- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003

Soft, biomorphic and cloudlike in their whiteness, Kendall Buster’s fantastic sculptures appear to float through amazing spaces in her current exhibit at the Kreeger Museum.
  Yet, Ms. Buster, 48, anchored the show’s major works “Fortifications,” “Portable Highrise,” “Cells/Fragmented Gallery,” and “Model for a Three-Chambered Tower” solidly to the floor.
  The artist titled the Kreeger exhibit “Kendall Buster: Inventory of Imagined Places” because it highlights selected sculptural projects from the past 10 years. While “Inventory” presents an overview, the Kreeger doesn’t offer it as a retrospective.
  Museum director Judy Greenberg says she chose Ms. Buster’s largely translucent work because it reflects Kreeger museum architect Philip Johnson’s extensive use of glass. In presenting the artist, too rarely shown in her hometown of Washington, Ms. Greenberg performs a service for the local art community.
  A former microbiologist who built wooden forts as a child in rural Alabama, the sculptor describes her work as organically inspired but that doesn’t quite capture the tension at its core. Rather, she makes works that are electrifying juxtapositions of lifelike organic forms with the relentless toughness of metals.
  The first gallery in the exhibit displays 49 recent Buster drawings along its capacious walls and centers on the metal “Fortifications”(1992-1993), part of her “Confinement/Steel Hide” series. The display retains a spareness, as the powerful black-to-white, pencil-on-Mylar drawings (Mylar is a smooth, translucent support she stretches over linen) are small and placed in clear acrylic boxes in the middle of the gallery’s cavernous space. The drawings function as both preparatory sketches for her sculptures and independent works of art. Expert lighting of the drawings reinforces the Zenlike approach.
  Ms. Buster created the “Fortification” sculptures (“structure” might be a better word, given her architectural-object orientation) with steel painted black. She created rounded forms resembling containers and enclosures through very cold and very black metals in these earlier years.
  Ms. Buster trained under architect Frank Gehry, minimalist sculptor Martin Puryear and installation artist Victor Acconci while studying at the Yale University Sculpture Department in 1987. She says that through frequent exchanges with the architecture program she learned she could merge the languages of two disciplines.
  White structures expressing her signature sense of wonder fill the next galleries. For example, she made “Portable Highrise” this year for an exhibit in Madrid. Though more than 10 feet tall, the piece can be folded to fit into a small suitcase. The artist created what she calls its “skeleton” with steel poles, cable, cable ties, a found umbrella (the only “found object” in the show), foam core and pins and covered it with translucent shade cloth. The fabric resembles netting and can be looked through.
  Another white structure is the largest installation in the exhibit, the tactile and touchable “Cells/Fragmented Gallery.” Ms. Buster made eight identical, cube-shaped modules from a material used for inflatable whitewater rafts. Attaching the “cells” to the floor, she arranged them in two closely packed rows of four each so that visitors have to bounce off them as they walk through. In return, the forms “nudge” them right back.
  Creating walk-through sculptures is, of course, not unique. Washington sculptor Foon Sham produces many of wood, and his almost-14-foot-tall “Bio-morphic Form” dominated his latest exhibit at the World Bank’s art gallery. And Brazilian Ernesto Neto made a room of enter-and-exit white structures for the Baltimore Museum of Art’s recent “Bodyspace” show. Exhibit viewers could even jump on them.
  What is common to these artists’ different approaches is their environmental, physical structuring. Visitors can get into, become part of, and, best of all, touch the works. Thumbing their noses at the time-honored taboos of traditional sculpture, the artists opted instead for free-form environments that “grab” everyone.
  In the last gallery, Ms. Buster’s “Model for Three-Chambered Tower” part of the “parabiosis” series joins three separate “towers,” signaling her move to what she calls “cities.”
  In this work, she expanded her former dome-shaped, all-white cells they reflect the domes of Mr. Johnson’s architectural design to clusters of distinct enclosures. She then pulled translucent shiny paper tightly over these interlinked but independent organisms. After she completed her “Tower,” Ms. Buster went on to much bigger “parabiosis” projects such as the “Untitled” one for the Washington Convention Center. These she often layered with abstracted city- and-landscape images.
  With monumental works such as these, Ms. Buster seems at the height of her imaginative and creative powers. From the tiny cells she observed under a microscope while studying at the University of Alabama, to making the actual standing “cells” of her “Cell/Fragmented Gallery,” to stretching these cell forms to much larger conceptual “universes,” Ms. Buster shows how her tiny germ of an idea grew.
  Her new cityscapes will feature structures that are even larger and more impressive, while still expressing the underlying principles that order natural forms and growth. It will be fascinating and rewarding to watch these develop.
  
  WHAT: “Kendall Buster: Inventory of Imagined Places”
  WHERE: Kreeger Museum, 2401 Foxhall Road NW
  WHEN: 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. weekdays, 10:30 a.m. Saturdays, by reservations, through June 21
  TICKETS: Suggested donation is $8 for adults, $5 for students and seniors.
  PHONE: 202/337-3050

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