It hasn’t yet been a year since Publico, the non-commercial, artist-run exhibition space on Clay Street, closed its doors. Nonetheless, the Weston Art Gallery has already pulled together the collaborators again for its current show, Since You’ve Been Gone. The exhibition sweeps Publico’s Over-the- Rhine vibe into the mainstream — the Weston is part of downtown’s Aronoff Center for the Arts — and infects it with an impulsive nostalgia.
Ephemera from Publico’s five years of operation show that this kind of pressed-on wistfulness was already part of the collaborators’ plan. Posters announcing fund-raisers were designed with an eye to the vintage: coin cans, retro typefaces, “Everything must go!” jargon. Publico’s street sign, a light box with black san serif letters, taken from its original spot and replaced in the Weston, becomes an ironic flashback. Even the “Recreated Over-the-Rhine Murals” by the artist Ranins, remade paintings of cell phones, a togo box, a sandwich and a cheeseburger, among other things, become nostalgic symbols of something that, in a way, still exists.
If you frequented Publico’s openings, you might feel a stab of sadness seeing Joe Lamb’s large and glossy candid photographs displayed on two walls in the Weston. If you didn’t attend the parties, then you’ll get a clear sense of what went on there; the photos capture a young T-shirted crowd, talking on the Clay Street sidewalk, working on complicated installations, dancing, performing and playing
Each artist member of Publico has work in the Weston show. Some of it is outstanding. Evan Commander’s “Crystal Set,” for example, is a delicately etched glass sculpture. Two pieces hang from the walls like open books. Engraved words further that notion, while also tying into the concept of the artists’ space as a space for all artists. Publico, indeed, held poetry readings and concerts as well as visual art shows. Matt Coors’ “Omamori for Publico” is a large glassy digital ink-jet print of a Japanese shrine. Next to the photograph hangs an omamori — a kind of prayer pouch. A visitor must believe there is a handwritten prayer inside it. An unexpected sweetness lingers here; Coors, along with his brother Paul, founded Publico, and there is a clear sense he mourns the loss of it, despite the fact that its loss was a choice.
Paul Coors’ “Single Takes (Since You’ve Been Gone)” is a group of small ink drawings. Graceful and droopy like Hans Bellmer without the shock-factor, the drawings seem mournful too — nostalgic doodles full of memory. The Weston also propped up more Publicoevoking work by Paul Coors — the corrugated walls from Publico and the light fixture. Putting these objects into a gallery show gives a great sense of how much work went into the seemingly bare-bones space on Clay Street.
“Last Summer,” an installation of five sleeping bags by artist Matthew Waldbillig, is perhaps the most interesting work in the exhibition. The sleeping bags take Robert Rauschenberg’s famous “Bed” into a new direction. For “Bed,” Rauschenberg took his actual bed, flipped it, covered it in paint and hung it on the wall. In doing this, he obliterated the line between public and private spaces. Waldbillig does the same thing, only it’s a group of beds here — a collective. It calls to mind sleepovers and campsites and staying up late to talk about all the thoughts you have. It brings back childhood.
Publico’s collaborators did it all in their old space, and they’re doing it all again in Since You’ve Been Gone. Artists Britni Bicknaver, Commander, the Coors brothers, Beth Graves, Russell Ihrig, Lamb, Waldbillig and Dana Ward came together to create a new, completely unsalable mixed media sculpture.
The work, “Collapsible Kiosk,” takes up most of the space on the Weston’s upper floor. It looks like a bird — let’s stay away from any phoenix references here, please — or a festival float, only smarter and more complicated. Pennants of printed Publico propaganda hang like prayer flags from a sculptural form that is actually, the artists state, a “portable, reconfigurable performance kiosk with PA system” and speakers.
It seemed a forlorn object during my visit — quiet and unmanned — but the Publico crew won’t let anything stay silent for too long. �
SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE is on view at Weston Art Gallery through Nov. 8.