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Bats for Departing Contestants

By Steve Ramos · December 31st, 2003 · Arts Beat
If Cincinnati were a TV game show (an image that syncs perfectly with the aching-to-be-liked spirit of the city), then a Bats Incredible! sculpture would be handed to everyone leaving town as a consolation prize. A quality game show host, played with razzle-dazzle enthusiasm by Cinergy Foundation honcho Joe Hale, knows that all exiting folks -- especially those in the losers' column -- deserve something kitschy. Finally, a good use for the bats has been found.

Charles Desmarais announced his exit as director of the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in a Sept. 24 news release. He will take a sabbatical for part of 2004, then return to the CAC midyear in the newly created position of curator-at-large. His bat should be as nonlinear as architect Zaha Hadid's design for the new CAC, a project that took over Desmarais' life. Newspaper and magazine clippings of rave reviews will cover the sleek, postmodern bat. There is nothing like nostalgia for past glory to soothe current anxieties over what went wrong.

Thom Collins, senior curator at the CAC since March 2001, is the second ex-CAC administrator to receive a bat, as he departs to become executive director of Baltimore's Contemporary Museum. Collins' bat would be small, almost kiddy-sized, simply painted with the slogan "Don't Let the Piggy Bite You On the Way Out."

Back in September, SSNOVA (Sanctum Sanctorum Nonprofit Organization and Venue for the Arts) co-founder Emily Buddendeck left the grassroots organization she created, citing creative differences.

Like all grassroots arts leaders, she has little to show for her effort and massive contribution to the local arts community. A raw, unfinished bat with a $1,000-plus artist's stipend check attached would be a welcome gesture of thanks for all of her hard work.

Before leaving town for a Manhattan studio, artist Mark Fox enjoyed a high-profile send off with his Cincinnati Art Museum installation, Dust, a series of eight works, six of which were grouped in the temporary gallery of CAM's new Cincinnati Wing.

Fox insists more people saw his Bats Incredible! piece, "This Is Not a Pig (Bat's a Pig)," on Fountain Square. The sculpture was a sly, sarcastic jab at Cincinnati public art projects -- a large fiberglass pig with tiny bats shoved between its butt cheeks. It's funny -- too funny for locals -- and I propose sending it to Fox as a reminder of everything he left behind.

The artists and arts advocates who remain, those elite few who take a beating and still remain committed to the community, get a leftover large fiberglass pig in place of some flimsy baseball bat.

At a June 7 art opening David Dillon, operator of Semantics Gallery, was cited by the Cincinnati Police vice squad for "unlawfully selling beer" and "unlawfully furnishing beer in 12-ounce cans." He receives a pork-barrel pig, stuffed with city funds. The much-deserved money will help Dillon program the Brighton neighborhood storefront space. It's also fair compensation for all the grief he experienced over numerous court dates. Dillon can set his honorary pig outside the entrance to Semantics Gallery with a sign hanging from its neck: "This is not a rave. This is an art gallery."

The last pig, a giant, Trojan-horse-sized oinker, goes to Laura Hollis, visual artist and director of The Artery, Newport's lone arts center. With zero political clout and miniscule influence with the Kentucky city's business community, Hollis has a homeless gallery on her hands as new owners take over the Monmouth Street building currently housing The Artery.

No philanthropic angels have come forward to help Hollis during these tough times, but a giant pig is the next best thing. Hollis can mount shows inside the pig, sawing a doorway below the tail. It's not the best solution. Then again, bats and pigs were never more than empty consolation prizes.



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