The AEC’s exhibition space is sunlit, wide-open and an awkward fit for most two-dimensional work. But as Robert Fry’s splendid timber pieces make clear, it’s near perfect for large-scale sculpture.
The sturdy oak and red paint tripod “To the Point” and its lankier companion “One Idea” soar toward the ceiling with a presence that commands the gallery. These works embrace balanced, direct forms that run just shy of minimalism. And like a lot of minimal sculpture, their formal grace is offset by an emotional distance. They’re not cold or impersonal, just faintly aloof.
Fry’s smaller works are more approachable. “More than a Bench” embraces its sense of humor, while “Unknown” has ascending dowels, blemished and rough-hewn. The missing piece in “My Yellow Sculpture” adds an idiosyncratic edge to an already peculiar arrangement. What these pieces lack in size, they make up for in humanity.
In the same space, Jennifer Grote’s found object reliefs are a natural complement to Fry’s organic simplicity.
But throughout A New Reality, Grote’s works give the impression of having been made by two different artists. One creates professional, craft-oriented pieces that seem to have salability in mind. The other is emotional, ragged and not afraid to risk failure.
Unsurprisingly, Grote’s riskier works come off strongest. Her achromatic paper assemblage “Carpel Tunnel” weeps with the desperation and frailty of someone on the verge of nervous collapse. Beneath it, a voluminous pile of torn remains is a melancholy echo of some futile errand. The spectral installation “All That Remains” conjures up images of Charon’s ferry, routing souls between this life and the next. But the wire-and-porcelain sculpture’s evocation of death is transcendent rather than disheartening. Perhaps more than any other works in the show, these pieces ache with emotions earnestly felt and honestly communicated.
A prolific collagist, Michael Scheurer’s flair for inventive arrangement and curious juxtapositions injects a dose of saturated color into an exhibition that otherwise emphasizes neutral tones and natural surfaces. It’s a shame that his 24 untitled shadow boxes are quarantined to the narrow hallway near the back of the AEC. During my visit, I couldn’t help but think that the entire exhibition would benefit from his hallucinatory compositions intruding upon Grote and Fry’s sophistication.
While Scheurer’s work has always had a child-like element, several of his new pieces possess eerie, enigmatic undertones. The depiction of a one-eyed elephant in “Untitled #14” is simultaneously amusing and disturbing, like a forgotten toy languishing in a long-deserted room. His works also combine a globe-spanning array of cultural output. “Untitled #24” fuses Christian and traditional West African imagery to create an arresting portrait that echoes Braque and Picasso’s early experiments with collage. Other pieces mine Indian, Asian, folk and outsider traditions to dazzling effect.
A New Reality is the kind of show that defies typical notions about local artists and Midwestern art. Rather than play it safe, these artists are willing to chance failure and play for keeps. And though aspects of Heider’s curatorial premise may stretch credulity — artmaking and economic dislocation are not analogous — it never affects the show. This exhibition decisively posits that art is a perceptual phenomenon rooted in an engagement with materials, the physical world that surrounds us and its transformation into new realities.
A NEW REALITY is on view through Jan. 13 at the Artisan’s Enterprise Center (27 W. 7th St., Covington). Gallery hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more info, visit www.covingtonarts.com.