"i am afraid for you and me."

*note* i am trying to decide aesthetically how i want to approach italics and quotation marks as they are used for titles of exhibitions and artworks. bear with my inconsistency. please! *    *    * 

yesterday afternoon, i enjoyed a medley of activities on a visit to the Contemporary Arts Center. To talk about what a positive experience it was, I need to start by addressing a passage in Adam Sievering's cover story of this week's City Beat that profiled the new arts venue from Bunk News, in the West End:

why is it that I feel out of place almost every time I visit an art gallery or check out a show downtown? Why do I feel like I’m being melted by condescending eyes for pounding a can of Busch Light instead sipping a glass of Rialto Red? Or why is it that I always feel underdressed even if I’m wearing the classiest thing I own? Because Greater Cincinnati’s art scene is pretentious in the eyes of the everyman, meaning someone who’s never experienced the toils of art school. 

I feel badly for Sievering, because the atmosphere he describes is not a true reflection of the community that we have going for us. Now, I am speaking from a bias, having experienced art school (and perhaps there were "toils" there). So I am not Joe the Plumber for sure and I may not be qualified to assess the quandaries of the "everyman" as they experience the art scene I am actively involved in.

But my afternoon at the CAC yesterday offered a number of character profiles and different access points to visual culture that would hopefully alleviate some of the insecurities that Sievering wrote about. I was there on several orders of business: 1) to preview the auction that will act as a fundraising component in tonight's Gala, 2) to meet with Jaime Thompson, the intermin Curator of Education, about Christian Schmit's current installation in the 6th Floor UnMuseum, and 3) to screen Intervista, a film by Anri Sala that will not be included in the upcoming exhibition, but offers some interesting points of access into the artist's ideas and approaches to film, video, and commentary on political rupture and social change. My whole day had been coordinated by the indispensable Molly O'Toole, Director of Communication and Community Engagement. For my part, since O'Toole has been brought on to the staff at the CAC, I have had faster replies, greater access to enriching information, and more opportunities to get just a little deeper into the happenings at this renowned institution. Throughout the afternoon, my gratitude was always met by O'Toole's enthusiasm to make what they do at the CAC as accessible as possible to, well, the "everyman" that Sievering feels is condescended to and excluded by pretense. 

The Schmit installation and Sala film are part of writing assignments coming up, so be looking for them in City Beat and Art Papers respectively. Below I will be making notes on the exceptional, broad range of works in this weekend's auction. But before I do, a few more words on the warm, welcoming experience I had engaging with every part of the CAC staff.

Some of these people I know personally, some know who I am, and some (like Curator Thompson) I had never met. But from the desk staff in the lobby, to the install crew preparing and hanging the works to be auctioned, to the curatorial and administrative staff, and the security in the building -- -  everyone was chatty and pleasant despite the huge event they were in the midst of preparing for. Were I to be heading up an institution with a giant gala 24 hours away, I doubt I would have been as collected, excited, and engaging as Raphaela Platow, Director and Chief Curator, was when I went to screen Intervista. Kenneth Wright, the Center's Membership Relations Manager, had a packet of all the artists' information waiting for me hot off the printer, so that I had back story and bio about all of the artists and work included in the Auction. Without a doubt, no major projects go off without snags and crises, but my glimpse into the everyday working of the CAC yesterday showed nothing but intent, passionate people all working for the good of Art and an institution dedicated to bringing the fresh, challenging, and profound examples of contemporary art to our community. I've nothing but praises.

The auction committee was comprised of curators Raphaela Platow, Maiza Hixson, and Antwan Jones, along with former CAC curator Matt Distel, now of the West End (and Los Angeles) gallery Country Club, and his gallery's neighbor, Carl Solway. They were joined by Registar Carrissa Barnard and Andy Stillpass. The layout and eclecticism of the work reminded me of the CAC's 2007 exhibition Cincinnati Collects. In a moment of brevity, I thought that this auction was like Cincinnati [oughta] Collects. I might say that, reviewing my favorite works in the auction, it is a pleasing revelation to see that several of them are included in this or next year's exhibition schedule. Perhaps because of their current relationship to the Center, they contributed finer examples of their work? Whatever the reason, they are additional teasers for their exhibitions.

These are a few of the particular highlights that I got to see during the installation of the auction:

Aya Uekawa will be having a solo exhibition at the Center, opening at the end of May. I've been catching snippets of the kinds of psychological portraits we can expect, though word was yesterday that she is continuing to produce newer and newer works that may be included. And if you enjoyed the collectible t-shirt that Carlos Amorales designed for the CAC, expect an equally exquisite design from Uekawa. But nothing has gotten me more excited about her exhibition as Untitled (Preydator), a framed 2009 pencil drawing on paper included in the auction. A delicately rendered face sits near the center of a web of marks, some filled in to create a small cascade of dark shapes flowing from beneath the portrait. Her eyes are glazed or misted over, lost in thought, day dreaming, plotting? Arachne-like, this small work is full of beauty and tinged with menace, or at least mystique. Starting bid $1200.

The other artist set to open an exhibition on May 30th is Anri Sala. His piece, Untitled Yet, from 2005 is a C-Print mounted on dibond, and valued at $20,300. In the same stark but aesthetic sensibility as his documentary films, Sala's giant print offers a rough setting that seems industrial but worn down. (after seeing Intervista and discussing another of his projects in Albania with Platow, I wonder if this might be Tirana, or otherwise perhaps Berlin, where Sala lives and works). But that is the nature of the image- a displaced site, anonymous, unmarked, undistinguished, but atmospheric, soulful nonetheless.

