Try to find someone who will argue that New York is not the center of the American contemporary art scene. After all, it is the birthplace of abstract expressionism – a movement many believe lit the furnace for domestic modern art production under such figures as Pollack, de Kooning and Rothko. However, with New York as the epicenter, American modern art’s seismic waves have spread to cities as far as Chicago, Los Angeles and even our own Washington D.C. since the 1950s.
Franz Bader was a Jewish refugee who escaped Nazi persecution in 1939 and made his way to D.C. It was here that for 42 years he ran The Franz Bader Gallery, where many well-known artists had the opportunity to introduce their work to the capital city’s art scene. After his wife Virginia’s death in 2001, the Franz and Virgina Bader Fund was established to provide grants to visual artists who have reached the age of 40, reside within 150 miles of D.C. and whose ability to concentrate on their art would be enhanced by receiving a grant.
Now on view until the end of January in the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery in the School of Media and Public Affairs is a collection of works recipients of the grant completed during the first three years of its inception. The exhibit includes work by seven different artists, including a GW alumnus and a visiting assistant professor. Because most of the artists used their grant to devote more time to working in their studio rather than teaching, the pieces on display reflect an overall air of self-exploration and personal development.
For example, Susan Moore’s “Witness 4” depicts a female’s face on a colossal canvas, looking somewhere over the viewer’s left shoulder. Moore works with paint sticks, which she says is not an uncommon medium for her. Her model is “witnessing something we’re not privy to,” according to Moore.
Yurkio Yamaguchi’s “Metamorphosis/Transient” is made up of a collection of resin pieces taking all different shapes and then adhered to the wall. Yamaguchi, who is a visiting assistant professor of sculpture at GW, said, “My work shows my interest in our transient life. It is constantly changing, and I am interested in showing that process.” She avoids any preconceived plans for the sculptural elements in her work and instead creates the resin pieces by molding them with her hand until a shape emerges. Both Moore and Yamaguchi seem to be striving for their art to tell them something – to answer their own questions about life as they are living it.
The advantage of the grant recipients all being over the age of 40 is that the gallery exudes a sense of maturity. A glint of the varied life experiences all rooted in the D.C. area pervades the room. Kevin MacDonald, a GW alumnus who passed away this year, and to whom the exhibit is dedicated, has two silk screens on display. His “Suburban Apotheosis” comments on the repetitiveness of derivative suburban living. The piece is anti-American Dream, ignoring the white picket fences and instead honing in on the image of neighboring houses merely 15 feet apart.
The collection of works from recipients of the Franz and Virginia Bader grant brings together several very different artists all with one thing in common – the desire to learn about oneself through expression and representation. GW students bogged down by the pressure to succeed in college and mature into a fundamental member of society can learn one vital life lesson from the exhibit – when you reach 40, it’s quite possible you still will not have found yourself.
The Luther W. Brady Art Gallery is located on the second floor of the School of Media and Public Affairs. It is free and open to the public Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The Franz and Virginia Bader Fund exhibit is open until Jan. 26.