CityBeat Blogs - Visual Art <![CDATA[CAC Announces the Death of Founding Member Peggy Crawford]]>

The Contemporary Art Center today announced that founding member Peggy Crawford died on April 18 in Santa Fe, N.M., where she had been living. She was one of three women who founded the CAC's precursor, the Modern Art Society, in 1939. She was able to come to the CAC last September to celebrate its 75th anniversary — an exhibition of her photography was part of the observance.

Here are excerpts from the CAC press release:

Contemporary Arts Center Director Raphaela Platow fondly recalled the impact that Peggy Crawford made on so many: "Mrs. Crawford’s life is an inspiration to me. As a young woman she was one of the three women founders of the Contemporary Arts Center (called Modern Art Society at the time), an institution she initiated, against all odds, in a moment in time when the Great Depression was still shaking the world and the second World War was about to erupt. It is so easy not to do something, to shy away from a great idea because of the many obstacles and hurdles in the way, a lack of resources, or fear of failure. But Peggy Crawford and her two companion co-founders created the Modern Art Society in 1939 because their lives urged them to do it. Mrs. Crawford applied the same passion, tenacity, and energy to her different life pursuits and I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to meet her and to spend time in her presence."

Born in 1917, Peggy Frank graduated from Smith College. In 1939, along with Betty Rauh and Rita Rentschler, she founded the Modern Art Society in Cincinnati, Ohio, which would become the Contemporary Arts Center.

The three founders had little  or no formal museum experience. For a year, their "office" consisted of a portable typewriter set up in a living room. At the start, the society had staunch backers and hard workers, but they had very little money and had only a borrowed gallery space in the basement of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

During the first year, the founders raised $5,000 to produce six exhibitions, each with a catalogue. Their first exhibition, Modern Paintings from Cincinnati (Nov.-Dec. 1939) showed their early commitment to showcasing up-and-coming local artists. 

The fledgling Modern Art Society mounted new and often controversial exhibitions, published catalogues, encouraged local artists and helped promote contemporary art collections and education. Between 1940 and 1951, the Modern Art Society exhibited such artists as Pablo Picasso (1940), George Grosz, Paul Klee and Alexander Calder (1942), Fernand Leger (1944), Rufino Tamayo (1947), Jean Arp (1949) and other new artists in abstraction, Surrealism, modern architecture and contemporary design. One of the highlights of this time was the Cincinnati showing of Picasso’s "Guernica" in 1940 because it represented the first and only time the important work was shown in the Midwest.

Peggy Frank married Ralston Crawford, a painter and photographer, who preceded her in death.

She is survived by two sons, Neelon (Susan Hill), and John, along with a stepson, Robert (Eldrid Crawford).

A memorial service was held at Kingston Retirement Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. April 30, 2015.

<![CDATA[National Endowment for the Arts Offers Grant to CAC]]>

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will make a $50,000 grant to Contemporary Arts Center to help mount a survey exhibition of Korean-American artist Do Ho Suh in 2016. The CAC will also produce a catalog on the artist.

In a press release, CAC Director Raphaela Platow said, “We are delighted to have received this recognition from the NEA, it is a true vote of confidence to the quality of our curatorial program and the continued strength of this institution, as one of the oldest non-collecting contemporary art institutions in the country.”

Do Ho Suh: Passage, curated by the CAC's Steven Matijcio, is set for Feb. 12 to Sept. 11 of next year.  Suh, who moved to the U.S. in 1993, makes life-size fabric replicas of his homes. The CAC expects that, in Passage, his work will imaginatively complement Zaha Hadid's bold architecture.

<![CDATA[FotoFocus Sponsors Upcoming Robert Mapplethorpe Symposium]]>

Last night before photographer Roe Ethridge's FotoFocus Lecture at Cincinnati Art Museum, FotoFocus' Artistic Director Kevin Moore announced the organization is co-presenting a two-day symposium on photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's work with the Contemporary Arts Center on Oct. 23-24.

It will mark the 25th anniversary of CAC's presentation of The Perfect Moment, the retrospective of Mapplethorpe's work that prompted conservative elements — led by then-Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. — to pursue criminal charges for alleged obscenity. (Some of Maplethorpe's work in the show was sexually graphic.) A Hamilton County jury cleared the museum of all charges.

