Art: An Artful Year

Cincinnati gives itself credit, finally

Dec 26, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Joe Lamb

Tony Luensman's solo show at CAM, Arenas, was a highlight of 2007.

The art year in Cincinnati started a little early in 2007. It was last December, in fact, with the first rotation of the Contemporary Arts Center's exhibition Graphic Content. Before Matt Distel left Cincinnati for Peekskill, N.Y., he teamed up with internationally renowned designer Todd Oldham to create one of the most interesting CAC shows ever. He found master graphic designers like Noel Martin, Charley and Edie Harper, Maggie Winstrup and Malcolm Grear.

Graphic Content began with a gorgeous installation with work by Cincinnatian Charley Harper, former Cincinnatian Grear and the New York-based "second generation" designer Ryan McGuiness. The rotations never lost their steam and freshness, though the 'soft' Monday-night openings at the center barely did the show justice.

Cincinnati masters Noel Martin and William A. Leonard were paired with the younger artist Dave Miko in the second rotation, which opened in early spring. Three women took up the reigns next — Edie Harper, Maybelle Stamper and New York-based artist, Ellen Berkenblit. Together they personalized traditional models of mid-century modernism. Stamper and Berkenblit easily stepped outside the boundaries of what's traditionally thought of as that genre, with their graceful lines and fresh, light colors.

And while Harper's paintings fitted that graphic, reduced mold of modernism, her photographs, also a part of the exhibition, augmented a sense of atmospheric surrealism also true to modern art.

Next came Colletta Martin, Preston McClanahan and Amy Granat, whose work all seemed to merge back into the more traditional sphere of modernism. Finally, we have Margaret Winstrup, Ralston Crawford and Matt Mullican together thru Feb. 11, 2008.

A big surprise landed in the laps of Cincinnati art lovers in March, and we have the CAM to thank for it: Arenas, the solo exhibition of Anthony Luensman's work.

When I spoke with Luensman early in the year, he talked about the idea of the museum-wide exhibition.

"Timothy (Rub, former CAM director) wanted something — a show — that would bring people into the museum, but not just have them bee-line into the Cincinnati Wing and into the gallery to see the new show," Luensman said.

The work in Arenas ranged from photography to kinetic sculpture to sound pieces to computerized images. Much of it was playful. Much of it was interactive. But it's more than just that: Luensman's art carried an amazing level of sophistication, smarts and vital creativity to our city. (If you stopped by the Phyllis Weston-Annie Bolling Gallery in November, you would have seen it there as well.)

In 2007, The Fifth Third Bank transformed a parking garage into a monumental op-art piece by Cleveland-based Julian Stanczak. Stanczak's work, perfectly rigid and still about as ornate as art can be, is still on view (through Feb. 11) at the Contemporary Arts Center. The work is delicate and lush and tricks your eye into some funny poses.

The CAC did a brave and wonderful thing this year in hiring new director Raphaela Platow. The Munich-born curator and scholar has already launched the center's Kaplan Lobby into a new, inviting place of color, form and odd, fun disconnects with her first curated installation. Odili Donald Odata's FLOW is on view until next fall.

The Cincinnati Art Museum announced that the Rotterdam-based firm Neutelings Riedijk Architects will oversee and direct the expansion of the 127-year-old institution. Thank you to CAM Director Aaron Betsky for that little joy.

In the world of architecture, though, The Banks is still floundering. But Donald Liebeskind's new building in Covington is reaching its completion, adding a little more oomph to the skyline — even if it's on the Kentucky side.

The Weston Art Gallery continues to bring its amazing gift for attracting artists — from the breathtaking Leaving the 21st Century: Painting and Works on Paper by Joseph Winterhalter to the 10th anniversary of CANstruction, the Weston always brings us something new and contemplative.

In the world of smaller galleries, Semantics turned 15 this year and is stronger than ever. Years after David Dillon and Andy Marko were space-less, they now work with local art-stars like Joe Winterhalter and Tim McMichael.

Speaking of stars, Jay Bolotin's traveling exhibition, The Jackleg Testament, made its way from Tennessee to Georgia to Pennsylvania this year. His movie with the same name just won the Best Animated Feature at the Santa Fe Film Festival.

Jimmy Baker continues to show in Los Angeles and in fairs all over the place. One of his paintings was even featured in Vanity Fair.

And Matt Distel came back! His new gallery, Country Club, opened this year with the help of his co-director, Christian Strike.

Publico's final exhibition comes to a close this month, and all of us weep for the space that brought us intriguing, thoughtful exhibitions, as well as poetry readings. Final Fridays will never be the same. (Look for a variety of events commemorating the Publico's five-year run throughout January.)

We also lost two great Cincinnati artists in 2007: Charley Harper and Pat Renick. What changes they made in this city, what artwork and friendships they cultivated. Both were teachers in their own right, and I want to thank them for their dedication to Cincinnati. We miss you.

Tony Luensman's solo show at CAM, Arenas, was a highlight of 2007.