by Steve Rosen
Posted In: Visual Art
at 12:38 PM | Permalink
From now on, when anyone mentions “Octoberfest” in
Cincinnati, I’m going to think first of FotoFocus. This year, its first, it has
clearly established itself as an artistically meaningful and rewarding addition
to Cincinnati’s cultural calendar. The next is planned for 2014.
It is also, like that other
Oktoberfest (which actually occurs in September), fun. No, it doesn’t have
the World’s Largest Chicken Dance, but it may have come up
with something even better in Contained:
Gateway Arts Festival, which opened last Saturday and continues with
limited hours through Nov. 3.
It was produced by the Requiem Project, which is managing
and hoping to restore Over-the-Rhine’s Emery Theatre (where there is a Mike
Disfarmer photo exhibit that I blogged about last week). Saturday’s
opening was hampered by cold weather that kept attendance small on the grounds
of Grammer’s in Over-the-Rhine. (Grammer’s is a place that’s probably seen
quite a few Oktoberfests in its day.) But the weather didn’t dampen the
creative imagination that went into the event.
Using 11 trailer-size steel shipping containers as gallery
walls, artists displayed their photography and video-based work, some
interactive, as visitors wandered in and out. The standards were quite high and
one project — David Rosenthal’s “Everything at Home Depot (Series)’’ — struck
me as outstanding.
Installed in vertical pieces on fiberboard along the interior
sides of the container, the color heat-transfer prints set out to do what the
title suggests. In this environment — with the container’s metal sides, the
wood floor and glaring fluorescent lights – the whole project looked just right — a melding of the artistic and the industrial, the soulful and the soulless.
If this is part of a larger series (as the title suggests), it deserves to be
seen in total. But one hopes future showings will get an environment as cool as
In a corner of the grounds, behind one crate and out of
direct view, a band played suitably spacey music. After awhile, musicians moved
atop a crate to play music with a pronounced electronic component. Meanwhile,
video projections were displayed high off the building’s sides — you could see
the images when approaching the site and it was really exciting.
The whole festival, itself, worked as an art installation. It will be open again this Friday from 6-10 p.m.
(it’s ideal at dark), 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 3 by appointment at email@example.com.
It’s definitely worth a visit, even if not that easy to get to.
Another show you need to see — partly because of its
excellence and partly because it’s in a space rarely open to the public — is
the Using Photography exhibit at
downtown’s Michael Lowe Gallery. He is a private dealer, so it’s a treat to see
his elegant, uncluttered two-floor gallery open to the public. Drawing on his
own collection, he’s put together a show that
works as both top-notch fine-art photography and as a historical exhibition.
In this case, the history that the show addresses is that of
the conceptual/performance art world of the 1970s. Pivotal names in
international contemporary art’s development are represented here — Marina
Abramovic, Vito Acconci, Gerhard Richter, Michael Kelly, Ed Ruscha, Gilbert and
George and many more.
With the richness of work represented, and it way it
stretches our definition of photography and time-based art, it’s one of
FotoFocus’ best shows. To just pick one piece, I was especially moved by
Christian Boltanski’s five touched-up photographs comprising 1974’s
“Anniversaire,” or “The Birthday.” I am used to the French artist’s solemn,
sobering, heart-rending installations that use photography to remember the
Holocaust. They are so strong you wonder if they must drain the artist of all joie de vivre. Yet here he is happy in
this work, and the meaning of that happiness is revelatory if you know his history.
Even if you don’t, it’s a generous and warm piece.
This show originally was going to be open just briefly, but
Lowe has agreed to stay open noon-4 p.m. weekdays through the end of the month.
His gallery is at 905 Vine St. Plan a downtown lunch trip around it.
Meanwhile, only up through this Thursday is Photogenus at the Reed Gallery inside
University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture & Planning.
Put together by Jordan Tate, DAAP photography professor, and gallery director
Aaron Cowan, this looks at how today’s international artists use photography in
a digital age.
It’s a nice companion to Lowe’s show, as one chronicles
breakthroughs from the 1970s (some of which we’re still trying to understand)
and one shows how today’s international artists are using photography to make
new breakthroughs. Much of it is quite out-there and left me quizzical about
individual work’s obscure intent and technique.