Specifics for the symposium have yet to be announced, although indications are speakers from around the country will be invited. Also not yet announced is what, if any, works by Mapplethorpe will be shown and in what context.

Information should go on on the FotoFocus site when firm.

<![CDATA[Call Board: Theater Seasons ]]> Every year, BROADWAY IN CINCINNATI brings to downtown Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center a series of touring shows that got started in New York City. This year marks the 20th year shows have been presented at the Aronoff. Today the presenters released details about what’s in store starting September and running through May 2016. There will be several recent Tony Award-winning productions coming our way: Kinky Boots (winner of six awards in 2013), Pippin (winner of four awards in 2013), Newsies (its score and choreography won awards in 2012) and one of the longest running Broadway revivals of all time, Cabaret (which won eight awards back in 1966 and more for much-lauded revivals in 1998 and 2014). Here’s the lineup:

Motown The Musical (Sept. 8-20) is the story of how Berry Gordy journeyed from being a featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music entrepreneur who founded Motown. His label launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson and many more. The show premiered on Broadway two years ago and had a run of more than 700 performances.

Pippin (Oct. 13-18) was an early work by Stephen Schwartz, who made his name with shows as varied as Godspell and Wicked. Pippin began a five-year run in 1972 with a production that won five Tony Awards. It’s had several well-received Broadway revivals: The most recent in 2014 (now touring) was recognized as the season’s best revival with its extraordinary acrobatics, magical feats and great songs. It’s the story of a young prince in the Middle Ages on a death-defying journey to find meaning in his existence. His choices include a happy but simple life or a big flash of glory. With a clever circus filter, the show uses spectacular choreography — and features great songs such as “Magic To Do,” “Glory,” and “Morning Glow.”

Cast of the national touring production of Pippin
Photo: Terry Shapiro

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
(Nov. 24-Dec. 6) arrives right before Thanksgiving to kick off the holidays. It’s about two showbiz buddies who put on a production in a picturesque New England inn and find romance in the process. The tunes from this show are icons in the American Songbook (“Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Sisters” and “Blue Skies”) as well as seasonal numbers like “Happy Holiday” and, of course, the title song.

Kinky Boots (Jan. 5-17, 2016) was named the best musical of 2013 by the Tonys, and it landed six more trophies (it had 13 nominations), so it’s a certified hit. (In fact, it’s still running on Broadway and a London production is in the works.) Maybe you remember the 2005 movie it’s based on about a struggling shoe factory that “reboots” itself to manufacture footwear for drag queens. For the stage version, it’s been tricked out with an upbeat score by Pop star Cyndi Lauper

Kinky Boots
Photo: Matthew Murphy

If/Then (Feb. 2-7, 2016) is a 2014 Broadway musical about living in New York today — and contemplating the possibilities of tomorrow. The show’s creative team made its mark with Next to Normal (winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award); that show was a big hit (and revival) for Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. If/Then follows two possible life paths for Elizabeth (played on Broadway by Idina Menzel), and it paints a moving portrait of the lives people lead, as well as the lives they might have led.

Newsies The Musical (March 1-13, 2016) was a 2012 crowd-pleasing musical based on a 1992 Disney film. It recounts real events from 1899 when a bunch of orphaned and homeless boys who hawked newspapers on street corners stood up to the power elite, personified by Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World. Their spunk and tenacity — aided by Gov. Theodore Roosevelt — resulted in a compromise that made a difference for the hardworking kids. The show has a great score and eye-popping choreography, both of which won Tony Awards.

Cabaret (May 10-22, 2016). It’s hard to believe but this show has been around for just about a half-century, winning awards every time it’s been staged on Broadway. The production coming to town is from the 2014 New York staging by Sam Mendes, director of Skyfall and American Beauty, and Rob Marshall (whose film of another Kander & Ebb musical, Chicago, was the 2002 Oscar-winning best picture, and who recently dazzled musical theater lovers with a fine rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.)

