Mythography (Review)

Telling stories through narrative art

Mar 25, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Critic's Pick

Manifest Gallery delights in throwing out an idea and seeing what it might reel in. The current show, Mythography, explores a concept that’s as old as art but has been unfashionable in recent years: storytelling.

What would happen, wondered Manifest Assistant Director Tim Parsley, if the gallery called for entries to a show based on narrative art, work that in some form or other tells a story? Manifest Director Jason Franz said, “Let’s do it,” and Parsley, who had previously co-curated shows, put together his first exhibition as sole curator.

“We really wondered what the response would be,” he says, “but astonishingly there were 675 entries from almost 300 artists from 41 states and 14 countries. It’s been an exciting experience.”

Entries were first trimmed down by a jury and then further culled by Parsley without access to names of artists or their locales in order to make sure the strength of the work was the driving consideration. Constrictions of the gallery’s storefront space in Walnut Hills also had to be kept in mind.

“A show has to be composed for the space,” Parsley says. “Actually, we could have built three to four exhibitions from the submissions.”

The gallery selected works from 13 artists, all of whom are from the U.S., with a couple of Cincinnatians (Jessica Grace Bechtel and Laura Fisher) also making the cut.

The stories these works tell are oblique and elusive — they exist as much in the viewers’ heads as in the artists’. The artists present rich suggestions, and any supposition that works for you is the right one. What to make, for instance, of Chris White’s “Grandma and Grandpa,” a frail but smiling pair posed in front of what seems to be a flying saucer? Or is that shadowy shape something else? Your call. And who’s “Up to Mischief” in Christopher Troutman’s big, striking charcoal drawing of that name?

Equally open to interpretation is Bechtel’s “Ripening,” in which heavily ribbed tropical leaves in purples, greens and yellows seem to be overcoming a figure with its back to us, hands crossed behind the head — although, there’s actually no indication of a head in the painting.

Another head is missing in Greg Sand’s enigmatic digital photograph, “Snapshot: Sitting Portrait,” in which the subject’s face has disappeared in a blaze of flash. The picture painstakingly reproduces an amateurish look with this odd element thrown in for weight and mystery. The back of the head, as well as photographer and companion, are visible in the mirror over the fusty sofa on which the subject is posed.

Fisher also plays with photos, having created “Part One: Dreams” from an old book seriously cut up and altered. Silver gelatin (black-and-white) prints, all somewhat out-of-whack with reality, are inserted as illustrations. Meanwhile, three DVD films by Bill Domonokos play one after the other, sowing dreams of their own, to the accompaniment of a musical soundtrack that gives an otherworldly atmosphere to the room.

One of the most teasing works is Charles Caldemeyer’s “Creators and Destroyers,” which uses an extravagant variety of painting styles on a central, vertical canvas with horizontal rectangles jutting to either side in order to tell stories from the Tower of Babel. Diversity is part of the fun of the show; quality is uniformly high. Noriko Kuresumi’s ceramic “Sea Creature,” for instance, is delicate, intricate and wholly mysterious.

[Kuresumi's "Sea Creature' is pictured above.]

Also not to be missed is the small show in the second room, The Drawing Room, where Manifest helps to keep drawing from becoming a lost art. Selections from the gallery’s International Drawing Annual are on view, including Gregory Euclide’s “From this Distance: Sound Pearls,” a stunning mixed-media work that depends on drawing for its bones.

MYTHOGRAPHY is on view at Manifest Creative Research Gallery (2727 Woodburn Ave., Walnut Hills) through April. Get gallery details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.