But some were very striking, like Anthony Lepore’s pairing of a photo
(an archival ink print) of a salt field with a piece of carpet of roughly the
I had written earlier about how eager I was to
see Nancy Rexroth’s photographs at downtown’s YWCA Women’s Art Gallery as part
of FotoFocus. The show consists of previously unprinted images from her
influential Iowa project of the early
1970s — she used a toy camera to capture fleeting glimpses of everyday life in
There was always the chance the black-and-white work had
been left unprinted for a reason all these decades, but I’m happy to report
it’s an excellent, evocative show — underscoring just how strong a body of work
Iowa is. Besides the ghostly “Clara
in the Closet, Carpenter, OH,” previously published in CityBeat, I also loved
“House Vibration, Dayton, OH, 1976,” in which the blurry focus produces an
unsteady image that makes one think an earthquake is occurring. It’s a great
metaphor for the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of life. This show will be up
through Jan. 10 — Rexroth shares the space with Judi Parks and Jane Alden
Stevens. Watch for Contributing Visual Art Editor Steven Rosen’s FotoFocus blog postings all month. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
0 Comments · Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Why are Hollywood glamour photographs on
display at the Taft Museum of Art? FotoFocus isn’t reason enough; the
Taft likes to establish a tie between the renowned permanent collection
and temporary exhibitions. So what is Myrna Loy doing here?
0 Comments · Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Shooting outdoors separated photographer Herb Ritts from
studio-based New York peers. In addition to Malibu and El Mirage, Ritts
used a rooftop studio. He established a fun, “organic” working
environment, enabling him to cajole his subjects and develop an
“anti-glamour” style of celebrity photography.
0 Comments · Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Laurel Nakadate, a celebrated New York-based photographer/videographer/filmmaker/performance artist, will deliver the FotoFocus Lecture 7 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Cincinnati Art Museum. She will be telling stories and showing slides about her work this century.
by Steven Rosen
After the second full week of FotoFocus, I’ve begun to realize that there are way more shows and events out there than one person can get to. (Or, if you do get to them all, to remember what you’ve seen.) It’s also clear that you can begin to roughly pair into categories the kinds of shows that are out there — art photography and photojournalism, still photography and video, portraiture and everything else, contemporary work and vintage (or historic). And then there are those that touch numerous bases — either because that’s what the artists intended or because time has changed the meaning or our appreciation of the work. In the former category, and so far the work that towers over everything else I’ve seen, is Doug and Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light in the decommissioned Holy Cross Church at Mount Adams Monastery. This installation prominently uses photographs without letting them define what its purpose or meaning is about. I’ve written about it previously and may do so again, so powerful is it. It’s up through year’s end, and I hope everyone realizes how important an artwork it is and goes to see it. Go here for details.But two other very different exhibits deserve mention in this regard, too. On the second floor of the Emery Theatre, through the end of the month, is an exhibit of estate-authorized prints — from the original glass-plate negatives — of the mysterious Mike Disfarmer’s Depression-era portraits of residents of the small Arkansas town of Heber Springs. Here is work that, whatever its original intention, contemporary thought has turned into art photography.It can be discussed and debated whether Disfarmer, who died in 1959) was engaged in what he thought was a commercial venture or whether he was after something else… his own quest for an artful statement. But the work today is important as something other than straight photo-documentation, though it is that. The photographs are haunting missives from the place Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America” — a spiritual zone, a cosmic baptismal font, from where much of our contemporary culture can trace its origins. Disfarmer was born Mike Meyers, but seems to have chosen “disfarmer” as a statement that he didn’t want to fit into the agricultural lifestyle of his hometown. He taught himself photography and built a studio, first on his mother’s back porch and then in the heart of town. According to the Disfarmer website, he obsessed over getting the right light — one wonders what his subjects, for whom time was money, thought as the minutes ticked on. But they came, sometimes dressed in their best and sometimes dressed in the best they had. What resulted — and we are fortunate his work has been preserved, which itself was a struggle — is a different take on Depression Era poverty than the federal Farm Security Administration photos. Taken by outsiders, those placed — with warmth and humanity — their