Magazine article Sculpture

WASHINGTON, DC: Joan Danziger

Magazine article Sculpture

WASHINGTON, DC: Joan Danziger

Article excerpt

Katzen Arts Center at American University

The two-story atrium of the Katzen Arts Center, aggressively bisected by a large staircase that leads to the upper galleries, has always been a challenge for exhibiting painters and sculptors. Its robust architectural presence can make even the most daring artistic statement appear timid. Yet every once in a while, an artist manages to find an effective way of responding to its imposing sculptural volume and unpredictable angles: recent examples include Sam Gilliam's draped pieces hung from the curved walls and ceiling (2011) and Emilie Brzezinski's monumental wood sculptures, whose rough tree-like shapes appeared alive against the space's stark planes (2012).

In both of these cases, the work stood its ground because of dramatic scale or contrasting form and medium. What was interesting about Joan Danziger's recent show, "Inside the Underworld," was that it succeeded through deceptively unthreatening, rather smallish-looking animal forms. The Washington sculptor has long been known for her phantasmagorical object-stories composed of eccentric combinations of human and animal species, some large, yet many more rendered on a much more intimate, tabletop scale. This time around, she presented a body of work that she has been developing for the last few years-close to 70 exquisitely crafted beetles.

As one walked into the Katzen foyer and then climbed its bold staircase, these objects-individually, they evoke oversize jewels fashioned through an alchemical marriage of wire and shards of glass-became ever more present and inescapable, despite their unimposing size. They were everywhere, like an infestation: crawling along walls, climbing all the way to the ceiling, and lying on the floor. Skeletal wirebeetles could be found next to others whose metal armatures were almost entirely covered by shiny glass. There were also humbler-looking ash beetles, some of them rather plain, others painted with carnivalesque zest; horned beetles and winged beetles; and woodland and warrior beetles-as if an entire imaginary encyclopedia had burst open into the museum interior. …

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