Based on my experiences seeing art there, PAR-Projects could be called Par Excellence. I haven’t seen a lot of shows at its Northside home — the art organization hasn’t had a lot of shows there since opening to the public last year at 1662 Hoffner St. — but what I have seen I can’t stop thinking about. And I look forward to its future plans, especially its outdoor movie theater. (PAR stands for “Professional Artist Research.”)
The current show, Rick Mallette’s FIRE, is a candidate for the end-of-year Best Gallery Show list. It’s installed in a space known as The Nook because it’s an intimate, slightly elevated portion of the old lumber-drying warehouse that PAR-Projects bought in 2014 (along with an accompanying courtyard). The building has a barn-like rusticity, since it is wood with an open-air central area, but this show doesn’t try to sentimentalize that setting. It instead challenges it by conjuring wood’s mortal enemy — fire.
A painter and printmaker, Mallette has expanded his materials and his ideas here to include sculpture, collage, found objects, sound and motion. The result is a series of large stand-alone pieces with an installation-like coherence, whose colors often have a searing, incandescent brightness. Here are two examples: There’s a glowing-sun-orange surfboard-like sculpture, with its painted yellow flames appearing to jump right off the surface. And there’s a framed wall piece that consists of cut and shaped pieces of shiny, reflective Mylar.
This show is on display in this comfortably organic space through Aug. 12.
A second exhibit, up through Aug. 12 and inside the brightly painted storage container on the grounds, is also worthwhile: Brett Schieszer’s Era of Big Brains creates an engaging, charming installation that seems to expand its space as far as the eye can see. Hours for both shows are 3-7 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.
Just last weekend, PAR-Projects had to deal with a burglary at The Nook — someone took lighting. But Jonathan Sears, the executive director, is too busy looking forward to future plans to let something like that slow him down. To him, the worst struggle is behind — finding a permanent home after some false starts and pop-up shows. Last year, PAR-Projects paid off the mortgage on the property, which it had bought for $30,000, and put a needed new roof on the building.
“The idea of losing a building we had to take off the table as quickly as possible,” Sears says. “Now people are starting to drop by, hang out. All is on course.”
PAR-Projects recently hired Gabrielle Roach as gallery and events fellow.
New plans are coming quickly. On Aug. 5, it is organizing the Northside Summer Market along Hoffner Street from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., which combines arts booths with yard sale ones. From 2-9 p.m., PAR-Projects’ courtyard will serve as a beer garden with music. And the next art exhibition, opening Sept. 9, has Mike Fleisch and Sita Magnuson.
But the biggest news is that PAR-Projects believes the time has come to move forward on one of its key goals: to be able to show movies in its courtyard. It already has a shipping container that can be stacked on top of another one so that a large screen can be dropped down and films/videos can be projected onto it. There would be a sound system, outdoor seating and artificial turf, a roll of which has already been installed.
“We’ll turf out the whole courtyard and have ongoing programming,” Sears says. “We want to incorporate large-scale video into our grander exhibition design and also do things more accessible than art, like family movies once or twice a month.”
That leads to the other piece of news: PAR-Projects is getting ready to launch a $15,000 fundraising drive through get-togethers and attempts to connect with people interested in growing Cincinnati’s art options. Already, two donors have offered to match the first $3,000 raised.
“One person came out of the blue and said, ‘I’ll give $2,000 to spur fundraising,’ ” Sears says. “Someone saw that and said, ‘I can also offer $1,000.’ ”
That’s a good start for an arts group that is really hitting its stride in Northside.
For more information on PAR-PROJECTS, visit facebook.com/parprojects.