What with the Fringe Festival finished up last weekend, there's not so
much to choose from in the world of local theater. But there is a piece of frothy entertainment at
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company that is a perfect summer refreshment:
It's Noel Coward's Private Lives. The show (created in
1929) is indeed a classic — making it perfect material for Cincy Shakes — but it's a very funny comedy about a pair of lovers who can't stand
to be apart and who have problems being together.
They were married for
three years, spent too much time fighting and decided to divorce. As the
show opens, they're on honeymoons with new spouses, but they end up
coincidentally in adjacent rooms at a hotel in the south of France. When
the encounter one another on the patio, they old spark is there, which
leads them to run off together. As you might imagine, a lot of
foolishness ensues -- including them returning to the alternating
currents of being in love and throwing things at one another. The couple
are played by two Cincy Shakes vets, Jeremy Dubin and Kelly Mengelkoch,
who just happen to be married to one another. Their jilted second
spouses are also fine actors from the company: the sprightly Sara Clark
and the versatile Brent Vimtrup (astonishing as Hamlet earlier this
year) now playing a boorish dud. Lots of laughs along the way as this
tale unravels, gets tangled and winds up.
Private Lives opened a week ago and has been selling exceptionally well: I saw a performance on Thursday evening that was completely sold-out, and they announced that most of this weekend's tickets have been claimed. But you should call to see what's available. Through June 29. Tickets ($21-$35): 513-381-2273.
There was something magnetic about Manifest Gallery when I walked into it late last Thursday afternoon.
And it wasn’t the space, designed to be charming with its recently opened art shows, the echoes of my slow-moving footsteps and the lost keystrokes of someone at a nearby office desk.
It was the well-curated combination of two resident artists hiding away behind those things — tangled in freshly minted work, upcoming moves and new things to create.
Nicholas Mancini and Jeremy Plunkett were in their neighboring studios sifting through iTunes and working on their prospective projects when I found them in the building’s back half. They were thinking about their past year in Cincinnati, and the artwork that was a result of it.
“Immediately it’s like this last breath and now I’m almost lost as to where I’m going to go,” Mancini says. “Your work is going there up to this point and now it’s out there. You’re done with it, and now it’s up.”
The two resident artists (plural for the first time this year), who are both painters from life (though they both work in other mediums too), opened their end-of-the-residency exhibition MAR Showcase May 30.
Mancini’s portion of the show is made by a compelling collection of moments painted perceptual remnants in his show Vestige, and Plunkett’s by an intimate, meticulously detailed collection of photorealistic light paintings in his show Container.
“I always find myself very attracted to what’s called the sublime feeling, and I try to get there with my work and it’s always been a theme,” Plunkett says. “Can I represent light in the most pure, realistic way?”
Plunkett is the type of artist who will trick you (cause you to triple-take a work until you realize it isn’t a photograph, but a humanly rendered painting), and one whose extraordinary attention to detail made me wish I knew something as preciously as he does his 6-by-4-inch, light-through-plastic-bag paintings.
Also hewn with oil, Mancini’s work balances Plunkett’s beautifully. Emotional abstractions of figures, still life and portraits reminded me first of some sweet melody, without any close look at or step up to. Full of fleeting pleasure and the sunset’s best colors, his work is briefer, shattered, and is able to catch you just in time to fall as you do.
“There’s a painting in the show that I did of my microwave and it’s like this thing, this moment,” Mancini says. “There’s this moment in a day where you go to open it and you go to put your coffee in because it’s been sitting there all day and it’s cold now, and you stop yourself and this thing you look at everyday becomes something else. And actually, I kind of like that way of thinking about it. When something becomes something else.”
After studying in several different art programs, graduating in 2010 and traveling through Norway and Italy for a year and a half, Mancini came to Manifest from his hometown of Swampscott, Mass. Plunkett came from Milwaukee after having earned his MFA at Ohio University, teaching art classes for a couple of years and then breaking from art to focus on cycling, before he again began craving a space that would enable him creatively.
Which is exactly what each of them got.
“They showed a high degree of commitment to a vein of work which showed strong intellect, a relationship to the broader history of the practice without being derivative, and a consistency that promised a trajectory that could be boosted by immersion an intense one-year program like ours,” says Jason Franz, Manifest executive director. “Based on their solo exhibits at the gallery I can say this has proven to be so true, as I am delighted with the results of this first set of MAR showcase exhibitions.”
