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Monday, April 1, 2013

Seeking Out the Fantastical

Michael Kutzer at the Allis

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In conjunction with the Southern Graphics Council’s “Print: MKE 2013” conference, the Charles Allis Art Museum presents “Michael Kutzer: Etchings and Woodcuts.” Technically and intellectually astute, the artworks cover a tremendous range of subject matter.

In the mansion’s upstairs hallway is a 2008 series of aquatint etchings titled “Views of the Lake Shore.” The German-born artist now lives in Bay View and much of his work is informed by the natural imagery of the nearby Lake Michigan shoreline. Outpost—an image of a tree clinging to the edge of an eroded cliff—suggests the tension and entropy present in nature.

The 1983 “Anholt Landscape Series” illustrates another windswept coastline, this one on a secluded island between Sweden and Denmark. The dunes are depicted using a multiple-color version of aquatint in which the shades merge organically creating beautiful atmospheric effects. 

Turn into the room to your right to find three more etching series. The “Potemkin Series” (1980) is an evocative and fantastical look at Word War II ruins in Eisenach Germany, and “The Little People Series” realizes the magical world of a German fairytale. Easily the most comic of the show, “The Invisible Animals of Seminary Woods” is a parade of small portraits of “peculiar animals you may not have heard of before.” Tags with pseudo-Latinate species names accompany the images, offering the viewer information about each creature’s diet and habitat. Who knew what St. Francis has been hiding all these years!

In the room across the hall, we find Kutzer’s larger, darkly humorous woodcuts, which appropriate the iconic Commedia dell'Arte character, Punch. In the entertaining Emancipation (1988), Punch smiles slyly, taking a scissors to his own puppet strings, while the disturbing In Step (1988) shows him goose-stepping in a Nazi regiment. The tense socio-political climate of Germany shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall runs close beneath the surface of these impressive works.

“Michael Kutzer: Etchings and Woodcuts” is on display through May 12 at the Allis, 1801 N. Prospect Ave.