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by Steven Rosen 10.31.2014 2 hours ago
Posted In: Visual Art at 02:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
photo courtesy of aaron conway photography

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 www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org for exhibit details.
 
 
by Charlie Harmon 10.31.2014 6 hours ago
Posted In: Dance at 10:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Cincinnati Ballet to Bring 'Peter Pan' to Children's Hospital

Ballet continues partnership with The Cure Starts Now

Cincinnati Ballet will be spreading their wish to inspire hope and enchantment in the community by broadcasting the 2 p.m. performance of Peter Pan on Nov. 8 to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital live from the Aronoff Center. Patients and their families who might otherwise miss the magic will now be able to experience the spectacular tale of the flying boy who never grows up — straight from their hospital room.

The Ballet recently came together again with The Cure Starts Now, a cancer research and awareness foundation they’ve been working with since 2009, to bring oncology patients at Children’s the third year of “Ballerina for a Day.” In this behind-the-scenes event, children and their families were offered a chance to see the background of the ballet world with makeovers, crafts, dancing and costumes. With the show streaming right to the comfort and safety of their rooms, they can now complete the full circle of the ballet experience by enjoying a live show.

Cincinnati Ballet has also invited Leah Still — the dance-loving daughter of Devon Still battling stage 4 neuroblastoma and who has brought a plethora of attention to organizations like The Cure Starts Now — to perform in the show with a walk-on role. If her parents and doctor give the go ahead, this would mark 4-year-old Leah’s debut in a professional stage performance.

This wondrous benefit for dozens of children marks an incredible collaboration by various members of the regional community. Unions have waived fees, Children’s has cooperated in arranging the broadcast and camera operators have donated the use of their time, talent and gear in order for this to be possible, according to Victoria Morgan, artistic director and CEO of Cincinnati Ballet.

Peter Pan hits the stage Nov. 7-9, with performances 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Look out for an interview with composer and music director Carmon DeLeone in next week’s issue.

 
 
by Rick Pender 10.31.2014 8 hours ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: No Tricks, All Treats – Theater Choices for Halloween Weekend

Don't be scared. Just because it's Halloween, you don't have to miss out on good theater. In fact, there are some great deals available. For instance, this weekend is your last chance to see Ensemble Theatre's production of An Iliad (CityBeat review here), a one-man retelling of Homer's epic tale of the Trojan War. (The final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m.) Bruce Cromer has been turning in one of the best acting performances seen locally in years as "The Poet" who narrates the story of the tragic conflict — as well as about a dozen of the story's central characters. Several of the weekend's performances are sold out, but seats do remain tonight at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and if you use the coupon code SPOOKY to order tickets for either one, you'll get them for $25 each (they're usually $44). Box office: 513-421-3555.

This is also the final weekend for Falcon Theater's staging of The Woman in Black in Newport's tiny Monmouth Theater (which the group recently purchased, so it now has a permanent home, renamed "Falcon Theater"). The final performance on Saturday is sold out, but if you attend the classic ghost story tonight at 8 p.m. in costume, you'll get a $2 discount on your ticket (normally $19; $17 for students and seniors): 513-479-6783.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of The Birds (CityBeat review here) is also intended to give you the creeps, so it's another good choice for Halloween weekend. If that title sounds familiar, it's because Alfred Hitchcock adapted Daphne Du Maurier's short story into a classic thriller back in 1963. Cincy Shakes is presenting a more recent stage adaptation, this one by Irish playwright Conor McPherson (who has his own reputation as a storyteller who knows how to scare an audience, with past hits like The Weir and The Seafarer). It's an evening of psychological twists and turns with a cast featuring four of the company's best actors. This one will be around for another week, but if you're celebrating Halloween, you'll have fun with this one. Tickets ($22-$36): 513-381-2273, x1.

Also onstage through Nov. 8 is Know Theatre's production of Moby Dick (CityBeat review here.) It's not exactly a ghost story, but the obsessive Captain Ahab is certainly haunted by the specter of the great white whale, and Know's retelling of Herman Melville's great American novel is inventive and engaging. Tickets ($18): 513-300-5669.