Just before I left their studios, Plunkett caught me to tell me something I’d forgotten to ask him: that he and Mancini would leave the city with something beyond their new collections and everything that came with delving deeply into themselves during such a precise stretch of time. They’d leave with the memories and results that come from a shared residency, city and companionship that pushed and pondered and grew together as they did.
Leaning in the doorway between their two workspaces, Mancini merely turned up the corners of his mouth, nodded in agreement and then walked back to his blank canvas.
MAR Showcase features an artists' gallery talk at 5 p.m. Saturday and closes June 27. Manifest Creative Research Gallery, 2727 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, manifestgallery.org.
Just two more days of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, so here are a few recommendations for great shows you can still catch. (Look for reviews of these performances on CityBeat's Fringe page here.) Many Fringe performances are sold-out, so check in advance to be sure seats are still available: cincyfringe.com.
Old embraced new in a powerful way when Cincinnati’s oldest art institution, the Cincinnati Art Museum, purchased a new piece from local, contemporary artist Courttney Cooper this week.
"Cincinnati Map" is now part of the museum’s permanent collection and skillfully depicts the buildings, streets, and roadways that make our city one Cooper never tires of drawing. A piecemeal of 8.5-by-11-inch repurposed papers, "Cincinnati Map" is a Bic pen line rendition of downtown Cincinnati that Cooper worked on for a year and brought to life by memory alone.
"Courttney Cooper is one of the most ambitious and compelling artists working in Cincinnati,“ says Matt Distel, CAM adjunct curator of contemporary art. “His work not only speaks to Cincinnati but also addresses more universal concepts about how people experience their environment.”
Grown out of Northside’s Visionaries + Voices studio and gallery, "Cincinnati Map" was shown in Cooper’s first museum show at the Cincinnati Art Museum last year and will now be exhibited there as curatorial opportunities for it emerge.
Visual Arts Exhibition Season:
Memory Palace (Sept. 12, 2014-Feb.16,
Curated by Steven Matijcio
On the occasion of the CAC's 75th anniversary, this exhibition will present memory as soft, malleable clay. Rather than renewing the supposed fixity of facts, Memory Palace will revel in remembering as a creative act: highlighting the way our recollections shift actual histories into imperfect, obstructed, quintessentially human legacies.
Confirmed artists for this landmark exhibition include Louise Bourgeois, Spencer Finch, Mike Kelley, William Kentridge, Guillermo Kuitca, Jun Nguyen- Hatsushiba, Hans Op de Beeck, Dennis Oppenheim, Katrin Sigurdardottir and others to be announced. The CAC's extended community will also contribute to this project as we gather your stories in a variety of formats, from video interviews to forensic sketches. In turn, the CAC is commissioning reconfigurations of the organization's unofficial archives by artists like MK Guth, Nina Katchadourian and Kerry Tribe. This effort culminates in the CAC Lobby, where artist Pam Kravetz will orchestrate community-centric projects including a television show, carnivalesque games and a monumental memory quilt.
Taiyo Onorato and
Nico Krebs: Blockbuster (Sept. 12,
Curated by Kevin Moore
The Swiss-born, Berlin-based duo Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs respond with humor and wit to various traditions of modernist architecture, documentary photography and the heroic travelogue. By pecking at such constructions, the artists reveal a more whimsical, ironic and subjective vision of the structures and technologies that shape the ways we see and live. And while much of their practice is photographic, the artists' engagement with other media — film, sculpture, sound — sheds the artifice of objectivity to celebrate eccentric reconstructions of the world around us. This is the first major museum exhibition for Onorato and Krebs in the United States, presented by FotoFocus.
Duke Riley and
Frohawk Two Feathers: Based on a True
Story (Oct. 10, 2014-March 22, 2015)
Curated by Steven Matijcio
History's once unquestionable integrity has eroded over time, with as much fiction, interpretation and imagination revealed in the pages of our esteemed libraries as actual facts and events. Twisting fact, fantasy and fabrication into an outsider's view of western civilization, this exhibition brings together two artists who have turned historical fiction into a habitual calling. Boston-born Duke Riley marries what he calls "populist myth" and "reinvented historical obscurities" with field research, participatory craft and museological display. Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based Frohawk Two Feathers is an artist, historian, and self-described "myth-maker" who re-imagines 18th century colonial history through a fictive cast of slaves, revolutionaries, militiamen and aristocrats.
