Acts of Engagement 

Artists confront aggression at Reynolds.

Crutchfield and Robert Hobbs, Richmond residents who have made significant contributions to art teaching, writing and curating on a national level. With this show, they tackle issues at the heart of power and politics by telling stories from unique perspectives. Largely concerned with the war in Iraq, but also dealing with other areas of conflict from boardrooms to Palestine, the exhibition presents nonpartisan but charged political observations with surprising directness.

"The Art of Aggression" is unlike most political art shows. First, most of its artists are no armchair commentators. The personal investment they've made to directly engage in the subject affords them legitimacy most artists can't claim. It also provides this show with plenty of weight. Photographer Moises Saman, for example, covers the war in Iraq without associating himself with the military as an "embed." He was imprisoned in Iraq and later deported, yet he has returned to document the effects of war on the country's citizens. Saman's large color images reveal hardship and loss with a larger-than-life, cinema-graphic style.

Steve Mumford, who recently received attention as ABC's Person of the Week, worked as an embedded artist in Iraq on and off since April 2003.

Influenced by Winslow Homer's series of paintings made on the frontlines of the Civil War, Mumford dispatched journal entries with handsomely executed ink drawings and watercolors to the Web magazine artnet. Here, Mumford's imagery captures scenery from the mundane to the extraordinary with an equal degree of curiosity and care. Gritty and sumptuous at the same time, the imagery is paired with descriptive narratives that place the scenes in specific contexts.

"The Art of Aggression" is introduced to the viewer with the late Mark Lombardi's graphic representations of complex networks of relationships between events and individuals. Lombardi, who died in 2000, used his own research into financial and political scandals — such as Banca Nationale del Lavoro's connection to the arming of Iraq — to craft delicate visual maps using arcing arrows that connect small words printed by hand inside circles. The airy quality of Lom-bardi's arrangements, which often look like constellations or flying insects, contrast with the serious and dense nature of his subject. Especially in his horizontal arrangement that extends many feet, the silky graphite arcs convey a graphic clarity, while providing a visual complexity and richness that deserves study.

Lombardi's connect-the-dots exercises offer an appropriate beginning to this show, since the curators themselves work in a similar fashion conceptually. Links spun between images of harshness and tenderness, fact and fiction, foe and friend, provide a much-needed balance and provide an elegant logic to the progression of images.

"The Art of Aggression" stands as a testimony of artistic activism. And while grappling with the themes and concepts of power, conflict and aggression, these artists don't lose sight of their job to create an object of visual beauty. Along with emotional and intellectual acuity — and it is significant here — there exists a devotion to the poetics of seeing, and that helps the viewer reconcile the fact that while these images are timely, the issues are timeless. S

"The Art of Aggression: Iraqi Stories and Other Tales" runs through March 12 at Reynolds Gallery, 1514 West Main St.


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