Other good choices onstage are Covedale Center's Into the Woods (CityBeat review here) and the Cincinnati Playhouse's Safe House (CityBeat review here.) The former (tickets, $21-$24: 513-241-6550) is Stephen Sondheim's classic musical that's a mash-up of fairytales; the Playhouse show is a world premiere of a play by native Cincinnatian Keith Josef Adkins about people like his ancestors, free people of color in 19th-century Kentucky (tickets, $30-$75: 513-421-3888).

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Steven Rosen 10.30.2014 29 hours ago
Posted In: Visual Art at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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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.

 
 
by Steven Rosen 10.24.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: Visual Art at 11:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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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.

 
 
by Richard Lovell 10.24.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: Visual Art at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Tyler Shields Returns to Cincinnati for Miller Gallery Show

'Provocateur' opens tonight

American photographer and firebrand Tyler Shields makes his return to Cincinnati for a Miller Gallery exhibition as part of the ongoing FotoFocus Biennial.

This is Shields’ second appearance at the Miller Gallery in conjunction with FotoFocus, first appearing in 2012 with Controlled Chaos. This year's exhibit – Provocateur — opens tonight and he’s been shooting in various locations locally throughout the week.

Of all the superlatives to describe Shields and his work, “provocateur” might be most suitable of all. He’s gained a level of notoriety for his past exhibits and photo shoots, including a 2011 exhibit that substituted paint for the fresh blood of 25 rich and famous celebrities.

Shields has successfully merged the world of art with celebrity, similar to fellow rebel-rouser Andy Warhol. He’s taken racy and playful photos of Lindsay Lohan, Kathy Griffin, Abigail Breslin and the entire cast of Revenge.

His work can also be seen as a companion to Jay Z and Kanye Wests’s Watch the Throne, using the medium of photography to exhibit grandeur, fame and the excesses of materialism. His works have seen the destruction of a $100,000 Hermès Birkin bag and the detonation of a vintage Rolls Royce — all in the name of art, of course.


His latest Cincinnati exhibit yet again pushes his subjects and the limits of what photography can be. His exhibit takes risks, but also presents the germination for pensive and reflective thought.

But of all the superlatives and excessive descriptors for his work, nothing beats seeing the real thing. Make sure Provocateur is a part of your 2014 FotoFocus experience.

The opening party takes place from 7 to 10 p.m. at Miller Gallery (2715 Erie Ave., Hyde Park) and continues through Nov. 8. Go here for more information.

 
 
by Rick Pender 10.24.2014 7 days ago
Posted In: Theater at 08:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Stage Door: Safe House and Spooky Performances

Last night I was at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park for the opening of Keith Josef Adkins' new play, Safe House, the 71st world premiere staged by our Tony Award-winning regional theater. (CityBeat feature story here.)

It's a fascinating piece that's about the little-known circumstances of "free people of color" in 19th-century America — not slaves but not exactly free. They're put into complex and stressful situations, personified here by a pair of very different brothers: Addison is a hardworking, aspiring entrepreneur, dreaming of become a cobbler with his own store, while younger brother Frank is impetuous and chafing at the restrictions imposed on them. The heat gets turned up when runaway slaves through their Northern Kentucky county need shelter and perhaps passage to Liberia, something their Aunt Dorcas has quietly supported. The story is based on Adkins' family history in this region, and it comes to life in this provocative drama. Through Nov. 15. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-421-3888.

UC's College-Conservatory of Music only rarely gives more than one weekend to musical theater productions. This fall's privileged show is the very commercial Legally Blonde (a hit movie with Reese Witherspoon from 2001 that became a Broadway property in 2007). It's a genuinely entertaining show that actually has a meaningful message about living up to potential and not judging people by their exteriors. It also has a ton of dancing, so it's great news that this production is both being staged by veteran CCM choreographer Diane, who I profiled in my Curtain Call column this week. The production is happening at UC's Patricia Corbett Theater through Nov. 2. Tickets ($31-$35): 513-556-4183.