Anne Lindberg and
Saskia Olde Wolbers: Unmade (Oct. 10,
2014-March 22, 2015)
Curated by Steven Matijcio
Artists Anne Lindberg and Saskia Olde Wolbers dissolve the familiarity that accumulates with time, habit and space. Lindberg pushes drawing on and off the page, obsessively inscribing lines that evade both resolution and definition. Dutch-born, London-based Wolbers orchestrates a cinematic fantasy with equal enigma. By submerging handmade sets into water and coaxing narratives to masquerade as reality, she melts the seemingly digital polish of her films with painterly contingency. The ensuing dialogue between the artist's works softens the geometry of the gallery space, obscuring hard lines and sharp corners to float towards a mysterious horizon.
Daniel Arsham: Erasing The Present (March 20-Aug. 16,
Curated by Steven Matijcio
The work of prodigious Cleveland-born artist Daniel Arsham is said to "make architecture do all the things it shouldn't." Blurring the lines between theatre and hallucination, some of his best-known works appear to melt the solidity of gallery walls, such that they appear to be dripping, folding, oozing or absorbing furniture. In more recent years he has begun to cast aging media devices — including cameras, film projectors and microphones — from granulated materials like volcanic ash, sand, crystal and crushed glass. This is the first large-scale Ohio exhibition for Arsham, who became widely known (at the age of 25) when asked to design a stage set for the legendary Merce Cunningham.
Albano Afonso: Self-Portrait As Light (March 20-Aug.
Co-Curated by Steven Matijcio and Alice Grey Stites
For Brazilian artist Albano Afonso light is the elusive, but no less essential element that makes painting, photography, film and vision itself possible. Through photographs, installations, projections and luminous objects he gives light a sculptural presence, and measures its ability to both elucidate and obscure. Such affect is spoken through the language of art history, as Afonso reformulates time-honored traditions of portraiture, still life, vanitas and landscape. This will be Afonso's first major exhibition in the United States, and it will extend across the CAC and 21c Museum Hotel.
James Lee Byars and
Matt Morris: the perfect kiss (QQ)* (April
17-Sept. 13, 2015)
Curated by Matt Morris
Throughout his life, American artist James Lee Byars (1932-97) framed his work with elusive notions of questioning and perfection. Both his enduring marriage and his flirtatiousness with German artist Josef Beuys (whom he sent lyrical letters and objects) serve as fodder for an exhibition that is both art and exchange. the perfect kiss (QQ)* is both a curatorial and creative undertaking for Morris, who will develop an installation of works by Byars in conjunction with a number of his own artistic interventions. The exhibition's title references a 1974 artwork by Byars, while also speaking to the 25th anniversary of Robert Mapplethorpe's exhibition The Perfect Moment.
Titus Kaphar: The Vesper Project (April 17 – Sept.
Co-Curated by Titus Kaphar and Steven Matijcio
Marrying appropriation, archaeology and iconoclasm, Kaphar's work sifts through the racial politics of art history. The Vesper Project is a massive sculptural statement in which his paintings are woven into the walls of a 19th century American house. It is the culmination of a five-year engagement with the lost storylines of the Vespers, a 19th century family who "passed" as a white family in New England even as their mixed heritage made them "Negro" in the eyes of the law. In this project, the members of this family and their histories are intertwined with Kaphar's autobiographical details, posing broader cultural questions of identity and truth.
Taylor Mac: An Abridged Concert of The History of
Political Popular Music (1939 – now) (September 2014)
Taylor Mac (who prefers the pronoun ‘judy’) is a “ragingly original and bracingly radical [and] best cabaret performer” from New York (TimeOut). The Obie Award-winning playwright, actor, and singer-songwriter transforms into a bedazzled creature who leads us into a decidedly personal history of music, ideas, and ways of being — in a hilarious and healing performance ritual. Mac delves deep into the history of political music for this performance, the latest in judy’s series of concerts exploring the last 240 years of popular songs in America. Funny and moving with a sweet, powerful voice, judy has the bantering skills of a veteran drag artist.
