- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

Few people would argue that it's difficult to view an artist's original mobile images in static form.

The challenge was especially apparent to Edwin Penick, an exhibition designer at the National Museum for Women in the Arts for eight years. Putting together the current show of multimedia works by New York-based director-designer Julie Taymor that currently occupies two floors of the museum through Feb. 4 required resources of an unusual kind.

Granted he had the space, but it required ingenuity to show off the eclectic collection of puppets, sculpture, masks, paintings, costumes, video clips and scenery to the advantage they have had in Miss Taymor's many theatrical and film works of the past 20 years.

The New York-based artist, whose hybrid work draws on genres as diverse as 18th-century Japanese puppets and contemporary performance pieces, was inspired profoundly by the years she spent as a young woman in Indonesia, where theater arts are very nearly a religious tradition integrated into everyday life.

Born 48 years ago outside Boston, she was encouraged early by parents to take her talent seriously. While still a teen-ager, she studied mime and film in Paris before returning home to attend Oberlin College in Ohio, but she soon gravitated to New York to take part for credit in several avant-garde theater companies. She returned to the Oberlin campus as a member of the theater company of famed experimental director Herbert Blau who had been invited there as resident artist. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1974.

Although her best-known creation to date is "The Lion King," she said Thursday while mingling with fans that the most difficult challenge of her career to date was "Titus Andronicus," the film of Shakespeare's play that she directed and which starred Anthony Hopkins.

Her future projects include interpretations of the folk story "Pinocchio" for Broadway, a version of "The Flying Dutchman" for Fox TV and an opera. "But 'Pinocchio' is at least three years away," she said, and the opera is "only in the discussion stage."

"Lion King" producers Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider admitted the exhibit brought tears to their eyes. They were not able to see it when it was first put on at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University.

"This is fine art that could hang in any museum in the world," Mr. Schumacher said.

"She's not herself a puppeteer, but she uses them to tell a story," Mr. Penick said. "She is a theater maker, a storyteller, an amazing collaborator. The detailed fabrication is not so important as the story she is telling. This (show) is the ultimate backstage tour."

He had to do a bit of coordinating and collaborating himself with some "25 outsiders" to get the exhibit up quickly in six weeks. He was particularly challenged by the need to install dramatic lighting that would help bring such fantastic works of the imagination to life.

"You're talking about bringing theater into a museum where some of the animation is lost." In one room, he used different light settings synchronized to illuminate the span of outsized colorful characters and play up the exquisite details of Miss Taymor's creations.

Theaters have 40-foot ceilings, Mr. Penick pointed out. The most height he had to work with was 25 feet in the old beaux-arts building, where few rooms are higher than 12.

Washington artists on hand to discuss the success of installation included Annette Polan, Joan Danzinger and Patricia Tobacco Forrester.

Hearing an argument about whether theatrical pieces are on a par with fine art, an onlooker who was among the overflow crowd at Wednesday's reception declared, "They're just jealous."

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