Weston Art Gallery, in the heart of downtown, a block away from the Contemporary Arts Center, has for 20 years provided the most prominent consistent venue for the work of area artists, if not the most welcoming space. 20 x 20 x 20, now on display at the gallery, celebrates the milestone by presenting 20 works by 20 individual artists or artistic collaborators whose work appeared there in solo exhibitions over the years.
Director Dennis Harrington, who has been with the Weston from the beginning, says the attention-attracting street-level gallery space always presents a challenge.
“It’s both a blessing and a curse, but for artists willing to take on the unusual space, it provides maximum exposure,” he says. Windowed walls on the Walnut Street and Seventh Street sides of the ground floor allow easy visual access for passersby.
The street level space is like a lobby, a pass-through place with both a stairway going up to the Aronoff Center and a stairway going down to galleries below. Further complicating things are entrances on the west and north sides. I have written about shows here throughout its 20 years and am always interested to see how the challenge has been met.
This time both the east and south walls are closely hung with exhibition posters — two decades produces a lot of posters! — and several glass-topped tables display invitations to exhibition openings. It’s been an active 20 years.
At the foot of the down staircase, one is immediately engulfed in the exhibition’s reunion of the Neo-Ancestralists (African-American artists Jimi Jones, Ken Leslie and Thomas Phelps) who have filled that awkward space with a mural covering the east wall, plus an altar of sorts with related objects crowded under the stair and a gathering of what seems to be discarded household furnishings, tucked in the narrow area between the stairway and the wall. It’s a lot to look at; the overall plan seems to be to trigger thought, a goal it reaches.
The east gallery downstairs is given over to work by the late Salli LoveLarkin. LoveLarkin agreed wholly with Harris Weston’s view that the new Aronoff Center needed more than performance arts to truly reflect the region and was pleased to become the founding director of the Alice and Harris Weston Art Gallery. Fiscal support from Alice and Harris Weston made the Weston Gallery a reality, a place focused on local and regional visual artists. LoveLarkin remained director until her early death in 1998. She had long been a vocal advocate for small arts organizations but also was an accomplished artist herself, looking for challenges, moving easily from one medium to another. The exhibition includes her drawings, paintings, early performance footage, costumes and costume design.
The larger of the two lower galleries presents the signature anniversary show. Painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, installation and video make up this crowded exhibit, which succeeds in its intent to signify the variety that has appeared at the Weston. But it is also frustrating in that single works are not as satisfying because you are unable to look at and link more than one work from a particular artist. However, that, of course, is not the intent of this show. What 20 x 20 x 20 does do is indicate the variety of artistic ideas percolating in Cincinnati during the period of the Weston Gallery.
The first thing you see, upon entering this room, is Joseph Winterhalter’s “LVG 21c #30: More fun in the New World” (2012). It is a painting, vaguely suggesting a window (are we outside looking in, or inside looking out?), but the accumulation of mediums is perhaps a reason it’s here. Acrylic, acrylic resin, carpenter chalk, latex, oil and wax are on the canvas.
A few sculptures are included, among them Ana England’s and Steven Finke’s porcelain and stainless steel “Hollyhock” (2015)— delightful, and not a straight line in it. Carmel Buckley’s “Euphoric Recall” (2015), almost a landscape, is concocted from fabric, thread and paint. The show is in many ways a joyous gathering of inventive artists’ recent work, showing how Weston Art Gallery has enriched our experience in its 20 years.
20 X 20 X 20 continues at Weston Art Gallery through March 27. More info: cincinnatiarts.org/weston-art-gallery.