Ben Frost: A U R O R A live (October, 2014)
Ben Frost’s music is about contrast, influenced as much by classical minimalism as by punk rock and metal. It has a visceral presence, felt as much as heard. Muscular yet cerebral, ambient yet urgent, Frost’s compositions merge guitar-based textures, musique concrète samples, and building-shaking amplified electronics into sweeping digital soundscapes. A U R O R A is the Australian producer’s fifth album. The music leads the audience towards a bleak place filled with synthetic forms, decaying objects and metals devoid of emotion, exploring blinding luminescent alchemy; not with benign heavenly beauty but through decimating magnetic force. In 2010 he was awarded the music protégé in The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative and spent two years learning from and working with music producer, theorist, and composer, Brian Eno. Last year Frost debuted his first opera, The Wasp Factory, based on the Iain Banks novel and produced “The Enclave,” a multi-channel video and sound installation that premiered at the Venice Biennale.
Nils Frahm with Dawn of Midi (November 17, 2014)
Since his early childhood, Nils Frahm has been immersed in music, particularly in the styles of classical pianists before him as well as contemporary composers. Today Frahm works as an accomplished composer and producer from his Berlin-based Durton Studio. His unconventional approach to an age-old instrument, played contemplatively and intimately, has won him many fans around the world. Frahm displays an incredibly developed sense of control and restraint in his work, catching the ear of many fans. The recognition of his immense talent has been steadily growing thanks to his previous solo piano works, include Wintermusik (2009) and The Bells (2009), and Felt (2011). Last year, he returned with the celebrated new album Spaces, a collection of pieces that perfectly expresses Frahm’s love for experimentation and answers the call from his fans for a record that truly reflects what they have witnessed during his concerts.
The Contemporary Arts Center has issued a call for proposals for a Summer Performance Series. The deadline is June 13. Here is the announcement:
The CAC is now accepting proposals for original performance works by artists and collectives from or currently living in the Greater Cincinnati area for the 2014 Summer Performance Series. This series is designed to celebrate the diversity of the local artist community, encourage the development of live art in the region, and provide a new opportunity for artists to showcase new projects and/or works nearing the end of their development.
Working in parallel with the CAC’s Black Box Performance Series, we ask artists to take bold risks while surprising themselves and the audience. All performance works will be considered, though a preference towards the multidisciplinary, and those that challenge the artist’s norms, will be of greater interest. Projects will be selected through a proposal process, with an emphasis on new works in development and/or emerging artists. Each artist will work with the CAC performance team to prepare and execute their performance, while be required to create their own work as well as the organization and preparation for the series, the CAC will provide the space, load-in and day-of support, marketing, sound equipment, and projector if needed.
The Summer Performance Series will occur at 7 p.m. each Monday during the month of August 2014 within the CAC Black Box, located in the Lower Level. Each evening, two artists from the series will be given the room to realize their production, at a maximum of 50 minutes in length. A stipend of $350 will be provided for each project for creative and developmental support.
Deadline: All proposals must be submitted via email, and received by 5 p.m. Friday, June 13, 2014. Please send all applications to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And it might’ve been Jean Renoir’s doing. The filmmaker’s honest, sideways smirk that’s good at whispering you in to laugh at life at or with him.
For me, he was the one whose 77-year-old face, through the gap of a narrow doorway, led me in to look upon his ruthlessness magnified, given new life by Richard Avedon and brought to light by Brian Sholis, the museum’s new curator of photography.
“It wasn’t until the 1970s when museums started taking photography seriously,” Sholis says. “The art world stopped writing it off as so mechanical and lacking real talent, so museums like this one began acquiring a lot of it.”
Which explains the 4,000-field, photographical rundown Sholis was sent before moving from New York to Cincinnati to take his curatorial position in 2013. The database was a list of every museum-owned piece of photography, and while studying it, Sholis noticed a pattern: two recognizable names in one row, repeated. An artist by an artist. Portraits of the Artist. You see where this is going.
“For people who don’t know much about the history of photography, they’re given another chance to connect here, and I wanted my first exhibition to be as welcoming as possible,” Sholis says. “Here, there’s twice the chance of hitting upon someone a visitor could recognize.”
Out of four-dozen artists-by-artists photographs, Sholis narrowed his exhibition selection to 14 of them, presenting Frida Kahlo by Bernard Silberstein, Picasso (with his son Claude) by Robert Capa and Miles Davis by Lee Friedlander, among others.
The dancer in me was especially drawn to modern mover Merce Cunningham by Barbara Morgan, who took Cunningham’s photo like he crafted his dances — with good faith in chance.
She shot the double-exposure by retrogressing her film after an initial shot and snapping Cunningham again in another position, not realizing the two bodies as one image until they’d been developed, much like Cunningham frequently rolled a die to dictate his movements and their sequences.
