Focusing on Photography and Upcoming Museum Shows

Although FotoFocus, the biennial devoted to photography/lens-based art, returns to Cincinnati this season for its third installment, other fall art exhibits and events shouldn't be missed.

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click to enlarge Jay Bolotin’s “The Book of Only Enoch” - Jay Bolotin
Jay Bolotin
Jay Bolotin’s “The Book of Only Enoch”

It’s somewhat of an overstatement — but only a mild one — to say that Cincinnati’s upcoming fall visual arts season can be summed up in one word: FotoFocus.

Basically, you need to plan your entire October around it. 

With FotoFocus now in its third installment, the biennial devoted to photography/lens-based art continues to grow in scope and ambition.  Under the overall leadership of Mary Ellen Goeke and the artistic direction of Kevin Moore, the nonprofit organization’s October-long event this year is devoted to the subject of “The Undocument” and aims to explore how photography can both portray and betray our understanding of visual reality. 

This year, there will be more than 60 venues offering FotoFocus-related exhibitions. They will include art museums in Columbus and Dayton as well as Cincinnati’s three major institutions — the Cincinnati Art Museum, Contemporary Arts Center and Taft Museum of Art. The centerpiece of the exhibit is the Oct. 6-9 weekend of concentrated programming at the Aronoff Center for the Arts (featuring an opening keynote lecture at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 6 with Roxana Marcoci, senior photography curator at the Museum of Modern Art), the CAC, 21c Museum Hotel and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. All are near the streetcar route — a major consideration of Foto-Focus organizers.

We’ll have more, much more, on FotoFocus as it gets closer to October. And you can follow its activities at fotofocuscincinnati.org. 

But there are other art exhibits and events being planned for fall, as venues begin their 2016-17 seasons.

The CAC, in addition to its FotoFocus-related mid-career survey of the work of photographer Roe Ethridge, is presenting the first U.S. solo museum show of British painter Glenn Brown (Sept. 9-Jan. 15, 2017). His abstracted representational paintings, often using appropriated images as a source, have the kind of tumultuous, scary fluidity that makes you think they are melting. You can see his debt to Francis Bacon as well as maybe zombie comics. Organized by the Des Moines Art Center, it features 30 paintings, sculptures and prints. 

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Art Museum has, just maybe, found an artist capable of stealing a little thunder from FotoFocus — Vincent van Gogh. It is continuing its recent effort to stage smaller illuminating shows based around some of its prestigious holdings, as it has done with Grant Wood’s “Daughters of Revolution,” Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” and Andy Warhol’s Pete Rose portrait. 

This time, the painting is van Gogh’s 1890 “Undergrowth with Two Figures.” It will use that verdant, wildflower-abundant post-Impressionist masterpiece as the focus for Into the Undergrowth (Oct. 15-Jan. 8, 2017), which features some 20 works that look at van Gogh’s approach to forest interiors. Loans from other collections will allow the museum to compare van Gogh’s treatment of this subject with work by Théodore Rousseau, Paul Cézanne, Monet and Paul Gauguin. The museum plans to charge a special combined admission for this exhibit and its roughly concurrent FotoFocus offering, Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community, 1954–1974.

The art museum also will show Cincinnati artist Jay Bolotin’s compelling and painstakingly created The Book of Only Enoch, a portfolio of 20 woodcuts and relief etchings, along with his film The Jackleg Testament Part 1: Jack & Eve (Sept. 24-Dec. 4). The portfolio’s narrative story concerns a Jewish boy from Kentucky named after an apocryphal book left out of the Hebrew Bible. Bolotin will speak about his work at 7 p.m. on Sept. 22.

The third major art museum, the Taft, is staying with photography: Picturing the West: Masterworks of 19th-Century Landscape Photography (Oct. 22-Jan. 15, 2017) and Forgotten Cincinnati: Photographs from the 1880s (Nov. 18-Feb. 26, 2017).

The Art Academy of Cincinnati’s fall season offers Bal Masque (Aug. 26-Sept. 25), featuring colorfully decorative sculptural headdresses by New Orleans-based artist Caroline Thomas. (She is also an Art Academy alumna.) In the Crescent City, she designs and fabricates costumes, parade regalia and custom Mardi Gras floats. There is an opening reception from 5-8 p.m. on Final Friday, Aug. 26. 

Actually, several of the shows under FotoFocus’ aegis open before October and could get lost in the hoopla surrounding newer ones by then. So here’s an early peak at several of the more promising:

At Carl Solway Gallery in the West End, two shows have a photography/lens-based-art component — Alan Rath: New Sculpture (Sept. 9-Dec. 23) and Duane Michals: Sequences, Tintypes and Talking Pictures (Sept. 9-Dec. 23). Rath, a Cincinnati native who studied electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, creates sculptural works in which computer-animated images of human eyes, mouths, hands, etc. move and subtly change while displayed on LED screens. Futuristic with a sci-fi vibe, his pieces emit an eerie desire to communicate with the viewer. For this show, he will be displaying some recent work involving robotics.

Michals came to the fore in the 1960s and 1970s with his staged photographs incorporating text and his mysteriously narrative, filmstrip-like sequential images. At Solway, he’ll be showing five of those “sequences” projects along with nine painted tintypes and several recent short films.

At downtown’s Weston Gallery, After Industry (Sept. 23-Nov. 27), curated by FotoFocus’ Kevin Moore from the collection of Gregory Gooding, features images of the industrial and post-industrial landscape by such influential photographers as Robert Adams, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Lynne Cohen and Walker Evans. 

Finally, if you want your own work displayed in one of this fall’s FotoFocus art exhibitions, it’s not too late. With ArtWorks support, C. Jacqueline Wood and her apprentices are assembling a video installation of sun imagery called Shine to be projected from the Main Library onto the blank white wall of a nearby high-rise from Oct. 6 through 15.

During the project’s current “City Shine” phase, Wood is seeking submissions from people who have captured the sun by any photographic means possible — smart phones, old video devices, 3-D cameras, whatever. It’s art-making through crowdsourcing. For more information, visit city-shine.com. ©

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