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New at AU Museum: Craft as Fine Art, Contemporary Chinese Art, and Protest Art

By Rebecca Basu

Face Peach Blossom

Face Peach Blossom, 2011, Art-ejecta Acid-free paper, 90 x 60 cm. Part of the exhibit "Pulse of the Future," presenting painting, photography and prints by six emerging Chinese artists.

Early fall exhibits at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center are open Sept. 12 through Oct. 18.  

American craft as fine art gets special attention this fall with three exhibits. Gerhardt Knodel's Let the Games Begin! emphasizes textiles, conveying his roots in the history and potential of the medium. Knodel transforms the gallery space with dazzling curtains, interactive works based on carnival games, and thoughtful light and shadow. While his work is playful, he wrestles with serious contemporary issues, leading the viewer to contemplate the impact of competition, accumulation and loss, human relationships, mind manipulation, the endless repetition of the patterns of life, and the tension between informed authority and self-discovered knowledge. Items on display include intimate hand-held objects and a 40-foot, multi-layered, moveable curtain.

Reflections and Contradictions: Five Decades features work by mixed-media sculptor Mary Shaffer as she utilizes glass to explore her fascination with discarded tools. "I take lovingly crafted, hand-forged tools—the epitome of American inventiveness—to preserve and pay tribute to activities and methods of working that have disappeared from our modern lives," Shaffer says. Select work from five decades of Shaffer's career also will be shown, including her Light-Catcher series, which explores the way light and shadow create three-dimensional form. Shaffer has exhibited her sculptures in 60 museums worldwide and her work resides in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, Japan among others. Shaffer was an influential figure in the early glass movement. "[She] brought art to glass and glass to art," critic John Perrault wrote.  

Thirdly, Fable and Facsimile shows the ceramic work of Walter McConnell. A series of male figures derived from digitally scanned and prototyped models are central to the installation. The figures are built on site of moist, unfired clay and sealed in terrarium-like plastic enclosures. A full body scanner, housed in the School of Human Ecology at Cornell University, produces the files; prototyped models are created through computer numeric-controlled milling or 3D printing and plaster molds are made. The figures appearing in the installation are terracotta clays, cast and pulled from these molds.

Jordan Eagles: Blood Mirror features an exhibition in which the central artwork is a 7-foot-tall, interactive, monolithic sculpture, made with blood donated from nine gay, bisexual and trans men in protest of the FDA's ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. The exhibition also includes collaborative works by Eagles with activist/filmmaker Leo Herrera and fashion designer Jonny Cota. "I wanted to create a sculpture that would become a time capsule, documenting this moment in time, while showing that this blood could have been used to save lives," Eagles said.

Pulse of the Future presents painting, photography and prints by six emerging Chinese artists. Contemporary Chinese art captured the world's attention in the 1980s. Now the next generation is coming of age and staking a claim for artistic precedence. The exhibition comes to AU Museum thanks to collaboration with the Beijing Youth International Culture and Arts Association.