Home Culture Culture DC’s Kreeger Museum features new exhibit ‘Doing the Work’ thru Aug. 5

DC’s Kreeger Museum features new exhibit ‘Doing the Work’ thru Aug. 5

DC’s Kreeger Museum features new exhibit ‘Doing the Work’ thru Aug. 5
Doing The Work- Ara Koh, Core-Samples, on display at the Kreeger Museum

Thirteen sculptures of fired clay, ranging from two to nearly six feet tall, emerge from the depths below the Kreeger Museum’s staircase, offering a stark and meditative vision of desert landscapes within this often-overlooked DC gem.

Across from this work is a Clyfford Still canvas streaked in blue and yellow, a stunning part of the permanent collection. These jagged forms draw a sharp thread from one of the key figures of Abstract Expressionism right to a new artist occupying the same hallway.

The 13 pillars, “Core Samples,” are the work of Ara Koh, whose work is part of a new exhibition at the Kreeger, where contemporary art collides with the museum’s formidable collection. Doing the Work, on through Aug. 5, features sculptures, photos, drawings and video by the Hamiltonian fellowship program’s 2021-23 cohort of Kyrae Dawaun, Cecilia Kim, Samera Paz, Matthew Russo and Koh.

Curated by Hamiltonian Artists Fellowship Manager Anisa Olufemi—and presented under a guest artist exhibition program developed by the Kreeger to support Washington-area artists, The Collaborative—the show scatters these works of contemporary art throughout the museum, searching for connections and new perspectives.

“I think it’s really a reflection of the Hamiltonian fellowship program, we try to bring in voices that are really diverse,” Olufemi told The Washington Diplomat. “That’s a narrative we’re really interested in sharing. Because we are in DC, it’s such a global city, a lot of people here are of different diasporas.”

In a room stuffed with books and a view overlooking the splendid sculpture garden, Paz’s photographs document everything she owns: from every diary she’s ever kept to every beauty item she owns to every item of clothing in her possession. The pictures press the viewer to question, are the things we own what make us? Are the things we’ve decided to keep what matter?

Doing The Work- Samera Paz, Every Diary I’ve Kept, on display at the Kreeger Museum

After passing through an exquisite hallway of works by Miró, Kandinsky and Klee, plus a couple from Picasso at the end, you reach Dawaun’s “a confluence toward an ill Delta.” This sculpture of white oak, copper, limestone and concrete is stuck on the floor amid color experiments by Thomas Downing, Charles Hinman and David Urban. This L-shaped piece ends in a peculiar piece of concrete that looks almost like a volcano that’s already exploded. What the aftermath means is a mystery. But it’s a fascinating piece.

There’s also a sense of fun within the new works you’ll find as you peruse the museum’s excellent permanent collection. Russo’s “Practiced Play, Iterations #1-3” of resin, foam, plastic and cement explodes out of the center of a room, reminiscent of a preschool art class. “I question how these small objects may define or interrupt the domestic/gallery space, a nod to The Kreeger Museum’s hybridized architectural identity,” Russo writes in the exhibition catalogue.

His “Workplace Drawings #1-15,” of red and blue graphite on bond paper, are mysterious images that appear like puzzle pieces, haphazard and strange. Like the rest of this exhibition, all of the works of these new artists are incorporated in the museum’s permanent collection, so visitors weave through pieces like Sam Gilliam’s spectacular colorscape in “Cape” and Jean Dubuffet’s frenzied oil on canvas “Milady” as they encounter the Hamiltonian fellows’ art.

Doing The Work – Matthew Russo, Workplace Drawings #1-15, on display at the Kreeger Museum

These new visiting pieces juxtapose and complement the Kreeger’s established, very special collection, which features an extraordinary array of French Impressionism. Claude Monet’s “Arm of the Seine near Giverny in the Fog” is a particularly arresting dance of lavender and green, and one of the wonders of the museum. Across from it is his beautiful “Sunset at Pourville,” a ball of orange bursting in its center.

Then, just off the main corridor, there’s a video installation in a room full of paintings by Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh and Chagall. Kim’s “Performed Labor,” a series of three videos of varying lengths, shows the artist at work preparing traditional Korean dishes. The domestic space is dramatized, and transformed, within the installation.

“By blurring boundaries between cultural documentary and surrealist fiction, the ‘Performed Labor’ series offers a site of relation for women to project their voices, bodies, and narratives into with each careful gesture,” Kim writes in the exhibition catalogue. “Through this video series and others, I am interested in borderless narratives and how they might overcome cultural barriers to foster a sense of connection, understanding, and belonging.”

There’s a formality to her videos, where she’s concealed behind a black background, with just her hands entering the screen to put together ingredients, that provides a fascinating contrast to the lively, vibrant brushstrokes of the works in the same space.

“It’s direct to [Kim’s] family traditions, and across from work that is so mega-European,” Olufemi noted. “Not only is it a woman’s perspective in a collection with a lot of western men, it’s also a more global view as well.”

This exhibition highlights “the importance of investing and calling attention to living, contemporary artists,” Olufemi said.

Doing The Work- Cecilia Kim, Performed Labor (daechugoim), on display at the Kreeger Museum

“DC can get very wrapped up in the art historical greats,” she added. “People might be going to see this one impressionist painting they’re so obsessed with and liked for so long, but then they might stumble upon a new favorite.”

The Hamiltonian program seeks to introduce these new favorites, and offers its fellows both this group exhibition opportunity at the Kreeger, as well as shows at the Hamiltonian Artists’ U Street gallery.

“The art world can be a little evasive unless you know someone who is an artist,” Olufemi said. “It’s a bit illusive for art appreciators — where to look at what the next generation is making. But people who have a taste for the classical can develop new favorites and can start thinking about how they want to show up for the next generation of artists as well.”

Mackenzie Weinger