It is well paired with a very small photograph entitled "Path to Glory" by Kate Gilmore. Now, Gilmore generally leaves me less than comfortable. Take for example her 2004 video piece "My Love Is An Anchor" where the artist's foot has been cemented into a 5-gallon bucket that she hammers away at, risking injury. I find Gilmore's work to be a new, relational-aesthetics evolution of the kinds of body politic, performance, protests of artists from the 1970s like the work of Chris Burden. But in this 2006 photograph, the scene is unpopulated (as best as I could tell on my visit), instead, it features a pyre of furniture, stacked high like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. More like moving day than the kind of implied surrealism in the elaborately staged, hi-res photographs of Gregory Crewdson. In contrast, Gilmore's image shimmers with the kind of visual static that comes from more widely used photography, in other words, the 21st century Impressionism.

Pat Steir (also slated for a CAC exhibition in the 09-10 exhibition season) contributed three screenprints with glitter. Large, voluptuous, maybe even rapturous for those of us who appreciate draggy, excessive, crude embellishment; Steir's various "Waterfall With Sparkles" pieces take some of the splattering cascades found in her paintings and builds them further with layers of flakey glitter. 

Just nearby is one of the knockout works in the exhibition. Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog (blue) is a 2002 work, cast porcelain with a reflective finish. By now, the balloon dog is certainly iconic of Koons' work. I for one have trouble recalling what I thought about balloon animals before Koons. This little poodle type dog is just the sort of eye candy that will hopefully go quickly to profit the CAC. But beyond its marketability, you may ask, 'what's so good about a Jeff Koons sculpture???' I think a lot of the ideas that I find engaging in Koons came from two brushes with Rococo. The first was his giant, elaborate gilded mirror included as the most recent work in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's exhibition Rococo: The Continuing Curve. The second, more insanely integrated dialogue between pre-revolutionary French art and Koons oeuvre was his solo exhibition at Chateau de Versailles that was staged not long after I visited Versailles for the first time. Considered in these terms, his place in discourse snaps into focus: the Sun King, Rococo, the way high end luxury gets cycled down through mass production and then, by way of wacky couture designers like John Galliano and humorous creative types in fields like film, art, fashion, and design, 'low-brow' gets elevated so that new fashion lines quote last year's hookers, and so forth. If Damien Hirst's "For the Love Of God" projects, foresees, brought about the cataclysmic shift in economics in the art world and rest of the world, Koons may well be remembered as the currency of that pre-recession period. And as long as he continues to stay up to date on the dialogues currently taking place, I imagine a possibility where works such as the little Balloon Dog at the CAC will act as sentimental and coy reminders of the places that art has been stretched to.

Two pieces well situated in conjunction to one another are Charley Harper's 1981 Foxsimiles and David Ellis' Extra Extra Small Flow Luan I from 2008. The Harper Seriagraph is a composition of fox faces, with a real emphasis on parallel lines composing form and texture. The colors are rich and pleasant, and, like the Ryan McGinness and Maggie Wenstrup, are pleasant recollections of Distel's cycle of design/art fusion exhibitions Graphic Content

I would say that having the Ellis as company stretches the way one might look at Harper's illustrative image. One of his most basic elements in paintings, prints, and wall murals are these undulating black and silver striped forms. In the case of Extra Extra Small, this is the only think slinking up from the bottom of an unprimed wood panel. The materials are black gesso and enamel on panel, which is really refreshing to read: it means I'm not crazy when I sense that the specific qualities of those paint materials were selected and considered; I'm not looking at arbitrary information.

But oh there are some nice and otherwise provocative pieces from local artists interspersed as well.

Debbie Brod, an artist about who I have been writing for an upcoming project about public sculptural projects in Cincinnati, contributed Semi-portrait silk scarf, a tie-dyed, digitally printed and sewn silk scarf. When I was there, it was displayed on a rack on a pedestal near the elevator. It struck me as a carefully selected (Brod makes ALL kinds of things) object for its context.

Cal Kowal's Eye Candy from 2009 is a framed assemblage piece that simultaneously attracts and repels. Talk about draggy embellishments, the work is comprised of a number of glitter covered, enlarged bonbons that were possibly meant to function as holiday decorations in another context. Mounted onto a crocheted doily, this work is decorate, crabby, and over the top. That I normally think of Kowal as a photographer (and a former photography professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati), this work is a bit of a curve ball. But, honestly, it seems to have a context between the Steirs and Koons I mentioned above. 

It's a shame that I didn't get to experience Tony Luensman's Study (#1) for Kline Series (2009) lit up, because the intricacy of the ccft lights across the front of this wall hanging electronic piece struck me immediately. Some of his recent photographs were up at PAC Gallery before their official opening. They showed Luensman sporting an illuminated headdress and sitting in outdoor markets in the semi-darkness. 

there were many many other worthy works on display, but this feels like a cohesive (relatively speaking) enough set of responses for some of my favorite art pieces. i can only hope that the Center raises a ton of funding tonight and that by the time I get to the Gala, it will be all smiles.

Keep on the look out for my pieces about the other artists I got to experience yesterday as well!

Tonight, in case you hadn't heard, we are having an evening of discussion and lecture at semantics gallery, in conjunction with the exhibition i curated, "She Keeps It In Play / They Don't Know What To Call It." 7 pm the gallery will be open, we will start swapping words just after.

Yesterday the exhibition was even mentioned in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Click hear to read the mostly correct information they printed along with one of the sculptural works by Lindsey Whittle that is in the exhibition.


  1. this is really nice writing

  2. thank you anonymous!

    and if you'd like to join into the conversation with your real identity, may you feel very welcome to!


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