subjects in their surrounding hardscrabble environment. They have a sociological dimension. But these remove their subjects from their environment and seem psychological. In a photograph like “First Born,” you have to wonder if Disfarmer ever told his subjects to say “cheese.” The young father, dressed up nicely and wearing a hat, has a proud but slightly furtive gaze that renders his emotions somewhat inscrutable. He sits, holding a child whose face is almost pouting and whose staring eyes are disturbing. The two look apprehensive, either about the photograph or about what life has in store for them. If Disfarmer was after that effect, maybe he was some kind of prophet. By the way, I’m not sure how many people know this exhibit is here. FotoFocus literature didn’t list it as an ongoing show, but rather a part of a one-day event – last week’s Emery concert by guitarist Bill Frisell/858 Quartet of his composition Musical Portraits from Heber Springs. But the Emery is keeping it up through the month. To see it, e-mail email@example.com with your phone number and times you’re available, or call 513-262-8242.Another show that crosses boundaries in interesting ways is Santeri Tuori’s The Forest project at University of Cincinnati’s Phillip M. Meyers Jr. Memorial Gallery (for hours, go here). Tuori is from Finland — a welcome international addition to FotoFocus — and this show was curated by Judith Turner-Yamamoto, a FotoFocus staffer, with assistance from the Finnish consulate. The artist spent five years observing — in film and still photographs — the effect of light, seasonal change and weather on a remote, pristine, Finnish island. In “Forest (Tree and Pond),” his work is condensed via editing into a relatively tight time span and projected onto a gray-painted section of a gallery wall. While it looks like we are a watching a specific spot on the island change over the seasons, I’m told it’s a composite. (I find that remarkable.) Tuori has created this slightly wavering mirage of an image to show how art can turn what we think of as mundane into something momentous. He has photographed elusive “change.” I appreciate the thoughtfulness and hard work of this effort — which is accompanied by a soundscape by Mikko Hynninen — but did find the slight blurriness of the piece distracting. I preferred the three smaller-scale pieces in the gallery’s other room. Here, video images of trees are projected onto, and over, black-and-white photographs of similar trees, providing a three-dimensional effect — a ghostly sense of movement. That happens even though, unlike “Tree and Pond,” these works are not out to simulate an evolving time span. Photography, like all art, isn’t meant to stand still. Tuori is at the forefront of finding new ways to show that.Watch for Contributing Visual Art Editor Steven Rosen’s FotoFocus blog postings all month. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOTOFOCUS set to make its mark on Cincinnati's arts scene
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 29, 2012
FOTOFOCUS, which gets fully underway in
October, is one of the most ambitious visual-arts events ever attempted
in Greater Cincinnati — maybe the most ambitious.
Celebrity photographer Tyler Shields dominates the art world of the Internet age
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Tyler Shields’ Klout Score is probably through the roof. Although he is prone to superlatives,
someone less familiar with his work might find this statement mere
braggadocio. But Shields credits his online presence as the reason he is
so successful as a multi-disciplinary artist.
by Steve Rosen
Posted In: Visual Art
at 10:43 AM | Permalink
Having wrapped up a very busy first (extended) weekend of
FotoFocus activities, I’m humbled by the fact that I only got to a portion of
the exhibits and events occurring under the month-long, regional photography
Before it’s over, more than 70 shows and related special
events — like this Wednesday’s concert at the Emery Theatre by Bill Frisell/858
Quarter, featuring musical portraits inspired by photographer Mike Disfarmer’s
work — will have taken place. I’m wondering if FotoFocus, like the National
Park Service, should have a passport that can be stamped at each site of a
sponsored activity. (Quite a few exhibits will continue past October – check here for
“Umbrella,” by the way, is an apt word to use in one
respect. Sideshow, the thoroughly charming outdoor kick-off party that took
place Friday night, was bedeviled by rain and cold temperatures. As a result,
attendance was small. That was disappointing because the alleys of downtown’s
Backstage Theatre District had been turned into a colorful, imaginative,
Fellini-esque carnival for the evening, with handmade booths, games of chance
and photography opportunities.
A stage with a theatrical backdrop served to host A Hawk and
a Hacksaw, a New Mexico duo — Jeremy Barnes on accordion and Heather Trost on
violin — whose music had an East European/Middle Eastern flavor and whose
musicianship was impeccable. They would have fit well at MidPoint. In fact, the
Backstage Theatre District would make a great outdoor venue next year for
MidPoint, which, as Mike Breen pointed out, needs a stronger downtown presence.