It's fairytale time at the Covedale Center with a production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. But proceed with caution: The first act takes more or less traditional stories of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and more, and mixes them into one happy stew. But in Act II, well, things aren't so "happily every after" when reality sets in. Big cast, great tunes, lots of humor — but some thoughtfulness, too. Through Nov. 16. Tickets ($21-$24): 513-241-6550.

The chance to see Bruce Cromer's one-man performance in An Iliad at Ensemble Theatre is an absolute must for anyone who's serious about theater. (CityBeat review here.) It's quite astonishing that one man can do so much and hold an audience's attention for 100 minutes in this retelling of the savagery of the Trojan War. It's all the more powerful because it's a condemnation of war across the ages. Don't miss this one. Through Nov. 2, and no chance that it will be extended, so call now for your tickets. Here's a tip, thanks to friendly relations with Know Theatre, just around the corner from ETC: Use the coupon code MOBY20 to get 20 percent off the price of two tickets for any remaining performances. Tickets ($28-$44): 513-421-3555.

With Halloween just a week away, several theaters are offering shows that will make your heart pound. There's creepy ghost in Falcon Theatre's production of The Woman in Black ($17-$19, 513-479-6783), and the characters in Conor McPherson's The Birds are under attack in ways that don't bode to well for human interaction ($22-$36, 513-381-2273). (CityBeat review here.) And while it's not exactly a Halloween story, Moby Dick at Know Theatre has some scary oddballs and a gargantuan villain out to murder everyone, so that qualifies, too. (CityBeat review here.) It's onstage through Nov. 8 ($18; 513-300-5669).

This weekend is last call for I loved, I lost, I Made Spaghetti at the Cincinnati Playhouse. (CityBeat review here.) Actress Antoinette LaVecchia spins some great stories about writer Giulia Melucci's bad taste in men, all the while making an aromatic Italian dinner — antipasti, wine, spaghetti Bolognese (homemade pasta and fresh sauce) — for a few lucky audience members. This is a totally charming show, great for weekend entertainment. Final performance is Sunday. Tickets ($30-$75): 513-2418-3888.

Rick Pender's STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
 
 
by Paloma Ianes 10.23.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: Street Art at 11:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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FAILE Mural Unveiled in Covington Tonight

Covington’s collection of high-end street art expands today with the unveiling of a vibrant mural created by Brooklyn-based artists FAILE. The mural will cover the rear walls of the adjacent Republic Bank and Donna Salyer’s Fabulous Bridal buildings on the corners of Sixth Street and Madison Avenue.

Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller, collectively known as FAILE, create multimedia installations and collage, incorporating an experimental style and popular cultural references. Although FAILE has exhibited art in traditional gallery spaces, their work on city walls across the globe has put them on the innovative edge of the street art community. Amsterdam, New York, London, Bethlehem, Palestine and Vienna are just a few of the cities where FAILE’s work can be found.

The Covington collage-style mural was inspired by the artists’ “rip style painting.” It features classic FAILE motifs along with suggestions of Kentucky culture. The placement of the mural on two adjacent buildings allows the split images to visually converse with each other through space. The mural’s high contrast and dramatic aesthetic references FAILE’s inspiration from screen printing along with urban contemporary art. The humorous overtone of the mural’s imagery makes a strong visual connection to pop art and comic book illustrations.

Covington’s BLDG, a cooperative arts organization working to “foster inspiration, the visionary and the uncommon” will host the unveiling of the mural. BLDG nurtures creativity by providing branding, gallery space, publicity and refuge for artists and innovative thinkers. Their unique team brings internationally celebrated artists to the Covington area, placing the city on the list of artistically progressive areas. BLDGs projects have included collaborations with the London Police and Prefab77.