While the Broadway in Cincinnati season (sponsored by Fifth Third Bank and presented by TriHealth) is great news — the presentation of so many recent Broadway hits is a step up from several seasons with shows that hadn’t even made it to Broadway — but there’s lots more theater that’s been announced recently. Here are some quick rundowns:

The musical theater and drama programs at UC’S COLLEGE-CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC have announced mainstage productions for 2015-2016. David Edgar’s epic drama Pentecost will be at Patricia Corbett Theater on Oct. 1-4; the same venue will be the site for a coming-of-age comedy by Eugene O’Neill, Ah! Wilderness (Feb. 11-14, 2016). Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical Carousel will get a big-stage production at Corbett Auditorium (Oct. 20-Nov.1). The most exciting CCM news for 2016 is that the program has obtained the rights for one of the first university productions of American Idiot, based on Green Day’s Grammy-winning album of the same name. The show, nominated for a Tony as 2010’s best musical, will be presented at Patricia Corbett Theater (March 3-13, 2016), staged by Aubrey Berg, the musical theater program’s chair.

The 2015-2016 academic theater season at NORTHERN KENTUCKY UNIVERSITY has also been announced. It will start with Ken Ludwig’s theater-based comedy Moon Over Buffalo (Sept. 24-Oct. 4, Corbett Theatre), and continue with Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (Oct. 20-25) in the Stauss black box theatre. Back at the Corbett Theatre, Ahrens and Flaherty’s whimsical musical, Seussical will be staged (Nov. 12-22). For 2016, productions will include the George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart 1930 comedy, Once in a Lifetime (Feb. 18-28, Corbett Theatre); George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion from 1913 (March 29-April 3, Stauss Theatre), later adapted into My Fair Lady; and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s fairytale mash-up, Into the Woods (April 21-May 1, Corbett Theatre).

North of Cincinnati at Springboro’s LACOMEDIA DINNER THEATRE, 2015 marks the 40th anniversary season at Ohio’s only combination theater and restaurant. It’s already under way with a staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific (through May 3), followed by The Addams Family (May 7-June 28), The Little Mermaid (July 8-Aug. 30), The Church Basement Ladies Last Potluck Supper (Sept. 3-Oct. 31) and A Christmas Story (Nov. 4-Dec. 31) for the holidays. The venue also presents a lunch-and-learn series for kids (featuring The True Story of the Three Little Pigs) and a concert series featuring an Elvis impersonator, music in the style of the Van Dells and a family of Gospel singers. Info:

A bit farther away and in the more or less the opposite direction, ACTORS THEATRE OF LOUISVILLE will begin its 2015-2016 season with August Wilson’s Seven Guitars (Sept. 1-20), then Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale (Oct. 6-25). Having seen The Hypocrites perform a daffy version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance early in 2014, I’m glad to hear that the inventive group will return to re-imagine H.M.S. Pinafore (Nov. 17-Dec. 13). Early in 2016, Actors Theatre will stage two shows already familiar to Cincinnati Playhouse audiences: Amy Herzog’s comedic drama 4000 Miles (Jan. 5-31, 2016) and Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher (Jan. 26-Feb. 17, 2016), a show that’s currently onstage locally at our own regional theater. The 40th anniversary of the venerable Humana Festival of New American Plays runs March 2 to April 10, 2016, typically featuring a half-dozen world premieres. Actors Theatre also presents two holiday-related shows for 2015: Dracula for Halloween (Sept. 9-Nov. 1, 2015) and A Christmas Carol (Nov. 24-Dec. 23, 2015). Info:

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
<![CDATA[Rondle West Piece Finds New Home]]>

One of my favorite Cincinnati artists is Rondle West, whose "assemblage sculptures" round up all manner of strange found objects (often toys) and adheres them, sometimes like appendages, to the surfaces of "host" objects. They can look like something ready to start walking or like shelving that has been attacked by miniature aliens. The finished work often has a monochromatic, other-worldly appearance.

I was hopeful his association last year with Miller Gallery would lead to a large, dramatic, high-profile one-person show, but it didn't. Now, the 2014 piece "My Date With Barbie" has turned up in an unexpected but welcome place, the front window of Electronic Arts at 1428 Race St. It's just the right touch of creative weirdness needed for an OTR store window, and it's great to look at its pinkness as other buildings reflect on the glass and add their own richness to the view. Definitely worth a visit.

