“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
This is the question asked by “The Tension of a Suspended Moment,” an exhibition of works by Kevin MacDonald on view through May 29 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center.
The majority of the numerous pieces on display show what can only be described as empty scenes. Humans are absent from almost all the beautifully rendered locations. A silent suburban street, an abandoned diner booth and a vacant laundromat are all eerily depicted, hanging on the walls of the gallery.
The understanding one obtains from staring at MacDonald’s work is that the absence of people only makes their existence more noticeable. Every picture appears suspended in the time between when someone has just left the scene and when someone might return.
A lifelong Washington resident, MacDonald died in 2006 at the age of 59. The exhibition, which assembles an enormous range of his work, is simultaneously a celebration of his talent and a lamentation of his early passing. As Lee Fleming writes in the text at the entrance to the exhibition, the amassing of such a great number of pieces forces us to take note of their creator’s departure, 10 years ago.
By presenting so many of his pictures in only three rooms, the curators are able to reveal the full diversity of talent possessed by MacDonald, who was known to change his style and subject matter for every show. On one wall, you see a precisely drawn image of a suburban cottage, but across the gallery you find a far more abstract pastel drawing, “Angel of the Annunciation.” In one room, you might find 20 years of work, demonstrating the varied influences drawn upon by MacDonald in his artistic life.
Yet, while MacDonald’s art, as presented at the Katzen, will amaze you with its variety, a clear and well constructed theme runs through the entire exhibition: that of momentary silence.
On Saturday, May 21, at 6 p.m., there will a gallery talk about the exhibition. For more information, visit american.edu/cas/katzen.