At AU Mu­seum ex­hibit, an artist’s glass sculp­tures are drip­ping with ap­peal

The Washington Post Sunday - - MOVIES - BYMARK JENK­INS Jenk­ins is a free­lance writer.

Mary Shaf­fer’s sculp­ture re­lies on op­po­si­tions: soft vs. hard, light vs. dark, clean vs. cor­roded. But the ap­pear­ances of her prin­ci­pal ma­te­ri­als— glass and me­tal — are more dif­fer­ent than their ac­tual na­tures. The glass that ap­pears to flow is ac­tu­ally just as solid as the frames, hooks and tongs to which it’s at­tached. And the pro­cesses of mak­ing the clear or col­ored ma­te­rial— hot glass or slumped glass— are as in­dus­trial as man­u­fac­tur­ing steel.

“Re­flec­tions and Con­tra­dic­tions: Five Decades,” Shaf­fer’s ret­ro­spec­tive at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity Mu­seum, sa­vors these in­con­gruities. The se­lec­tion, which dates to 1972, in­cludes pieces in which glass poses as wa­ter, fab­ric or an ici­cle drip­ping from a rusted me­tal wheel. Although the patina em­pha­sizes the bulk and strength of the me­tal pieces, the glass catches the light, mak­ing it ap­pear weight­less, mu­ta­ble and alive.

Shaf­fer, who works in Texas and New Mexico, started as a pain­ter, and two of her 1970s draw­ings are in­cluded here. There also are four pieces from a se­ries in which un­du­lat­ing clear-glass di­a­monds bracket sim­ple sil­ver-me­tal shapes, rare ex­am­ples of the artist’s work in which glass plays a sup­port­ing role. More of­ten, though, it dom­i­nates, even when a small dab of the seem­ingly fluid ma­te­rial is at­tached to a large me­tal ob­ject. The found in­dus­trial pieces sug­gest the world as it stub­bornly is; the glass evokes change, pos­si­bil­ity and, well, art.

Mary Shaf­fer: Re­flec­tions and Con­tra­dic­tions: Five Decades On view through Oct. 18 at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity Mu­seum, 4400 Mas­sachusetts Ave. NW. 202-8851300. www.amer­i­can.edu/mu­seum.

Wal­ter Mc Con­nell

In the be­gin­ning was the wet­ness. Work­ing on site, New York ce­ram­i­cist Wal­ter McCon­nell con­structs elab­o­rate tableaux from moist clay and lets them ooze and age in­side large plas­tics heaths that pre­vent the ma­te­rial from dry­ing out. Even­tu­ally, he re­moves parts of the ripened com­po­si­tions to fire and glaze as per­ma­nent relics of an un­sus­tain­able in­stal­la­tion.

In “Itin­er­ant Edens: Of Fa­ble and Fac­sim­ile,” McCon­nell con­nects this tech­nique to ges­ta­tion and birth. In a dark­ened sec­tion of the AU Mu­seum, six ter­rar­i­ums con­tain the artist’s sculpted land­scapes, gar­dens and hu­man fig­ures. Three fea­ture larger-thanlife male nudes — Adams of an over­size sort — mod­eled on McCon­nell and rel­a­tives.

The ref­er­ence to the Judeo-Chris­tian ori­gin story is plain, as is the bod­ily au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. Also, the clear par­ti­tions evoke test tubes and, thus, in-vitro cre­ation. Hu­mid­ity from the sweat­ing clay clouds the plas­tic, putting the process at a re­move. The real-life fog sug­gests the metaphor­i­cal mist of time, while the even­tual dis­as­sem­bling of the sculp­tures ex­em­pli­fies the end­less re­cy­cling of or­ganic mat­ter, a process less clin­i­cally known as de­cay and death.

Cross MacKen­zie Gallery, McCon­nell’s lo­cal agent, is show­ing some re­lated work. Its par­al­lel ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes mas­sive pho­to­graphs that cat­a­logue the kitschy ce­ramic-model forms that the artist com­bines to make large, ironic stu­pas. There’s also a yel­low glazed chunk of a dis­as­sem­bled ta­ble aux and four smaller ver­sions of the nudes that are on dis­play at AU. These are fired and glazed, so they should en­dure far longer than the flesh they de­pict.