On Wednesday, I attended the preview opening of Doug and
Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light in Holy
Cross Church at the Mount Adams Monastery. I had gone a couple weeks earlier
for a test, which I described in last week’s Big Picture column,
where the noise and flying sparks from the giant carbon arc lamp’s scared me
even as the magnitude and, well, gravity of the monumental photographs that its
light illuminated astonished me.
On my second visit, with maybe two dozen other guests
present, Gravity of Light wasn’t
quite as scary — not when you see people using the carbon arc lamp’s brilliant
white light to read their smart phone email. Ah, technology! But it’s still a
profound exhibit — a major installation that uses photography as an intrinsic
part of a created environment – and I can’t imagine that anyone interested in
contemporary art or FotoFocus would want to miss it. And afterward, you’ll want
to discuss what it means.
Two other exhibits I attended over the weekend were Anthony
Luensman’s TAINT at the Weston Art Gallery and Let's Face It: Photographic Portraits by Melvin Grier, Michael Kearns and Michael
Wilson at Kennedy Heights Art Center. Luensman is one of our most talented
local artists, especially ingenious with installations involving sound and
light, but I didn’t get a clear indication of how or why the presence of
photography (and video) is supposed to crucially matter in this mixed-media
The Kennedy Heights exhibit had some remarkable large-scale
black-and-white portraits by all three accomplished local photographers. Grier
and Wilson, in their Giclee prints made from film negatives, got remarkable
expressiveness their subjects like “Robert” and “Tony” (Grier) and “Thomas” and
“Lamayah” (Wilson). Those Wilson photos, and some others, frame the pupils of
their subjects’ eyes with a tiny white square, a stunning effect. In several of
his large Giclee prints from digital photographs, Kearns achieves clarity of
detail so rich (on “Chuck,” which is Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver, and “Andre”) that
you could stand there and count every strand of the subjects’ hair. I don’t
know who Andre is, but the way he is posed with head slightly upward and a
triumphant smile emerging from a mouth that appears to be missing some teeth
makes him heroically human. It’s a meaningful show.On Thursday, I attended the Cincinnati Art Museum’s
reception for Herb Ritts: L.A. Style,
the Getty Center-organized show of the late photographer’s black-and-white
prints. Beautifully installed, this exhibit features Ritts’ fashion and
celebrity work, as well as his stylized, erotically charged studies of the nude
male and female torso. The show doesn’t so much chart his “progression” from
high fashion to high art as it spotlights the connection between fashion and
art. It also underscores that the eternal human quest for perfection is about
the body as much as the mind. (Kathy Schwartz will have more on this show soon.)
For opening weekend, the art museum’s Chief Curator James
Crump — also FotoFocus’ co-chair — brought to town Paul Martineau, the Getty’s
curator for the Ritts exhibit, and Charles Churchward, a magazine design and
art director who knew Ritts and has written Herb
Ritts: The Golden Hour.
Martineau, it turns out, is at work on a major Robert
Mapplethorpe exhibit to be presented by the Getty and Los Angeles County Museum
of Art in 2016. (Getty Research Institute and LACMA recently acquired some
2,000 of his photographs, and the Getty already had acquired the archives of
Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe’s collector/lover.)
Martineau told me it might travel. Cincinnati would be a
perfect venue for it — Crump has made a documentary about Mapplethorpe and
Wagstaff, the authoritative Black White +
Gray. Is it too early to start a Facebook campaign to bring that
Mapplethorpe exhibit to Cincinnati? Any volunteers?
Watch for Contributing Visual Art Editor Steven Rosen’s FotoFocus blog postings all month. Contact him at email@example.com.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Doug and Mike Starn's photography-related installation Gravity of Light involves a carbon arc lamp with light so brilliant it could cause eye damage if you stared at it unprotected.
0 Comments · Wednesday, September 19, 2012
It’s appropriate that Project Obscura at
Northside’s Prairie Gallery opened before FotoFocus officially kicks
off Oct. 5. After all, the camera obscura (Latin for “dark chamber”) led
to the modern camera.