One of the best things about Cincinnati’s current urban renaissance is that older spaces — some unused or even previously unknown — are being reinvented for new purposes. Churches and firehouses become brewpubs and restaurants, office buildings become apartments, underground tunnels become tourist attractions.
Since artists are sensitive to their surroundings, a group called Near*By has lately begun to use such spaces — sometimes — for special-event exhibitions. Happenings, sort of.
In its press release, Near*By describes itself as “an untethered curatorial collective that seeks to bypass the art institution, working as liaison between artists and pluralistic audiences. We aim to create ephemeral and interdisciplinary exhibitions that connect art with location and meld curatorial and artist practices while blurring the boundaries between installation and white cube.”
I’ve missed some of the previous events, although I’ve heard that Andy Marko’s attempt to launch his guerilla campaign to become Cincinnati’s Minister of Performance Art (why not?) was amusing at Fountain Square last October. And High Art, an event held atop the Carew Tower also in October, almost avoided a rainfall. Near*By’s first event, last May’s Moon Show, proved very sagacious — it was based on a premise the Apollo 11 moon landing was a staged event; the movie Interstellar plays with (and upends) that premise, too.
But I did make last week’s Lightgeist at Over-the-Rhine’s Rhinegeist brewpub and it was great. Rhinegeist has the open space of an old-fashioned upper-floor school gym (maybe a couple of them) and looks like one, too, although not too many school gyms would have huge metal brewing tanks for beer.
Actually, the space was part of the old Christian Moerlein brewery’s bottling plant, which was in business from 1853 until Prohibition. The building’s rebirth as a craft-beer business has been one of the Cincinnati revival’s bigger success stories.
For Lightgeist, Near*By invited 17 artists/artist groups to show work for just one night throughout the space. There were familiar names and new ones, many with connections to alternative galleries or the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. The theme was “dematerializing” the image, which resulted in some fine video and sound work especially.
Lightgeist started at 7 p.m. and, according to Maria Seda-Reder (a Near*By member as well as a CityBeat arts writer), some 300 people came to witness the work during the next three hours. (Other Near*By members include Jon Auer, Chris Reeves, Loraine Wible, Joe Hedges and Anastasiya Yatsuk.)
It was a party atmosphere with plenty of beer, but the audience was there to see the work. And there were people of all ages, revealing that there is growing curiosity about local contemporary art — a necessity for any city trying to have an urban renaissance.
I didn’t take detailed notes on everything, but Charles Woodman’s debut of his “Wavelength-pure signal, no camera” screen image was involving, and Alice Pixley Young’s projection of bird-like moving images against and past an arrangement of physical objects was deeply moving. Caroline Turner and Ian Anderson’s ghostly pinprick of white light on an eerie background was a work deserving of more time.
Lightgeist was the latest evidence that this has been a great year for presentations of video and film art here — DAAP’s Electronic Art program and screenings at Weston Gallery, Manifest, FotoFocus and Cincinnati Art Museum’s Eyes on the Street.
In the last half-dozen years, we’ve had quite a few ambitious artist coops and collectives start up bricks-and-mortar galleries/performance spaces but fail to keep them going. (Semantics is the most notable exception.) So Near*By’s idea is a good one — use the surplus of fascinating spaces around town for one-off events. It’s not a substitute for having more permanent contemporary spaces, which we need, but it’s an important part of any art scene.
Near*By is planning 2015 events now — some of which may involve collaborations with galleries. There will be more coverage in CityBeat.
Another historic Cincinnati building is being artfully illuminated. This year's past LumenoCity light mapping to a live orchestra on Music Hall was more popular than ever, and tonight the NEAR*BY Curatorial Collective is doing something similar at Rhinegeist.
Rhinegeist brewery is housed in the skeleton of an old Moerlein bottling plant. And starting at 7 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 20), 17 artists and collaboratives will be exhibiting projected video, sculptural and environmental installations in/on the structure's architecture. The interdisciplinary works will demonstrate how contemporary artists currently embrace the dematerialization of image and how that manifests in a non-traditional art space. The name Rhinegeist literally translates to "ghost of the Rhine," and according to the curatorial statement, "Though often intangible, light and art can likewise be said to haunt or inhabit space."
Participating artists include Brandon Abel, Jen Berter, Nicki Davis, DAAP Clay & Glazes, headed by Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis (featuring the work of Olutoba Akomolede, Christine Barron, Amanda Bialk, Michael Broderick, Linnea Campbell, Catherine Gilliam, Theresa Krosse, Sarah Maxwell, Megan Stevens, Christine Uebel, Allison Ventura & Victoria Wykoff), Lizzy Duquette, Sam Ferris-Morris, Mark Governanti, John Hancock, Joe Ianopollo, Maidens of the Cosmic Body Running, Andy Marko, Alice Pixley Young, Play Cincy, Lindsey Sahlin, Caroline Turner, Justin West, C. Jacqueline Wood and Charlie Woodman.
