On Exhibit: 'Margaret Boozer: Dirt Drawings' at the American University Museum

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 24, 2009

Artist Margaret Boozer recalls her gut reaction upon seeing the "gorgeous" polished-concrete floors of the American University Museum, where her work is on view in a stunning first-floor installation: "Oh, I need to put some dirt on these floors."

That's exactly what she did.

"Margaret Boozer: Dirt Drawings" includes what may be the world's biggest mud pie ever found in a museum: a giant puddle of wet red clay that was, at least on opening night last month, still oozing water around its edges, which had been dammed up with a low wall of crusty, pinkish soil. Designed to take about four weeks to air-dry in the climate-controlled setting, it should be finishing up that process this weekend. I say should be because Boozer doesn't know -- or care, really -- what the show looks like from day to day.

What the local ceramic artist wants most, she says, is for visitors to have an experience like the one she has every morning when she steps into her Mount Rainier studio (called, unsurprisingly, Red Dirt) and takes a look at what has happened overnight to the raw -- that is, unfired -- clay that she hauls, in shades of red and blue raspberry, purple, gold and white, from the mines of Stancills Inc. in Perryville, Md. That is to say: surprise and wonder.

Before now, Boozer says, "nobody got to have [that experience] but me." Her floor installation of crumbled -- and crumbling -- clay rings and craterlike ceramic platters laid out like area rugs plays off the Katzen Center's dramatically curving walls and arose from the artist's desire to share a long-standing fascination. It's a fascination with a material whose appearance cannot be predicted from one day to the next. "I enjoy the temporal quality of it," she explains. "You missed it yesterday? Now it's different."

Much of Boozer's gallery work, while still abstract, is more traditional and often includes wall pieces. They're sculpture, and they're built for the ages. "Fired ceramics last forever," she says. Sure, they may break, but they don't rust like metal or rot like wood. Her "dirt drawings" may be in a museum, but they aren't meant to be handed down to your grandchildren.

When the show comes down next month, Boozer hopes to be able to reuse some of the clay and to give away the rest to interested area ceramic-art programs. "There's more here than I could ever use," she says. When it's time to clean up the exquisite mess she has made here, "I'll just sweep it all up and give it to whoever wants it," she says. "That's more in keeping with the spirit of the show anyway."

Margaret Boozer: Dirt Drawings Through Aug. 16 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW Contact: 202-885-1300. http://www.american.edu/museum. Hours: Open Tuesday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; also open one hour before performing arts events in the Katzen. Admission: Free. Public program: On Saturday at 2 p.m., Boozer will present a free gallery talk and behind-the-scenes slide show about her work and the series of dirt photographs that accompanies the exhibition.

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