The unveiling will take place from 5-7 p.m. tonight at the mural site. Drinks and food will be provided by Rhinegeist, Arnolds, Tito’s Vodka and The Gruff (a pizza shop/deli coming soon to Covington). Go here for more info.

 
 
by Anne Arenstein 10.23.2014 8 days ago
Posted In: Classical music at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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REVIEW: concert:nova's 'Gothic Halloween'

c:n's spooky show continues on Oct. 27

Before Anne Rice and Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe set the standard for gothic creepiness. He's the inspiration for Gothic Halloween, a terrific program of music and Poe's classic stories guaranteed to chill the blood temperatures to appropriate Halloween levels, performed with wicked glee by the adventurous ensemble concert:nova. It's an evening of music from the dark side seamlessly interwoven with equally scary stories and songs.

Performed on the stage of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production of The Birds, it's the perfect setting for an evening of macabre and mayhem. Many of the musicians sported black capes but harpist Gillian Sella takes the prize —more on her later.

Bach's "Toccata" from the "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" is a horror standard and that's what starts the evening, performed with gusto by local treasure, keyboardist Julie Spangler. It's so familiar that the opening three-note sequence evoked laughter, which was quickly silenced by Spangler's artistry. She makes the small electric keyboard resonate with the power of a cathedral instrument.

The "Psycho Suite" features three pieces from the classic film score by Bernard Herrmann, performed by a string sextet — Eric Bates (no relation to Norman), Gerald Itzkoff, Mari Thomas, Rebe Barnes, Margaret Dyer and Theodore Nelson. There were also a few chuckles which quickly subsided. Those screeching string swipes don't need film to convey the murder in the shower scene or the ominous mood at the Bates Motel.

Baritone Edward Nelson gave a powerful performance of Schubert's setting of German poet Heinrich Heine's "Die Doppelganger," a song about a frightening encounter with one's alter-ego. Spangler accompanied and segued into Part II of Gyorgy Ligeti's "Musica ricercata," ("Researched music"). Entitled "Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale," (Sad, rigid and ceremonial), the music is a series of repeated notes, restless and menacing.

Sections of Ligeti's String Quartet No. 1 accompany a reading of Poe's "The Cask of the Amontillado," performed by Jason Podplesky and Edward Nelson. Podplesky seemed uneasy at first, stumbling over mispronunciations, but he recovered to bring the story to its macabre finale. Nelson did a fine job as the hapless victim. He remained onstage, joined by a string quartet for a performance of Samuel Barber's setting of Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach." Nelson conveyed the longing, passion and terror with elegant tone and flawless diction. The string quartet delivered an appropriately moody reading.

The second half opened with violists Barnes and Dyer slinking out on stage to perform "Viola Zombie," Michael Daugherty's duet that's a mashup of horror themes and plucked strings. You gotta love a piece with movements entitled "Jerks of Rigor Mortis" and "Zombie revivus." Barnes and Dyer clearly do.

The evening closed with Poe's ultimate horror classic, "The Masque of the Red Death," read by Podplesky, accompanied by French composer Andre Caplet's  "Conte Fantastique: Masque of the Red Death" for string quartet and harp. In spite of a few mispronunciations here and there, Podplesky rendered the story with ghoulish delight. Caplet's score meshes fantasy and foreboding, and the harp glissandos add to the eerie atmosphere. Willowy harpist Gillian Sella nearly stole the show when she entered, garbed in a white satin cape and pointed hat.

c:n Artistic Director and clarinetist Ixi Chen doesn't perform in this concert but her creative mark is all over this terrific program.

You have one more opportunity to up your scare quotient on Monday evening, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m. A party follows the performance. You go, ghouls. Tickets and more info here.

 
 
by Steven Rosen 10.22.2014 9 days ago
Posted In: Visual Art at 12:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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FotoFocus Talk Spotlights Lexington's Photographic Heritage

If the assault of Mitch McConnell ads has you thinking Kentucky must be the most hopelessly unprogressive state ever, a FotoFocus Biennial-related lecture last Sunday provided another take on the Bluegrass State.

