Casting a wide net is Manifest Gallery’s usual mode of operation. The “neighborhood gallery for the world” on Woodburn Avenue in East Walnut Hills attracts entries and exhibits works from all over this country and beyond. However, a current exhibition called Backyard reflects a deliberate narrowing of the field. The six objects on display are made by six artists who live and work within 100 miles of Cincinnati.
“The ability of Manifest to exist and thrive in Cincinnati in large part is due to the vitality of the regional arts, which starts with the artists in our own backyard,” says Jason Franz, gallery director. He reports that 77 artists submitted 153 works for consideration for the show. The confines of Manifest’s new third gallery — the show’s site — limited selection to just six pieces, which share the small space in an almost-uneasy juxtaposition. Multiple ideas are sparked, elbowing each other for attention. But why not? We go to galleries to shake off the ordinary.
“Another TANKARD (6th Permutation)” is an immediate attention-grabber. The piece stands chin-high (to a 5-foot-7-inch person like me) and first looks like a tank, then a boat. Artist Travis Townsend of Lexington, Ky., in his artist’s statement, describes his work as “oddly familiar, nearly useful-looking sculptures” in which “the physical or metaphorical functions are left to the imagination.”
You bet. Plywood is his basic material but his screw heads have artistic as well as functional uses. “Another TANKARD” features chairs meant for some race of tiny people and thick twine connecting a small, mysterious wall-mounted object with the shadowy interior of the piece. Color touches are mostly baby pink or blue, and a target is outlined on the facing wall. “Another TAN- KARD,” with penciled notations on its surface and its overall air of transition, suggests the nervous workings of the creative mind.
The next piece to catch the eye is Patrick Adams’ “Frontier,” an oil painting on two panels that together measure 72-by-80 inches. That’s nearly 40-square-feet of painting in a small room. Adams, of Nicholasville, Ky., extracts the essence from conventional landscape so the viewer loses interest in object but is caught by the intricacies of the layered paint. Here, multiple blues occupy the lower section and linen-colored, yellowed whites inhabit the upper part. It is all set off by small touches of orange that knit the piece together. It is the work I could look at the longest of anything in the show.
Holding its own against such formidable competition is “Invasive” by Lisa Wilson from Oxford. A wall sculpture of relatively small size, it works perfectly for its intent. A small copper container with a brown patina, it appears to be emptying itself and spreading its contents in a random but subtly patterned manner. “Invasive” is handsome but also raises questions: What’s going on here? Where is this thing going?
Cincinnatian Andrew Au’s “OO-CDp” from his Binarians series, asks similar questions in a different sphere. This meticulously executed etching and silkscreen suggests, among other things, physical relationships between war machines and insects, but suffers here in being the single example from the series. It is Au’s intent, he says in a statement, to fiddle with “‘either/ or’ truth claims” and to present a pseudo-world that casts light on the actual one.
Cole Carothers of Milford embodies the ordinary with unexpected pleasures and prompts us to do the same. In “Moiré” he sees beyond the immediate appeal of sun on snow, as seen through a sheer curtain, to suggest both order and beauty in the mundane. Who knew window air conditioners could provide visual punctuation?
“The Space Between,” a sculpture of ceramic, rubber and encaustic that would fit tightly into a 16-square-inch box, relates to the human body in a disturbing fashion. The sides are like mottled skin opening at the top to a red, raw interior. Its creator, Hunter Stamps of Lexington, says his work references a wide spectrum of disciplines, including everything from gross anatomy to existentialist philosophy.
Stamps’ workmanship is scrupulous and the responses elicited are disturbing. “The Space Between” and Wilson’s “Invasive” are in the same room at their mutual peril. Each suggests encroachment. What if they attacked each other?
Although “Another TANKARD” has been evolving since 2007, everything else in Backyard dates from either 2008 or 2009. Three of these artists (Townsend, Stamps and Au) are professors and two (Carothers and Adams) are full-time artists, while one (Wilson) is a graduate student. Their work suggests that art is alive and well within 100 miles of Cincinnati.
In another departure from the gallery’s custom, Manifest’s other two rooms are given over to works by a single artist, Jennifer Meanly of Greensboro, N.C. Meanly’s large, demanding paintings are full of color and provoke response as surely as do the works in Backyard. Both exhibitions run through Jan. 8.
Stop by Manifest to be jostled by ideas and see some good art made in our own backyard.
MANIFEST GALLERY (manifestgallery.org) is open 2-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and noon-5 p.m. Saturday. Backyard runs through Jan. 8.