Wal­ter McCon­nell: Itin­er­ant Edens: Of Fa­ble and Fac­sim­ile On view through Oct. 18 at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity Mu­seum, 4400 Mas­sachusetts Ave. NW. 202-8851300. www.amer­i­can.edu/mu­seum. Cross MacKen­zie Gallery, 1675 Wis­con­sin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970.

www.cross­macken­zie.com.

Les­lie Nolan

Im­pres­sion­is­tic and painterly, Les­lie Nolan’s por­traits of uniden­ti­fied peo­ple could only have been made with brush and wet pig­ment. Yet the paint­ings in her “In­ner/Outer” ex­hi­bi­tion at Su­san Cal­loway Fine Arts have a strong graphic-arts qual­ity. Part of that is the sense of re­al­ism un­der­pin­ning them; it’s clear that at least some of the sketchy im­ages are de­rived from pho­to­graphs. But the es­sen­tial thing is the lo­cal artist’s use of color.

The fig­ures are of­ten framed by a strong, sin­gle-hue back­ground or ac­cented by a slash of a con­trast­ing shade. The tech­nique sug­gests a fa­mil­iar­ity with print­mak­ing, or even news­pa­per advertising in the days when spot color— a lone coun­ter­point to the black type — was more com­mon than the four-ink process that pro­duces full color.

The news­pa­per com­par­i­son sug­gests it­self be­cause Nolan usu­ally ren­ders faces and bod­ies in blacks and grays. The sub­jects may be height­ened by tints of the color that sur­round them, but they are pri­mar­ily monochro­matic. There are vari­a­tions on this ap­proach, no­tably the strik­ing “Cor­rected Vi­sion II,” whose shad­owy head and torso are painted in blue, with two strokes of or­ange over one side of the face.

Although the lack of black is atyp­i­cal, the pic­ture shares the brawn and ur­gency of the ones around it.

In­ner/Outer: Les­lie Nolan On view through Oct. 17 at Su­san Cal­loway Fine Arts, 1643Wis­con­sin Ave. NW. 202-965-4601. www.cal­lowa­yart.com.

Flat­ten­ing the Form

Not ev­ery­thing in Robert Brown Gallery’s “Flat­ten­ing the Form” is thin­ner than a pan­cake. Oleg Kudryashov’s pa­per con­struc­tions are 3-D, as is one of Bar­bara Liotta’s mu­sic-inspired pieces, whose thin black fil­a­ments curl off white pa­per as if they were notes trick­ling from a score. But this 10-per­son show is de­voted mostly to draw­ings and prints by artists who usu­ally work with stone, me­tal or wood.

Much more por­ta­ble than his mon­u­men­tal sculp­tures, sev­eral of Richard Serra’s prints of corkscrew pat­terns have re­lo­cated from Brown’s other out­post on 14th Street, where they showed last month. They are bold and monochro­matic, as is the work of two Bri­tish earth artists: David Nash, whose smudgy char­coal draw­ings sug­gest as­sem­blages of burned wood, and Andy Goldswor­thy, whose red stone pig­ment draw­ing has a Stone­henge vibe. Also in red, Evan Reed’s “The Hut” emerged through painstak­ing etch­ing of the solidly inked sur­face. Tazuko Ichikawa’s ren­der­ings of her sculp­tures are in black and light yel­low, rep­re­sent­ing the orig­i­nals’ painted wood and wax.

Ex­e­cuted in pas­tel, crayon and acrylic, Foon Sham’s three draw­ings are con­sid­er­ably more col­or­ful. Whether as ar­chi­tec­tonic as “Shut­ters” or as whim­si­cal as “Um­brella Pro­ject,” the sculp­tor’s pic­tures use vivid or­anges and greens to con­trast not only the rest of the show, but also the sub­dued nat­u­ral pal­ette of his own wood sculp­tures.

Flat­ten­ing the Form On view through Oct. 17 at Robert Brown Gallery, 1662 33rd St. NW. 202-338-0353.

www.robert­brown­gallery.com. style@wash­post.com

MARY SHAF­FER/AMER­I­CAN UNIVER­SITY MU­SEUM

With “Car­rots” and other sculp­tures byMary Shaf­fer, the glass ap­pears as though it is fluid.

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