By Mark Jenkins
Alex Katz’s “Ariel,” 2016. Two-color silk-screen on fine art paper, on view in “Black and White” at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center. (Alex Katz/Paul Takeuchi Photography/American University Museum)
In “Black and White,” Alex Katz’s show at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, as many as 11 colors produce a narrow range of grays in the 89-year-old New Yorker’s lithographs and line drawings.
Katz’s 1950s paintings are precursors of pop art, and the artist shares the popsters’ affinity for commercial graphics. One of the show’s largest pieces is a three-panel portrayal of shoppers. Another image, here as both a black-backdrop silk-screen and in a cutout version, depicts a woman in motion, posing in a swimsuit and broad-brimmed hat. Feminine icons are frequent subjects, although the selection includes portraits and a few landscapes.
Always a representational artist, Katz has often worked in vibrant color. Yet his style peels nicely. The earlier pieces in this monochromatic array are less austere, tempered by shades of gray. But the show’s standouts are recent, large and stark. Their simplicity and boldness are well matched.
Melissa Ichiuji’s “Glissade,” at the American University Museum. (Melissa Ichiuji/American University Museum)
Most of the women in Melissa Ichiuji’s “Make You Love Me,” also at the museum, are literally plush. They’re dolls, assembled from scraps of material and memory. They’re not for kids, though. The local artist’s creations feature openings and cavities: wombs, but also wounds. One mannequin zips open her back to reveal her spine; another bleeds from where her breasts were severed by a guillotine-like device.
Bodies age, wither and ultimately fail, a process the playful yet ominous figurines evoke. They also invoke a specific loss: the fire that destroyed the artist’s family home when she was a child. This is commemorated by a series of partly charred model dwellings, and a huge steel “Goddess of the Burning House.” Like many of Ichiuji’s creations, the deity combines dread and mastery.
Alex Katz: Black and White/Melissa Ichiuji: Make You Love Me On view through Dec. 18 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202-885-1300. american.edu/museum.