To (almost) quote directly from Dickens on the alternative-gallery scene in Brighton: It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
On a recent Saturday night, three galleries along Central and Harrison avenues were open — Synthetica-m (www.synthetica-m.com), and the collectively run U-turn Art Space and Semantics. The exhibits at U-turn and Semantics were amazingly good. Their shows are still up through May 28.
And yet word comes U-turn will be closing after one more show. So yet another Cincinnati alternative space that has made a mark will be gone before it can really galvanize growth in the larger arts community.
At Semantics, the longest-running alt space (call 513-348-7261 for exhibit details), Cincinnati artist Steve Kemple has a show of new work that reveals great warmth, compassion and intelligence. In the gallery’s front room, which is lined with rock salt, there are four floor pillows facing a houseplant. There are also stacks of reading material, from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy to Captain Furface & the Star Pirates. Visitors are asked to choose something and read it aloud.The piece has overtones of nourishment — growth through reading.
At U-turn, Sara Blyth-Stephens — a local artist with an MFA from UC-DAAP — has a large-scale but paper-thin sculpture that uses plaster-like Hydrocal to create a kind of mid-room white curtain whose drips and jagged lines have a human-like (and humane) quality, as if present was a Greek chorus silently commenting on our responses to it. One conceivably could walk between its sides, like passing through a canyon.
Seeing this work on a Saturday night, in a neighborhood sometimes called a ghost town, you might indeed think it’s the best of times for alternative-gallery art in Brighton. (The activity continues this Saturday, starting at 5 p.m., when U-turn co-hosts a clothing-swap party with live music at The Mockbee, across Central Parkway from the galleries, with Northside retro store Chicken Lays an Egg. Admission is $5. For details on the space’s remaining shows/events, email them at [email protected])
Still, U-turn will be shutting down its beautiful space and ending its excellently curated shows after one more exhibition, Aloha Means Both Hello and Goodbye. Three of its five members are leaving town. Matt Morris, who is off to grad school at Northwestern (and who contributes art writing to CityBeat), sees U-turn as a curatorial project that had run its course.
“We’ve shown everyone we wanted to show,” he says.
That is one way to see it. Artists involved with the alternative scene expect change as a constant. But Cincinnati needs some permanence among the best of these galleries if they’re ever to really help local artists earn a living and help residents learn that new, exciting local art is part of what keeps a city progressive. They need growth — wider reputations, longer hours, stronger Internet presences.
I’ve seen the way Denver alt-spaces have grown from Cincinnati-style problems to co-operation on a level that produces a website like www.pirateonline.org. I know there’s romanticism in keeping an alt-culture scene small and introverted, but it means more when it can cross over and influence larger society.
Supposedly, a new gallery will open in U-turn’s space this summer. And some other Over-the-Rhine operations, themselves pretty tentative, might relocate to Brighton. If it happens, let’s hope those galleries — not to mention Semantics — can all stay awhile and build off each other.
CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: [email protected]