housed in her modest, one bedroom D.C. apartment—showcasing the rich art-history of the region. The show is curated by Alice Denney.

Jacob Kainen

This exhibition features the geometric abstractions of Jacob Kainen (1909-2001), a painter and printmaker known for exploring many styles and schools throughout his prolific career.

Norse Soul: The Legacy of Edvard Munch, Social Democracy, Old Myths, Anarchy, and Death Longings closes Sunday, October 17. Soaring Voices: Recent Ceramics by Women of Japan and Good Things Come in Small Packages: The Collection of Elisabeth French close Sunday, August 15. Gery De Smet: See Something? Say Something! and Jacob Kainen close Sunday, August 8.   

The American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free. For more information, call 202-885-ARTS (2787).