“We shall now convene for the purpose of evaluating this art,” says my friend Micah, startling me at the bar. It’s 8 p.m. on a Friday night at Over-the-Rhine’s MOTR Pub. In the next room, 72 square canvases by Cincinnati-based artist and comedian Alex Leeds fill the walls — one for every CD cover in the Now That’s What I Call Music! series. (The show is aptly titled NOW That’s What I Call An Art Exhibit!)
Leeds, as he is described on the exhibit’s Facebook event page, is “most well-known for his ‘dumb celebrity drawings’ Instagram page, where he mails dumb drawings to celebrities and sometimes they send them back.” He can also be regularly seen at Go Bananas Comedy Club in Montgomery, and has been featured on Buzzfeed and the A.V. Club.
A few days earlier, I had described to Micah the project of reviewing this show, proposing that he join me as an accomplice. “If we’re going to look at an art exhibit in a bar, it’s imperative we view it in its proper context: stupefying inebriation,” I said. He agreed.
I order a Bulleit on the rocks. Micah orders a Jameson, neat. On our third round, we move to consider the paintings. I record our conversation on my phone.
“Would you say Now 10 anticipated the Tide Pod fad?” I ask.
“Oh yes,” Micah replies. “Every Now after 10 is like a version of heaven after you died eating a Tide Pod. In 14, you’re moving through the stars. 15 is, like, bubbles? Who knows? In 16 you’re just cosmic. Now 17, you’re a star, and 18 is pizza.”
“Have we discussed NOW 69?”
We’re making important progress, but there’s much work to be done. At the bar we’re joined by our friend Nick, who serenades us with a song about communicating with boiled peanuts.
It’s 9:55 p.m. Nick and Micah wander off. I order another drink and check out the paintings again.
The bar is dark and crowded, and it’s hard to look closely. A few hold up on their own, but they’re best seen all together. Their painterly directness calls attention to the Now moniker’s implied serial and immediate nature. It’s a dumb joke taken to the extreme, a punchline half-baked with insight.
“Could you imagine these with Roman numerals?” I ask Micah when he returns.
Micah, slurring his words now: “I’ve lost all faith in the Now trilogy.”
Now, 10 minutes later, having achieved stupefying inebriation, we give the paintings our final review:
“So, if you were to ever have a life that didn’t revolve around a series of, you know, you’ve got this series of bricks.” Micah gestures toward an empty wall. “They’re very unanimous.”
“Yes indeed, very unanimous,” I say.
“Beyond that, you just have a door. It means nothing.”
“Now means nothing?” I ask.
“Correct. Now that’s what I call…” he trails off.
It’s now midnight, and Micah has gone home. A band plays “Rockin’ In The Free World” with sloppy abandon. Is it ironic or sincere? The room is crowded and smells like beer. A couple next to me can’t decide if they want to dance or make out. The wall of paintings smiles above them. I close out my tab, call an Uber, and head home to write an art review.
NOW That’s What I Call An Art Exhibit! runs through January at MOTR Pub (1345 Main St, Over-the-Rhine). More info: motrpub.com.