The speaker, who also presented slides, was the veteran Lexington photographer Guy Mendes, who with Carey Gough has the exhibition Blue Roots and Uncommon Wealth: The Kentucky Photographs at Over-the-Rhine’s Iris BookCafe, 1331 Main St., through Jan. 25. His presentation, organized by Iris’ photography curator William Messer, was at Mr. Pitiful’s bar, close to Iris.

Mendes, active in Kentucky arts, public television production and higher education since the late 1960s, has been collected by Ashley Judd, Willie Nelson, Maker’s Mark (he’s very proud of that) and the New Orleans and Cincinnati art museums, among others. At Mr. Pitiful’s, he made a compelling case for Lexington as a center for progressive creative thought — in photography, especially — that has had a broad influence on our times.

As a college town (University of Kentucky), Lexington maybe has been better known for its basketball than its radicalism, but Mendes made it seem like it could hold its own with Berkeley, Calif., Ann Arbor, Mich., or Madison, Wis., in any history of counter-cultural hotspots.

His presentation focused on a group he became part of in the late 1960s, the Lexington Camera Club, active from the 1950s to the early 1970s (and recently revived). While, like other camera clubs it attracted its share of hobbyists, it also had stalwart support from open-minded professionals with an experimentalist bent.

Mendes mentioned and showed slides of work from the Camera Club’s first golden era. The accomplishments of these now-deceased members was impressive — Van Deren Coke (who went on to become director of the George Eastman House); Robert May, who specialized in multiple exposures; James Baker Hall, a poet (and former state Poet Laureate) and photographer whose haunting series of images featuring collaged family photos may have been a way to deal with his mother’s suicide when he was a child.

One Camera Club photographer, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, has become recognized since his 1972 death as one of America’s most memorable — and spookiest. His black-and-white shots of children and adults wearing masks in strange settings are still unsettling.

Lexington was restive in the anti-Vietnam War days, and Mendes published an underground newspaper called Blue-Tail Fly and was involved in protests. And as he became friends with local writers Wendell Berry and Ed McClanahan, his literary and photographic worlds began to merge. (Both still are active today.)

In Mendes’ show at Iris, those two figures are in probably the two most striking photographs. One is a 2012 portrait of Berry, on a farm in Henry County, with his horses Nip and Jed grazing behind him. It’s sheer happenstance, but the horses’ placement is such as to create the illusion is that their heads extend from his shoulders. Messer refers to them as “horse angel wings,” and it’s a great tribute to Berry, an environmentalist as well as a writer. The photo gives the elderly man a heavenly glow.

McClanahan is involved in the weirdest photograph in the show — 1972’s “The Fabulous Little Enis & Go Go Girls of Boots Bar.” This photo (in a tarted-up version) accompanied McClanahan’s article about this colorful musician in Playboy. It depicts the left-handed, backwards-holding guitarist Little Enis and a chorus line of scantily clad women outside the bar.

The late Carlos Toadvine’s stage name “Enis,” Mendes told his audience, was a play on the nickname given to Elvis Presley as “Elvis the Pelvis” — you get the point. Mendes said Enis was a fabulous guitarist but the working-class Boots Bar was a tough place for scruffy, hippy-looking artists like McClanahan and himself in 1972. On their first visit there, McClanahan and Mendes, were greeted by a flying beer bottle. (On the Internet, there is a photo of long-haired college-age young men admiring Little Enis’ act, so maybe the bar got a little safer with time.)

The Iris show also features color photographs of Kentucky music-related sites by Gough, who considers Mendes a mentor.

Lexington’s impact on the arts is fascinating in other ways, too. The writer Bobbie Ann Mason attended UK, as did the great character actor Harry Dean Stanton. (There is now a film festival there in his honor.) Walter Tevis based his novel The Hustler on a pool hall there. Punk icon Richard Hell was born and raised there, as was Cincinnati artist/composer Jay Bolotin.

There must be something in the bluegrass. It’s captured in Mendes’ photographs.

 
 

 

 

 
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