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TO FEB. 2
“Changing Rhythms: Works by Leland Bell, 1950s-1991” gives Washingtonians their first opportunity to view the works of the New York figurative painter since his retrospective at the Phillips Collection more than a decade ago. Well-known in academic circles but less familiar to the general public, Bell—who taught for many years at the New York Studio School—returned over and over during the course of his lengthy career to the same, largely domestic scenes involving groupings of monumental figures painted in planes of vibrant color with strong black outlines. Pop artist R.B. Kitaj described the pieces as “a world view of daily existence at the level of myth”; their subjects were usually Bell; his wife, Louisa Matthiasdottir; and his daughter, Temma Bell—both of whom were also painters—engaged in dynamic, stylized motion. Morning (pictured) explores a nude, possibly post-coital couple reacting to a cat that has dragged death in the form of a bird into their bedroom, and eight paintings on view revisit the twosome’s shifting bodies in tones of anger, languor, and disgust. Another grouping, the Butterfly series, explores the formal possibilities inherent in the interplay of arms, as a family gives chase to a butterfly over the dinner table. Lines dance and flow from painting to painting as figures shift aspects and attitudes, giving the works the quality of jazzlike variations on a theme and making them of particular interest to students of composition. Seven of Bell’s striking and characteristic self-portraits are also on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday to Saturday, Feb. 2, at American University’s Watkins Gallery, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Free. (202) 885-1064. (Garance Franke-Ruta)