The one-night only exhibit kicks off at 7 p.m. and will go until 10 p.m. It's free and open to the public. Rhinegeist is located at 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine. Get more information about the event or NEAR*BY and their mission to create ephemeral and interdisciplinary exhibits that bypass the art institution here.
I wish the “sunroom installation” that is part of Michael Keating’s current Shadow & Light exhibition at Kennedy Heights Arts Center (through Saturday) could move straight into a museum afterward.
It could serve to anchor a fuller, larger look at the noble project this veteran Cincinnati photojournalist (formerly with Cincinnati Enquirer) undertook to chronicle the final year in the life of an elderly neighbor, Clyde N. Day. Day, of Lakeside Park, Ky., died in 2011 at age 104. It deserves the widest possible audience.
Keating had long known Day, and the project was both a way to honor Day’s life and also show just how difficult life can be for the elderly. After Day’s first wife died, he remarried. His second wife preceded him in death by several months.
In the installation, which is in the former sunroom of the building at 6546 Montgomery Road that houses the arts center, Keating has placed Day’s dresser with memorabilia from his long life. And on the walls are photographs from the project.
Two black-and-white images really capture Day’s final months, in their quiet way. One, reproduced as a wall-sized, mural-like adhesive print (in two sections), shows Day painstakingly making his bed. Light seeps through the windows’ curtains, spotlighting the stand-up crutch he has left in the room to have hands free for this task.
It’s a mundane task, but the photograph conveys the sense of heroism, a sense of determination, with which he does it. And our perspective — we seem to be in the distance, looking slightly downward — makes us feel we’re watching something profound.
Other, smaller photographs are on another wall, ink-jet prints mounted on thick gator board. In one, a companion to the mural, we see Day in this same bedroom, sleeping on a small hospital bed with railings. The headboard of his other bed is propped against a wall — the mattress gone.
It’s a melancholy image when compared with the other, since you can see how one’s choices shrink as old age moves to its inevitable conclusion. Still, the room itself is comforting with its floral-print wallpaper. It’s a touch of the familiar and the secure.
Since Day’s death, Keating has helped start the Clyde N. Day Foundation to contribute to causes related to child safety, education and the arts. You can learn more about it, and also find more of his photos, at clydendayfoundation.org. This work is important.
In August, the Corbett Foundation announced it was closing shop, ending
one of the city's most generous streams of philanthropy. It turns out that
there was still one more gift in the hopper.
On Tuesday, The University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music's J. Ralph Corbett Distinguished Chair of Opera received the final award of $1 million, a gift that will provide additional support for scholarships, touring productions, an archive and partial support of the named professorship currently held by Robin Guarino.
Opera Department is one of the nation's finest. Two of its recent graduates
were winners in the Metropolitan Opera's national auditions, and its alumni
perform in theaters all over the world.
Robin Guarino is one of the most sought-after directors and has staged productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Indiana University, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, San Francisco Opera and Brooklyn Academy of Music.
So many FotoFocus-related shows overlap and then close in October that it’s hard to get to them all or even write about in a timely fashion those that I do get to see. But I didn’t want to let Manifest Gallery’s Neither Here Nor There juried group show of photography and video work and its separate but related Leigh Merrill video installation, both of which closed Oct. 24, to go unrecognized. For Neither Here Nor There, the quality was overall quite high and some of the work has stayed with me now for several weeks long after I’ve forgotten other shows.
New York-based artist Gloria Houng won the $1,000 Best of Show prize for her “Standard Double (Feet),” one of a series of eerie shots made in a bedroom that in some way incorporate images of an apparently absent person’s presence into the scene. The results cause a double-take among viewers, but the work is too elegant to be jokey or gimmicky. She infuses the commonplace with mystery.
The London-based Emma Charles, whose short films explore “the dialogue between time and the city,” contributed the mesmerizing, 17-minute Fragments on Machines. Short sequences, some with poetic narration, take us out on the streets and sidewalks of the city and up close to the exteriors and (most ominously) interior infrastructure of buildings. There is beauty and alienation, especially as we look closely at the rows of servers that power modern office buildings. You can watch it here.
And Leigh Merrill’s video installation Drive Thru is a deadpan looping look at the flat barren architecture of suburban sprawl, except the places were created by her digitally assembly of parts from individual photographs and images. The result highlights the strangeness — and questions what draws us as people to seek or support such development in the first place.
Adding to the ever-growing number of public art murals in Covington, Ky., BLDG welcomed the Brooklyn-based street art collective, FAILE in October to complete a massive painted Pop art installation in their torn collage style that spans three walls and either side of Sixth Street.