And while, like the individual pieces themselves, the idea of the exhibition is stimulating and timely (I don’t need to tell anyone about the portrait-in-the-form-of-iPhone-selfie phenomenon), the placement of the pieces is also noteworthy, and very thoroughly Sholis-thought-through.
The Mexican artist portraits are grouped together alongside a couple of painted face performers; partners in work and life, John Cage and Merce Cunningham share an intimate space on a portion of the gallery’s west wall; and Miles Davis is situated alone and dominantly, glaring over onlookers while avoiding awkward eye contact with Renoir (after being moved when Sholis saw the staring contest).
“These are more than just casual snapshots even though they look that way,” Sholis says. “These are kind of dialogues between the artists themselves and their creators, the photographers.”
And, of course, you.
If it's fun you're seeking, you might want to stop by the Carnegie in Covington, where Showbiz Players is presenting Spamalot. It opens tonight and runs through June 8. You probably know that this very amusing musical (it won three 2005 Tony Awards, including best musical) is "lovingly ripped off" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you can repeat lines from that 1975 cult hit, then this is surely the show for you. Tickets ($21.50-$24.50): 859-957-1940
Although it's not part of the Fringe, Marc Bamuthi Joseph's red, black & GREEN: a blues surely could be. The hybrid performance work leads audiences through four seasons in four cities: summer in Chicago, fall in Houston, winter in Harlem and spring in Oakland. Memories, hallucinations, dreams and lamentations are set in shotgun houses and subway cars, on park benches and in father-son conversations. I haven't seen it, but people I know have raved about the power of the work, which ranges from hilarious to poignantly sad. Joseph is a spoken-word poet, and his work is meant to be a conversation starter about sustainability and community building. It's being presented on Friday and Saturday evening by the Contemporary Arts Center at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Tickets ($18 for CAC members, $23 for everyone else): 513-621-2787
This is the final weekend for The North Pool at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) Rajiv Joseph's anxiety-filled drama is a sparring match between a hard-nosed vice principal who thinks he knows something and a student, the son of Middle Eastern immigrants, who has things he wants to keep to himself — but it's not what the school official thinks. In fact, they both have secrets that are slowly, painfully revealed. Great script, great actors. This one is definitely worth catching. Tickets ($25 for students; $30-$75 for others): 513-421-3888
The really big show this weekend happens tonight when the The Cappies of Greater Cincinnati present their eighth annual awards for high school theater productions and performers. Our local program is one of the most established, right up there with programs in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and beyond. Our local awards are presented at the Aronoff Center's Procter & Gamble Hall. In addition to the recognition of high school student performers, the evening offers excerpts from a dozen or so schools plus ensemble numbers featuring kids from all over the region — more than 20 schools participate in the program. An especially exciting aspect (at least from my point of view as a critic) is the fact that an element of the Cappies involves students attending one another's performances and writing about them. Tonight will open with a recognition of the outstanding boy and girl critics, and wrap up by citing the top team of high school critics. I'll be onstage at the Aronoff to present that award, as well as something new: An award for the "top critique" by a student writer. I had the privilege of choosing the winner, which will be posted on CityBeat's arts blog after the award ceremony. And to show how profoundly CityBeat is committed to cultivating arts coverage, we're inviting that winner to cover a high school Fringe Next production in the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which kicks off next week. No award for me, but I'm honored to be asked to hand out this recognition to the next generation of theater writers!
You really can't go wrong with a show at the Cincinnati Playhouse this weekend. I gave both productions Critic's Picks. The North Pool, on the Shelterhouse stage through June 1, is a taut dialogue between a suspicious high school vice principal and a wary student of Middle Eastern descent. (CityBeat review here.) It takes a while (the show is about 90 minutes, played in real time) to decide who's the good guy and who's the bad guy, and you'll be turned around several times in the process. Excellent acting and a fine script by Ohio native (and Miami University grad) Rajiv Joseph makes this an excellent theatrical experience. On the Playhouse's Marx Stage, it's the final weekend for another kind of cat-and-mouse game. Venus in Fur is all about sexual tension, between an imperious playwright/director and the woman who's auditioning for a role in a play he's adapted from an erotic novel. (CityBeat review here.) David Ives' witty and allusive script (it's literary and mythical in some most amusing ways) is being produced at theaters from coast-to-coast, but I can't imagine there's a finer production than this one anywhere. Tickets: ($30-$75) 513-421-3888.