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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Villa Terrace’s ‘Expressions in Iron’

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Blacksmithing developed as a trade many centuries ago, when forging iron into functional objects was more of a necessity. Through the ages this trade acquired an artistic sensibility, with creative design and expertise incorporated into the blacksmith’s work. The Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum (2220 N. Terrace Ave.) showcases the art inherent to blacksmithing in the exhibit “Dan Nauman: Expressions in Iron” (through June 27).

Nauman presents more than 30 pieces, both large and small, that reinterpret metalwork into a functional and contemporary art form. Candlesticks, garden gates, kitchen utensils and railings share gallery space with several sculptural ironworks.

Metalwork exhibits and artists like Nauman demonstrate the amazing, imaginative works that can be forged from hammer and cold, hard steel. While several pieces reflect strength and tenacity, including Table, others like Black Rose, Oak Leaf and Grape Vine show a softer touch with lifelike textures of bark, leaves and vines. Metal appears to softly intertwine around flowers or fruit.

The artist’s four examples of fireplace tool sets, objects commissioned by individuals for their private homes, also depict the imaginative, decorative side of functional pieces. Each set displays originality, ranging from primitive yet elegant simplicity to the ornate, with one set bearing the flaming head of a dragon.

Nauman names Cyril Colnik as an inspiration, and the museum’s permanent Colnik collection and archives occupy a second-floor gallery opposite the Nauman exhibit. Though Nauman expertly expresses himself through the forging and molding of steel, viewers will better understand Colnik’s masterworks and this art form in general if the two are viewed together.

As viewers see this interrelated context, they will appreciate the difficulty and complexity of fashioning artwork from metals. The Nauman exhibition at Villa Terrace provides an excellent opportunity to contrast the historical and contemporary visions of two artists to gain a more complete understanding of this infrequently exhibited art medium.

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