<![CDATA[REVIEW: 'Figurative Folklore' at Covington Arts]]>

Selena Reder, a former contributor to CityBeat's visual arts coverage, has curated the current Figurative Folklore exhibition at the City of Covington's gallery at 2 W. Pike St. It's devoted to six artists whose figural work tells a strong narrative. Particularly noteworthy at the show is the work of two artists who do three-dimensional work.

Ken Page brings a sense of fun an visual playfulness to his "Hole in the Wall," a sculpture that is like a small wall shelf. On that shelf a boy — carved and painted — has apparently cut a circle out of the painted "brick" wall behind him and is attempting to "roll" it away. It is not a kinetic piece, thus the necessity for those air quotes as the sense of movement is illusory. It's quite well done.

The absolute standout of this show is Stephanie Cooper — who has six pieces, some quite large. These are wood sculptures with added elements. I hate to call them carvings, as that implies folk art and these use folk art as a reference point to build from.

Her "He Who Sups With the Devil Needs a Long Spoon" features a dapper, well-dressed man at a dining table (he looks a bit like Ronald Reagan) holding a spoon. You can hand-crank the spoon to get some movement. And "Hermes" — a large piece with a height of 76 inches — is a scary wooden figure from whose head sprouts a tangle of twigs and roots, like a bird's nest.

Her other contributions, too, are good.

This show is on display through March 27. Gallery hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. You may find a note on the door to call a city employee to come and unlock the place (a number is provided), but it's worth it. And the employee's office is just a short distance away — I waited at most five minutes for her arrival.

<![CDATA[Cincinnati Artist Shinji Turner-Yamamoto Attracts International Attention]]>

Shinji Turner-Yamamoto's 2012 Global Tree Project: Hanging Garden — two trees suspended by wire inside Mt. Adams' deconsecrated (and crumbling) Holy Cross Church — is now generally recognized as one of the high points of public art in Cincinnati in recent years.

In addition to proving inspirational for us in terms of what large-scale, site-specific art can be and what local artists can accomplish, it also has attracted ongoing international attention for him.

The latest development is his inclusion in an exhibition, About Trees, opening this fall at the Zentrum Paul Klee museum in Bern, Switzerland. For his site-specific work in the museum's main hall, he will work with a dying linden tree on the museum grounds.

The exhibit — part of a trilogy of related shows that continues into 2017 — is dedicated to the tree as a motif in international contemporary art. Turner-Yamamoto finds himself in some very impressive company. Others with work in the show include Paul Klee, Carlos Amorales, Louise Bourgeois, Paul McCarthy, Ana Mendieta and Shirin Neshat.

Meanwhile, a large-scale photograph of the Hanging Garden installation was commissioned by Caroline Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, for the ambassadorial residence in Tokyo as part of the Art in Embassies Program.

Also, he will have a show at the Weston Gallery here next year.

<![CDATA[FotoFocus Lecture to Feature Roe Ethridge]]>

The FotoFocus Lecture and Visiting Artist Series at Cincinnati Art Museum will feature photographer Roe Ethridge on March 25 at 7 p.m. 

According to FotoFocus, Ethridge — who works in both commercial and fine art photography — draws upon the descriptive power of photography and the ease with which it can be accessed, duplicated and recombined. He is considered a post-Modernist. 

His work has been shown in such venues as MOMA/PS1, London's Barbican Center, Carnegie Museum of Art Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art, the 2008 Whitney Biennial (2008); and the Museum of Modern Art. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize.

His presentation at the museum is free and reservations are not required, though parking for non-museum members is $4. More info here.

<![CDATA[Aaron Betsky Lands New Job]]>

Aaron Betsky, who stepped down from his post as Cincinnati Art Museum director last year, has a new job: Dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. 

The school, which offers M.Arch degrees, offers graduate students educational training at Taliesin in Spring Grove, Wisc., and Taliesin West in Arizona. It is an evolution of the Taliesin Fellowship program created by Wright in 1932. Betsky, in addition to his curatorial and leadership experience at art and architecture museums, was trained as an architect at Yale University.