BLDG, the locally grown art gallery/branding firm, is responsible for numerous murals around Covington including (but not limited to) 10 recognizable black and white characters done by The London Police on notable Covington landmarks and businesses, as well as the current COV200 mural project for the city’s bicentennial celebration, which will involve more than 20 murals by the time it’s completed.
FAILE artists Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller sent a crew of two studio assistants to begin the initial layout for the piece, which involved pouncing an outline of the design onto walls with cheesecloth bags filled with powdered pigment. Unfortunately for their studio assistants who had come to do the initial legwork, whenever it would rain (and before they could trace a more permanent outline with Sharpie), a storm shower would come and wash it all away.
Despite some less than ideal weather conditions during the two-week installation process, the artists themselves came into town the final two days of painting and were able to finish the grand installation by Oct. 23, when I met up with them at Arnold’s amidst a full table of BLDG employees, headed by Lesley Amann.
Amann recently stepped in as partner at BLDG after the founder — her husband, and the driving force behind BLDG’s commitment to public art — passed away a year ago this month. Lesley said that the FAILE mural was one of the last projects Mike began before he got sick and when I asked Miller and McNeil, “Why Covington?” McNeil echoed that sentiment.
According to the artist, a large factor in FAILE’s involvement was due to, “getting to know these guys and wanting to pull through for them and represent.”
Project leaders unveiled the new three-wall piece to the public on Oct. 23 and the mural included such iconography as the FAILE dog and a cat burglar on the opposing wall, as well as a visual reference to some of the collaborative’s newer works, which depict classic American muscle cars.
Patrick Miller puts their artistic approach in simple terms.
“Our work has always been about making images that people can find their own narrative in and relate to in their own way. It’s always more fun for us to see the way people react to the work — the kind of stories they make up about it. Whenever you’re doing public work, that’s the beauty of it: It’s meant for anyone to come see.”
Beyond Pop: A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective opens to the general public today at Cincinnati Art Museum, with an Art After Dark Halloween costume party from 5-9 p.m. part of the celebrations for the late native-Cincinnatian, New York-based Pop artist.
But last night, members of the museum’s Founders Society level ($1,500-$50,000) got a special opening that included Wesselmann’s widow (and frequent model) Claire discussing her husband’s work with Jeffrey Sturges, studio manager for the Tom Wesselmann Estate.
The presentation started with Matt Distel, the museum’s adjunct curator for Contemporary art, praising the exhibit’s installation — especially the work of chief perparator Kim Flora. “You would hardly know how difficult and heavy those pieces are — they look like they float off the wall,” he said.
I would agree — some of Wesselmann’s complex pieces as gigantic canvases, some are shaped canvases with three-dimensional elements, some are assemblages with sculptural elements, and he did a series of “metal paintings” (oil or enamel on cut-out aluminum) that had to be difficult to handle and mount. None looks graceless or awkward in the gallery spaces.
Next, Claire presented the museum with a gift — one of Wesselmann’s metal paintings, “Barn Near Hilltop Airport.” And she explained how much her husband wanted a U.S. museum retrospective while he was alive, revealing that he saved important works for such an occasion and even prepared a speech in his diary.
She read an excerpt: “I loved being alive even though I buried myself alive in my work.”
(He died in 2004 at age 73. While he had European retrospectives, this is the first in the U.S./Canada. It has already been in Montreal, Richmond, Va., and Denver — this is the last stop. Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts with the Estate’s assistance organized the first two stops; Cincinnati the last two.)
During her conversation with Sturges, Claire offered some insights into her husband’s work. One of his great early Pop innovations, the use of cutout images from billboard advertising posters as collage elements in his paintings, came about for practical reasons.
As a poor artist, he could get those for the asking — he wrote to companies to send them. And he knew how to get them free, too. “At that time, they took down subway posters and threw them in the can,” she said. “So then Tom came along and took them.”
She also revealed that Tom loved the Abstract Expressionist art in vogue in the mid- to-late 1950s, when they were attending New York’s Cooper Union college together. But he knew he needed to do something new. “Abstraction was the thing he really wanted to do, but he took another path,” she said. “But he came back to it.”
As Tom moved through different themes in his work, in the 1990s he started turning to abstraction in his metal paintings. A picture of one, 1993’s “Claire’s Thigh,” was shown at the presentation. “I like this very much, minus the title,” Claire said.
During the question-and-answer period, there was also discussion of Tom’s infatuation with Country and Western music. He wrote more than 400 songs and some were recorded. One, “I Love Doing Texas With You,” was played softly in the film Brokeback Mountain. The retrospective has a small display devoted to his music, although no way to hear any of it.
Claire said when she and Tom would visit his parents in Cincinnati from New York he’d listen to country music on the radio. “He’d take the car and we’d go driving and he’d flip on the country stations,” she said. He’d say, ‘I like the stories.’”Visit www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org for exhibit details.