The National Museum of Women in the Arts building is undergoing renovations, but its curators aren’t taking a break. Washingtonians can now visit an exciting off-site exhibition focused on contemporary artists and shifting perspectives at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center through May 22.
Positive Fragmentation: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation features more than 100 works by 21 artists, exploring the ways they use sharp lines, spectacular color, and strange assemblages to deconstruct and make sense of the world and their respective processes.
There’s an array of mediums on display, from woodcuts to screenprints to collage and more, and the exhibition includes a significant group of notable contemporary artists, including Kara Walker, Judy Chicago, and Jenny Holzer, among others. While the NMWA is temporarily closed to the public, this show is an excellent reminder of its valuable role amplifying the works of women artists.
“A lot of the artists in the exhibition are really well known. They’re rock stars, deservedly. So, you know, Mickalene Thomas and Louise Bourgeois and Kara Walker and Lorna Simpson. But there are other artists in the exhibition whose names are probably not as recognizable,” NMWA associate curator Virginia Treanor told The Washington Diplomat. “And so that was a pleasure for me to get to know the works of these artists like, Nicola López, who has a series of works in the show, Swoon, Caledonia Curry, who goes by the name Swoon—I wasn’t as familiar with their work, prior to the show.”
“So it’s kind of a nice balance of very well-known names, and then maybe names that aren’t as well known yet, but I’m sure that they will be,” Treanor added.
The artists featured within the show explore new ways to create meaning through art, combining and colliding objects and color, as seen notably in two striking works by Wendy Red Star. Other recurring themes see artists tackling the environment from distinctly architectural viewpoints, and revisiting the representation of the human form through fragments, as Kara Walker does in unforgettable works that superimpose the silhouettes of dismembered body parts over etchings from Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War.
Although the central location of the NMWA building is missed, the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center provides a solid installation space for Positive Fragmentation and is well worth the trip. The museum had always envisioned this project as outside of the usual walls of the New York Ave. building, Treanor noted.
“A few years back, we were kind of projecting out for our building closure, and wanting to do a project in the area that even though our building was closed would still keep us kind of visible, in a way,” Treanor said. “…And so this opportunity arose to work with the Schnitzer collection out of Portland, Oregon, and to have space at AU, at the museum there, so it was this really great three-way collaboration. This was always a project that was going to be not at NMWA.”
The explosive use of color in play by many of the artists is a notable aspect of the exhibition, with pieces jumping out vibrantly from the stark white walls.
“Color is one of the kind of sub-themes of the exhibition, if you will, you know, the fragmentation of, of color. And a lot of the works are quite colorful, which can sometimes be really problematic, right? When you’re trying to hang things, and, you know, things are screaming for attention right next to each other, it just doesn’t work,” Treanor said.
But for Treanor, texture, “a consideration of texture,” is an even more notable element of this show than color.
“I was just in the space earlier, and I just really love how the three works by Swoon in the exhibition—they’re not right next to each other, they’re kind of spaced throughout the hang. And her works are very three-dimensional, you know, one is printed on an old window, one is printed on an old door, and another one is a piece of Mylar that is attached to the wall, but kind of comes out a little bit. And so I just really love how it breaks up the rectangular works of art hanging up on the wall,” she said.
Positive Fragmentation: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation is on view at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center through May 22. Exhibition hours are limited, Friday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. While the NMWA building is closed, every Friday at 5 pm EST they’re hosting informal, 45-minute online chats—and April’s events highlight Positive Fragmentation.