In a press release, Maura Grogan, chair of the Frank Lloyd Wright School's Board of Governors, said, "We sought a Director who, like Wright, relishes invention, challenge, and discovery; someone who is excited to chart architecture's next frontier; a person who in a time of conformity understands the beauty of idiosyncrasy; a leader who is ready to speak enthusiastically and persuasively to a profession in need of direction. It is clear to us that Aaron is that person."

Betsky succeeds Victor Sidy, dean since 2005, who is stepping down to return to his architectural practice. 

Betsky will lead a fundraising campaign to help the school become an autonomous independent subsidiary of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, as required by the Higher Learning Commission for it to continue its accreditation.

"I look forward to continuing the tradition of experimental architecture (Wright) did so much to define by helping new generations to discover how they can use design to make our world better," Betsky said in the release.
<![CDATA[Cincinnati Art Museum to Host MetaModern Show]]>

Delving into Modernism’s relationship to today’s Contemporary artists, Cincinnati Art Museum in 2016 will present the traveling show MetaModern. It is organized by Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in collaboration with curatorsquared of Winter Park, Florida, and Boston. In Cincinnati, it will be curated by Amy Dehan, Decorative arts and Design curator, and Matt Distel, adjunct Contemporary curator.

According to the website of the Krannert, where the show opens on Jan. 30, the participating artists “adopt the actual vocabulary of the modern movement to question the content of style and its relationship to history. Their work challenges the tenets of modernism head-on. Some of them recast iconic forms in materials that inherently question the precepts of the originals.”

Among the 20 international artists are several familiar names to Cincinnati Art Museum visitors — Jill Magid, whose videos are in the current Eyes on the Street exhibit, and photographer James Welling, subject of a 2013 exhibit. Other participating artists include Terence Gower, Conrad Bakker, Edgar Orlaineta, Gabriel Sierra, Kendell Carter and Fernanda Fragateiro and Barbara Visser.

In Cincinnati, the curators plan to borrow Mid-Century Modern design objects and graphic works from local collections to show with the traveling exhibit’s new art that, in essence, comments upon the older work.

Thus, the show here will connect Modernism with today’s (Postmodern) Contemporary art. The local curators also hope the show educates the public that Cincinnati has a strong tradition of support for Modernist art, design and architecture, which is now enjoying a revival

The tentative dates for the Cincinnati exhibition are June 18 to Sept. 11, 2016. Other cities planning to present the exhibit are Scottsdale, Ariz., Orlando, Fla., Palm Springs, Calif., and Marquette, Mich. (home of Northern Michigan University).

<![CDATA[Important New Art Film Coming to Cincinnati Art Museum]]>

National Gallery, the latest film by the great American documentarian Frederick Wiseman, will get a free screening at Cincinnati Art Museum at 1 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2015. No tickets or advance reservations are required.

Typical of Wiseman’s inquisitively reportorial and humanistic work, this carefully and thoughtfully takes viewers inside the world of London’s National Gallery — one of the world’s finest museums. The film is three hours long.

Wiseman, who is 84, has been making films that carefully examine societal institutions — cultural, social, educational, medical and political — since his 1967 landmark Titicut Follies, about life inside the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane in Massachusetts.

His much-lauded more recent films — which did not have a showcase theatrical screening in Cincinnati — include last year’s At Berkeley and 2009’s La Danse, about the Paris Opera Ballet.

That National Gallery will be presented in a theater here — the art museum’s auditorium holds some 300 — shows the ambition of the museum’s associate photography curator, Brian Sholis, to offer more and a wider variety of films as part of his programming.

A lower-profile (compared to National Gallery) presentation last Sunday of a new documentary about digital photography, Harvey Wang’s From Darkroom to Daylight, brought a surprisingly good turnout of 55 people to the art museum’s library. 

