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Roadside Art

By Steve Ramos · September 7th, 2005 · Arts Beat

Viewing art where it's least expected means a trip to an outdoor sculpture exhibition in Blue Ash and a search for a sole farm surrounded by office parks and typical suburban sprawl. Whether or not the anti-museum trip is worth the effort depends on finding its gem installation tucked behind overgrown brush and a small creek. If you find it -- this one special piece by veteran artist Paige Wideman that makes the drive and bug bites worthwhile -- then you'll have a new appreciation for roadside art and the chance to break away from storefront galleries and big-city museums, at least for one summer evening.

Mac's Farm, the home of Without Walls '05, an annual end-of-summer outdoor sculpture show, sits just past a row of suburban office buildings and around the corner from the Blue Ash airport. (The show continues through Nov. 6 at Mac's Farm, located at 10538 Plainfield Rd.; it's open noon-8 p.m. daily.) There are plenty of roadside signs announcing the next performance by the Blue Ash Orchestra, but you have to pay extra attention to find Mac's Farm, owned by the McConaugh family since the 1920s. It's worth the effort.

A classic white picket fence and rows of tall corn stalks are the landmarks that tell you to follow the recently paved road to a distant farmhouse on the backside of the property.

Park the car on the grass. Grab a map from the mailbox nailed to a nearby tree and start your treasure hunt.

The outdoor setting is everything at Mac's Farm, more working garden than art gallery. On the first cool August evening in weeks, the viewing experience makes up for works too roughhewn to take notice. Like all survey shows, Mac's Farm offers both memorable and forgettable artwork. But the experience is everything. Blue skies provide perfect lighting. Two hound dogs act as impromptu tour guides. Chairs and a large tent remain standing from a recent wedding. A Ford pickup truck sits near Plainfield Rd. There is no one else at the farm except for some family members in the distance enjoying the holiday weekend.

Searching for more sculptures on the far side of the farm, city life makes a crashing reappearance.

Rap music streams from a backyard party at a neighbor's house. There are Ohio State banners and a large TV sits on the back porch. The noise shatters the farm's old-fashioned atmosphere, but the intrusion is valuable. It's good to remember just how easily places like Mac's Farm can disappear -- just like the produce stand that stocks its vegetable crop. One has to grab at the chance to experience something like Mac's Farm. There is no telling when it will become another housing development or office park.

The searching pays off at the end of a buggy path with Wideman's "Marked Journeys," a carefully placed collection of bamboo rods and smooth wooden sculptures painted ocean green. Gathered together with a precision more in tune with a Japanese garden than a Southwestern Ohio farm, Wideman's work represents the easygoing bond good outdoor sculpture makes with its surroundings. "Marked Journeys" looks like it belongs along the trickling creek on the grounds of Mac's Farm, which is the best thing one can say about outdoor installations. It looks permanent and makes perfect sense.

Whether "Marked Journeys" remains at its secret garden, whether it's to be joined in future years by new artworks and shows, depends on the McConaugh family, led by self-taught artist Robert McConaughy. There is no limit to the commercial uses for such valuable real estate. But it's hard to imagine an experience as refreshing or as pleasant as searching for sculpture, especially on an August evening with summer slowly folding into fall. Life is what you make of it, when you take the time and effort to make something memorable.

Contact steve ramos: sramos(at)citybeat.com


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