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Groundbreaking Spanish Design at AU Museum

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El Ultimo Grito; Mico multi-purpose object, 2006. Produced by Magis.
El Ultimo Grito; Mico multi-purpose object, 2006. Produced by Magis.

With artists such as Picasso, Dali, Gaudi, Tàpies, and Miró, Spain was already renowned for its rich art history in the twentieth century. But it was not until the 1980's amid the significant political, social, and economic changes catalyzed by its late 1970's conversion to democracy that Spain became the font of contemporary product design it is today.   

Now, a new Spanish Design Boom has exploded into the twenty-first century with new, young Spanish designers who are among the world’s design avant-garde. The works of 21 of the brightest stars of this generation will be on display in BRAVOS: Groundbreaking Spanish Design—a new exhibition making its U.S. premiere at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center on Saturday, April 2.

Works range from home furnishings—including lamps, vases, chairs, and even a dish drying rack—to architectural elements used in public spaces, such as a modern take on a bicycle rack. All artists in BRAVOS were born in or after 1960, and their featured works designed or produced at the end of the twentieth-century or the beginning of the twenty-first century.

“Few people know that Spain is an economic power in the production of furniture design and has excellent lighting fixtures that are sold all over the world,” said Juli Capella, BRAVOS curator.

The new generation brings together artists with a wide variety of styles who share some common traits, including that most network with the international design community, cover all fine arts and blend disciplines, are environmentally aware, and create works that are playful as well as practical.

The museum, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation, and the Embassy of Spain present the exhibition as part of the cultural program SPAIN ARTS & CULTURE 2011, an Embassy program that promotes Spanish culture in the United States.

BRAVOS opens at the museum alongside four other exhibitions (all open through Sunday, May 15, unless otherwise noted): Sam Gilliam: Close to Trees (open through Sunday, August 14); A Cultural History of My Neighborhood: Photo Collages by Gail S. Rebhan; Robert D'Arista: Exceptional Glimpses of an Original; and Art Department Student Exhibitions (first year MFA students through Sunday, May 15; MFA theses Saturday, April 23 through Sunday, May 15.)

A Forest of Art

Sam Gilliam first took his paintings off their stretchers in 1965, using the liberated canvases to transform gallery walls into three-dimensional abstractions. He has continued to experiment with the practice of painting and the line between painting and sculpture.

For Sam Gilliam: Close to Trees, Gilliam will use unstretched painted and stained fabric to transform the 7,000 square foot space of the third floor of the museum into one dynamic and colorful work of art.

“I imagine the title refers to the fact that visitors will feel as if they are walking through a forest of art,” said Jack Rasmussen, director and curator of the American University Museum about the exhibition’s title.

Gilliam is renowned as one of America’s key Color Field painters and Lyrical Abstractionist artists and was the first artist to introduce the notion of a painted canvas hanging without stretcher bars.

Although he rarely speaks publicly, Gilliam will deliver a free, open-to-the-public gallery talk at the museum at 4 p.m., Saturday, April 30. Close to Trees opens three weeks before another site-specific exhibition by Gilliam at Washington, D.C.’s, The Phillips Collection closes.

Documenting Changes to D.C.’s Second Oldest Neighborhood

A Cultural History of My Neighborhood: Photo Collages by Gail S. Rebhan documents historic changes to the Tenleytown–American University Park–Friendship Heights neighborhood—the second oldest neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

The public art project, a collaboration of artist Gail Rebhan, the museum, and Iona Senior Services, involves four large photo collages on display in the windows of an empty building at the corner of Brandywine Street and Wisconsin Avenue, NW.  

The four public art photo-collages focus on the histories and development of four specific areas in the neighborhood: the intersection of Albemarle Street and Wisconsin Avenue, the Friendship Terrace Retirement Community building, the installation site at Brandywine Street and Wisconsin Avenue, and the site across the street.

Smaller versions of these photo collages and additional works will be displayed in the museum’s lobby. The additional works examine the numerous business comings-and-goings in the area, integration of the public schools, and the transition of the Civil War Fort Reno from a thriving community of freed slaves and whites to a government acquisition of For Reno for a park and public schools, displacing of most of Tenleytown’s black residents

Rebhan combines old and new photographs, historic newspaper articles, old phone directories, and other memorabilia to create photo-collages that show how today's city is built upon the past. Text is integrated into the images. Some of the text used is from oral histories, other text comes from historic documents, and some is Rebhan’s own writing.

Exceptional Glimpses of an Original

Robert D'Arista taught at AU for 24 years, beginning in the 1960s and ending in the 1980s years before his untimely death at 58. One of the AU’s most influential art professors, D’Arista developed what some might say was a “cult-like” following among his former students—some of them created and maintain a Web site in his memory.

While D’Arista’s students remember the man for his colorful expressions, they also admire the artist for his ability to capture the essence of people, landscapes, and objects by distilling them to their light, color, and movement components. The exhibition is cocurated by artist Lee Newman, a former student of D’Arista’s, and Klaus Preilipper, also a former D’Arista student.

Art Department Student Exhibitions will showcase works by first year MFA students and the thesis projects of soon-to-be MFA graduates.

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 202-885-1300.