<![CDATA[Cincinnati Art Museum's Popular Curator Benedict Leca Gets Promotion]]> Benedict Leca, a much-liked curator of European Art at Cincinnati Art Museum whose departure in 2012 to become chief curator at Hamilton, Ontario's, Art Gallery of Hamilton prompted protest, has moved again. It's a promotion. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment at Cincinnati was organizing Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman. Here are a few paragraphs from the press release from the Redwood Library & Athenaeum of Newport, R.I. It is especially notable for the fact the erudite Leca use the term dix-huitièmiste to describe himself in a quote — how many other museum directors would do that?

Edwin G. Fischer, M.D., President of the Board of Directors of the Redwood Library & Athenæum, announced the appointment of Benedict Leca, Ph.D., as its new Executive Director, effective January 15, 2015, following a competitive national search.

“This is tremendous news for the Redwood,” stated Dr. Fischer, “An expert in 18th-century art, history, and material culture, Benedict is uniquely qualified to move the Library into the national spotlight as a center of thought and culture. He has a wealth of experience and is extremely well-suited to lead this 268-year old cultural institution.” 

As Executive Director, Leca will articulate and advance the Redwood’s historic mission as a hybrid cultural institution with “nothing in view but the good of mankind.” Building on the Redwood’s unique position as a catalyst for dialogues about education across periods and disciplines, Leca’s work will focus on fully realizing the opportunities inherent to the athenæum model through an expanded array of public programs, forums, and exhibitions—both on-site and on-line—that will foster networks of intellectual exchange locally, regionally, and around the world. 

Prior to his current tenure at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario, as Chief Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs (2012-14), Leca was Curator of European Painting, Sculpture and Drawings at the Cincinnati Art Museum. 

He was the first Andrew Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in the French Paintings department at the National Gallery of Art in Washington (2003-2007), and served on the staff of the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University (1999-2000). Mr. Leca also currently holds the position of Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art History in the School of the Arts, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. 

Mr. Leca has curated many important exhibitions: Charles-Nicolas Cochin: Draftsman of the Enlightenment (2003); Rembrandt: Three Faces of the Master (2008); Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman (2010—2011); Monet in Giverny: Landscapes of Reflection (2012); The Painter Pictured: French Nineteenth-Century Paintings and Portrait Photographs (2013); the current The World is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne, executed in partnership with the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia (2014-15), and the forthcoming Illuminations: Italian Baroque Masterworks in Canadian Collections to be held at the Art Gallery of Hamilton and the Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, in 2015.

(Thanks to Judith H. Dobrzynski's Real Clear Arts blog at for alerting us to this story.)

<![CDATA[Lessons from 'Lightgeist']]>

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.

<![CDATA[Rhinegeist Lights Up Tonight with Projected Video]]>

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.

<![CDATA[At FotoFocus Show, Michael Keating Remembers His Elderly Neighbor]]>

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 This work is important.


<![CDATA[Manifest Gallery's FotoFocus Shows Were Powerful]]>

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.

<![CDATA[BLDG Adds to Covington's Murals with Art Collective FAILE]]>

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.”

<![CDATA[Claire Wesselmann Discusses Husband Tom's Art]]>

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 for exhibit details. ]]>
<![CDATA[The Search for a "Holy Grail" Photo at a FotoFocus Show]]>

Brian Powers, the Cincinnati librarian who has done exhaustive work researching King Records history, thought he had found a “Holy Grail” photo — of the West End record store that Syd Nathan owned before starting King.

He knew it had been on Central Avenue, but didn’t know what it looked like.

It was in the Hebrew Union College/Skirball Museum FotoFocus-connected exhibit Documenting Cincinnati’s Neighborhoods, which features George Rosenthal’s photographs, taken in the late 1950s, of the West End before I-75 construction would dramatically alter it. Rosenthal’s photographs, owned by Cincinnati Museum Center, hadn’t been shown at least in 50 years, if ever.

Visiting on the exhibit’s opening day, Oct. 22, Powers saw one Rosenthal photo of a Central Avenue record store at 1567 Central Ave. Just a small storefront with a homey screen-door, it had what looked like neon signs that announced “Records All Speeds” and then listed the choices: Spirituals, Classics, Pops, Rhythm-Blues, Bop, Hillbilly & Western.

