From top: El Señor Geronimo, a graphite on waxed paper drawing (2007) by Sandra Vasquez de la Horra (Chile/Germany); Railroad Collage by Boris Lurie.
Defining the Art of Social and Political Change
In a sense, this show, scheduled to open sometime in February, will represent a distillation of Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art’s mission. The exhibition will include works ranging from “Clownerina, AIDS with Hunger’s Head,” by Artists Anonymous; Maxine Kantor’s “The Lonely Crowd”; Buchenwald survivor Boris Lurie’s disturbing “Railroad Collage”; even an 18th-century oil portrait of the last Inca by an anonymous Peruvian artist, painted at a time when it was a crime against Spanish colonial rule to do so. Some works (such as the Inca portrait) will be from Krause’s own collection, and while he can’t include all of the artists he would like to show, there will be more than enough to convey his view of art that grapples with social and political issues—“not just over the last 10 to 20 years but over the past centuries.”
Hidden Treasure: The ‘America’ and ‘Tierra del Fuego’
Paintings by Joan Belmar
El Chamiscal (2012) by Joan Belmar.
Krause first became aware of Joan Belmar four or five years ago, when Chilean friends suggested that he check out this artist whose immigration status was still unsure, and who was known in some Washington art circles for his minimalist mylar constructions. But when Krause went to see him at his apartment, he discovered that Belmar had something else: more than a hundred abstract-impressionist paintings in his basement that he had been afraid to show for fear of prejudicing his immigration case. (He has since been granted his green card by a judge who sidestepped the request for political-refugee status and instead awarded it to him on the basis of his talent.) More to the point, they were highly original and powerful.
“When I saw his work I got really excited,” says Krause. “I think he’s going to be what people refer to as an important artist. Abstract expressionism is America’s [most important] contribution to the history of art. It kind of petered out in the early ’60s. It may turn out that this immigrant from Chile may revive the medium.”
Krause says that Hidden Treasure was timed to coincide with the October presidential debates (which he hoped would address the “highly contentious issue of immigration”) and the November election. One of his goals for the exhibition was to focus attention on the “very real consequences of our dysfunctional immigration system and help answer the question at the heart of this divisive issue: ‘How do we benefit from the millions of Latino immigrants who’ve come to live and work in the United States?’”
Lest We Forget: Masters of Soviet Dissent
Untitled by Alexander Zhdanov.
A recurring nightmare is playing out on the canvasses of Alexandr Zhdanov. A bulky, blurry Pan figure runs through a dark copse of trees, a moon hovering above. In another vision-on-canvas, a similarly bulky, lumbering figure shambles away from the viewer toward a wintry, setting sun. A haunting loneliness and desolation—a “sense of bleak,” in Krause’s words—pervades these dark dreamscapes.
Soviet socialist realism it ain’t. Which was, to some extent, the point.
Zhdanov, who was among the artists whose work was destroyed by a plainclothes police force deploying water cannon and bulldozers in the unofficial Moscow “Bulldozer Exhibition” in 1974, was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1987 after he chained himself to a fence outside the American Embassy. He came to live in Washington (though he had his share of complaints about the United States as well) and died in 2006.
“He was a firebrand,” says Krause. “He was a troublemaker. And he’s lucky he didn’t get shipped off to Siberia or someplace. Because Russia was a peculiar place in that there was one kind of art that was to be created—socialist realism. And anyone who didn’t go along with that was an enemy of the state.”
This past May, Zhdanov and the talented Estonian artist Leonhard Lapin were the artists featured in Lest We Forget. Krause scheduled the opening for the day of Vladimir Putin’s third inauguration and invited a number of prominent pro-democracy guests. Before he sent out the invitations, though, he first ran the idea past Lapin.
“I said, ‘Listen, Leo, I’m planning to open this the day that Putin is inaugurated,’” Krause recalls. “He said, ‘Wonderful! Oh, yes, yes, yes.’”
Among the Lapin works displayed were those from his “Conversation of the Signs” series—including one depicting a hammer and sickle intertwined with a Nazi swastika—and his “Machine Series,” many of which were defiantly erotic by the prim standards of the Soviet Union. The latter made it clear “that in the Soviet Union, individuals were just cogs in the machine,” says Krause.
“What fascinated me about the dissident artists was that they stood up to the communist system,” he adds. “I guess I respond to courage. I respond to people who are willing to sacrifice for something they believe in. These guys did.”
Duva/Diva: Duvteatern’s Glorious Carmen
FLAMENCO DANCER/Emma Liekari by Stefan Bremer for DuvTeatern.
Lush, exotic costumes. Sensuous flowers. Exquisitely posed actors and actresses. Stefan Bremer’s stunning photographs of actors in a Finnish National Opera production of Bizet’s Carmen are not your standard Vanity Fair spread of Beautiful People, however. There’s something disquieting at work here: All of the subjects have Down Syndrome or other developmental disabilities.
Duva/Diva was Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art’s second exhibition, and it represented a very different kind of protest movement for Krause. By offering such a striking collective portrait of developmentally disabled people, Bremer and Krause were striking a blow against traditional standards of beauty. Think Diane Arbus on Ecstasy. In Technicolor. With ravishing tropical flowers.
“I’m also interested in art that changes social perception,” Krause says. “These are really important photographs. It’s the first time that any photographer has ever looked at these people as objects of beauty, as opposed to objects of pity or whatever. And that makes it very important, both in terms of the history of photography—and also to people with Down Syndrome.”
The Graphic and Fine Art of Poland’s Jerzy Janiszewski
From top: Gazeta (1996) and Solidarnosc (1980)by Jerzy Janiszewski.
The blood-red letters of Solidarnosc march in a rough, triumphant parade. The upsweeping N forms a crude flagpole, from which two streaks fly. Two accent marks hover over the final two letters like small heads. The translation from the Polish is simple: Solidarity.
That logo, designed in 1980 by Jerzy Janiszewski, helped spark the movement that led to the overthrow of the communist government in Poland and, ultimately, the breakup of the Soviet Union. It also formed the centerpiece of Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art’s first exhibition, which The Washington Post named as one of Washington’s 10 “Best of 2012.”
The logo’s stunning success was derived from its aesthetic quality, says Krause. “It had their flag. It had the blood-red. It had the letters so that they’re all kind of marching to protect each other. He really captured what people were feeling, and they responded to it.”
The exhibition included the very first imprint of the logo, signed by Lech Walesa and other members of the strike committee at the Gdansk shipyard in 1980. (The exhibition also included original collages—“visual diaries”—made from Marlboro cigarette packs and other everyday scraps of paper that Janiszewski had collected during his years of exile and afterwards.)
After 20,000 of the posters were printed in Gdansk, Krause explains, they were smuggled across Poland and unveiled on a national day of support for the striking workers.
“That’s where the Cold War starts to end,” says Krause. “Overnight, this became the symbol of opposition to communism in Poland and then throughout Eastern Europe. The Solidarity trade-workers movement, Lech Walesa and all of that, ended up taking this name as their name. They weren’t called Solidarity before Janiszewski created this image for them.”
Janiszewski was forced to flee the country in 1982 when Poland’s communist government declared martial law and started arresting the movement’s leaders. He left five posters with friends, says Krause, “who were afraid to keep them in their home, so they buried them.”
They stayed buried until 1989, when Solidarity rose up again and won the election. That year, Krause began covering the Solidarity movement for NewsHour. When he opened his gallery last December, two of the original buried posters were, and still are, for sale.
“Poland’s modern history is in this poster,” says Krause. “And there is no more beloved symbol in Poland.” —S.H.
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