Group exhibitions are usually organized around an explicit theme or feature artists from similar regions, art movements or eras. The two artists who hold Seen/unseen: Linda Stein and Mil Lubroth, currently on view at the Maison de la culture, did not know each other and shared no obvious connection, but are thematically and aesthetically related. It’s rare and refreshing to see an exhibition that deviates from a straightforward curatorial vision, and the lack of apparent connections provides a unique insight into the work of both artists.
The introductory text on the wall gives useful information about these artists who are probably unknown to a wider audience. Linda Stein is an artist, educator and activist whose work often focuses on her sexual identity and femininity. Mil Lubroth was born in the United States but lived and worked in Spain for much of her life until her death in 2004, drawing on the mix of cultures and visual references she found there. Both were American Jews and often worked against the grain, devoting themselves to their own unique artistic explorations, which often went against what was fashionable in the art world at the time. Their work reflects a sense of otherness and forges its own path.
A quick look at the works in the Culture House gallery reveals that both artists used the human figure as their subject, but the forms are somehow obstructed. There are no labels on the wall to mark titles or who created which work, further blurring the lines between bodies of work and creating another form of concealment. Despite this, it is immediately apparent that two distinct points of view are being presented. Lubroth depicts body silhouettes, which are richly textured and covered in multiple layers of serigraphs and paint. Almost all of Stein’s work shows facial profiles, cropped so that the eyes cannot be seen.
Although there is no text to explain each work, a voiceover by Stein plays in the gallery, along with a slideshow of his additional works. His monologue describes the obsessive measures that go into his renderings of facial profiles, growing up gay at a time when homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder, and how his artistic creation is a therapeutic and relaxing practice. Her words offer an intimate view of the person behind the art and give a different cast to her otherwise beautiful and harmless portraits.
A work by Stein, “Profile Landscape,” is painted on a page torn from a brainwave book, eerily echoing Stein’s thoughts on how homosexuality was classed as a disease at the time she realized these paintings. Watching “Profile of Virginia Woolf,” which features Stein’s profile motif rendered with a marbled ink effect, it’s impossible to shake her depiction of being depressed as she struggled with her sexuality.
Lubroth, too, is influenced by the history of the excavations, stating once in a interview, “scratch the surface in Spain and you will always find a Jewish-Arabic culture beneath Western culture with its Catholic rituals.” Her feminine silhouettes stand in front of or parade in front of backdrops composed of architectural elements or glued elements like postage stamps or woven paper. A somewhat hazy serigraph of a woman looking over her shoulder is flanked by bright Islamic motifs in “Bailadora de Andalucía a propósito de Ortiz”.
Throughout the exhibition, the works of each artist are grouped together in their own sections of wall space, but face each other, in conversation. Although the couple have never met, they make suitable companions in this exhibition space, and although they have both worked on themes of isolation, they present a united front here. These two eternally forgotten artists can now be seen with fresh eyes, side by side.
Seen/unseen: Linda Stein and Mil Lubroth short through May 14 at Culture House, 700 Delaware Ave. SW. Open Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment. culturehousedc.org. Free.