You can also partially see some letters and the initials “CO” at the top of the signs. Some additional written information was on a window, and another sign offered television sets for $29. Nathan wouldn’t have still owned such a store in this time period — he started King in 1943 — but might it have carried on the same location, more or less unchanged, with someone else in charge?

Powers told Henry Rosenthal, the late George’s son, about his hunch. And in his opening remarks, Henry mentioned it. Henry was particularly proud because he owns the desk that James Brown kept at King Records’ headquarters in Evanston. “It’s my prize possession,” he said.

Among the Rosenthal family members at the opening, besides Henry, were Jean Rosenthal Bloch, George’s wife; daughter Julie Baker; George S. Rosenthal and Roger Baker, George’s grandsons; great-grandson Clay Baker, and cousin Ed Rosenthal. With several hundred in attendance, it was an important moment in recognizing Rosenthal’s work.

Alas, when Powers (who didn’t attend the reception) later started researching, he saw the record store in this photo wasn’t where Nathan’s was located.

“Syd’s shop was at 1351 Central Ave.,” he said via E-mail. “The shop in the photo is at 1567 Central. It was called Mo-F-A Co. It’s listed as a TV repair shop. It was owned by a guy named Ted Savage, who seemed to have lived there with his wife.

“It looks like Syd handed over his store to Ike Klayman around 1945 to 1946. I don’t see 1351 Central listed after 1949. It may have been torn down by then. It’s where Taft football field is now.”

Powers added that he has seen a photo of a record store owned by Klayman, but believes it is at a different location

So the search for a photo of Nathan’s record store goes on, but meanwhile this very evocative one is now — finally — available to be seen.

The exhibit, which looks at what life in Cincinnati was like in the West End and Downtown before much was torn down for controversial “urban renewal” from the 1960s to 1980s, both in terms of their architecture and the conditions of the poor, also features powerful photos by Daniel Ransohoff and Ben Rosen.

It is up through Dec. 21 at the Skirball and Jacob Rader Marcus Center on the HUC campus, 3010 Clifton Ave. Go here for details.

<![CDATA[Lectures Highlight CAM's 'Eyes on the Street' Show]]>

Last night, British photographer Paul Graham presented his FotoFocus-sponsored lecture at Cincinnati Art Museum. Graham’s work is in two of FotoFocus’ featured exhibitions — the museum’s Eyes on the Street and the Stills show at Downtown’s Michael Lowe Gallery. Eyes on the Street is up until Jan. 4; Stills closes Nov. 1.

Graham’s work is related to but updates classic street photography in that, based on what he said last night, he seeks out subtle shots rather than what he calls “clichéd” or obviously dramatic images. He tries to build haiku-like, enigmatic visual sequences that in their small details cumulatively provide insight. (That said, he did show slides from a recent series that features rainbows.)

It’s a difficult task not always easily evident to the viewer, but he expressed his purpose eloquently last night and repeatedly mentioned those whose work inspired him — Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand. For those moved by his work, there’s a Where’s Waldo quality to “reading” the smallest details — the color of a tie or T-shirt, the positioning of a pedestrian on a street, the relationship of the camera angle to a storefront sign, the choices in focus.

This is particularly noticeable in his recent The Present series of New York street life, from which the Cincinnati-displayed photos come. “It’s the theater of the street, the theater of life coming at you,” he said. He also prefers that his framed prints be mounted on a gallery wall close to the floor, to approximate sidewalk level. But he acknowledged last night that the Stills show did not do that, and he enjoyed being able to see his photos at more normal eye level.

His The Present photos in Eyes on the Street capture the results of bold action or drama, a rarity for him, in that a woman has fallen on the sidewalk while others move toward her.

Meanwhile last night, the museum’s associate curator of photography, Brian Sholis, distributed announcements of two additional events connected to the current Eyes on the Street show: a Nov. 5 panel discussion at 7 p.m. about Eyes on the Street at Niehoff Urban Studio, University of Cincinnati, 2728 (Short) Vine St.; and a Nov. 19 conversation at 7 p.m. on “Art and Privacy” featuring Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell and civil-rights lawyer Alphonse Gerhardstein. It’s at the museum’s Fath Auditorium.

Go here for more information.