Step onto a 28-foot-high scaffold. Walk beneath a 360-degree projection of home movies and Cincinnati sights and sounds. Contemplate groundbreaking artists and blank canvases inside a makeshift gallery. Wind through a “graveyard” of monuments to wood, steel, plaster and bricks, plus childhood toys and color slides. Finally, peer into a peephole to try to glimpse the future — or are you seeing a remnant of the past?
The architects of the Uptown-based design collective DPMT7 have taken over the entire Weston Art Gallery to build a framework for considering time and space.
Think of Un Teatro del Nuovo (Italian for “a theater of the new”) as a workshop that presents a rough outline and a few simple props and asks you to complete the script. When you see only the skeleton of a building, do you assume that construction is underway or that a teardown is in progress? Does a trip down memory lane signal an end or a beginning?
DPMT7’s undertaking draws inspiration from an international competition titled Post-Quake Visions. After an earthquake in northern Italy in 2012, contest organizers asked architects how they would fill the gaps in historic cities. DPMT7 won an honorable mention for his proposal that imagined performance venues rising among the centuries-old remains of Crevalcore, Italy.
DPMT7’s collaborators, led by Vincent Sansalone of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, suggest that the distinctions between past, present and future are illusions in a “spatial collage” that is shaped and connected by simple architectural lines and frames. “Welcome to our world of experiencing the (k)new,” they write.
The wondrous scaffolding in the Weston’s street-level gallery is where visitors start to gain perspective, whether or not they climb the metal staircase. As rails and poles intersect, they direct our eyes to other architecture, indoors and out.
Past and present also converge inside Un Teatro del Nuovo’s cyclorama. Viewers on the street level gaze up at videos that include family outings, DPMT7’s old Lower Price Hill neighborhood and a previous design project involving a giant pelican sculpture and 100,000 whiffle balls. Visitors downstairs see a live overhead feed from the 20-foot circle.
The lower level’s “gallery within a gallery” is a study in the art of reduction, and thereby seduction; one wall features prints of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera that Cincinnati photographer Bernard Silberstein took during a 1940 visit to their home. The Mexican couple’s vibrant works are a stark contrast to four white paintings that Sansalone made out of drywall compound and chalk over Styrofoam, yet we’re captivated by the idea of what’s “missing” from his pieces. The temporary gallery’s floor is also a Minimalist work of art. Sheets of particle board frame a “carpet” of dark coils of industrial felt.
DPMT7’s architectural exhibit doesn’t strip away feeling and emotion, but rather gives unfiltered sentimentality some structure and context. The final installation explores how the things that make us human (memories, relationships) help influence the things that humans make (buildings, art). Twenty-four stelae — one column for each hour in a day — are lined up like pilings at a worksite, or monuments in a cemetery. Many seem to be memorials to construction materials like concrete, drywall and stone. But a few towers obviously contain a personal component. A vintage trike sports an impossibly high seat. Obsolete slides fill a Plexiglas case. An animal skull tops a mannequin wearing a dress made from the same felt used in the mini gallery.
In the last row of stelae, a garden gnome gazes upon a surreal scene. Sansalone has pasted a paper collage of a modern building onto a thrift store painting of an idyllic countryside. The gnome can’t step out of his case to explore, but we can try to check what’s on the other side of Whitney Hamaker’s “Lens,” which resembles a door with no handle but a peephole. It’s up to you to decide what you’re looking at. But, remember: The past is the past… and the present and the future.
DPMT7: UN TEATRO DEL NUOVO is on view through Aug. 27 at Weston Art Gallery, 650 Walnut St., Downtown. More info: cincinnatiarts.org/weston-art-gallery.