Cover Story: He Lights up Their Lives

Luensman's CEA trophies are a playful nod to this year's winners

Matt Borgerding

Anthony Luensman gives this year's CEA trophy "a South Park quality."

Even if you're not a winner of a Cincinnati Entertainment Award, it'll be hard to miss the soft blue glow emitted from this year's exclusive memento. Designed by local artist Anthony Luensman, the trophy is not only a token of a successful year but an individual work of art by one of Cincinnati's most intriguing talents.

Surely based on his inspired and interactive approach to art and design, Luensman was approached to design the trophies this year because, in his words, "CityBeat told me they wanted something more innovative, something that wouldn't look like the majority of trophies and awards that people receive." And after a sneak peek at what the winner's circle will receive, it's clear he succeeded in creating an imaginative alternative to the average trophy.

Inspired by a piece he created for an exhibition at Kenyon College's Olin Art Gallery in 2003, Luensman designed a polyvinyl (aka plastic "blow-up") character mounted on a clear acrylic base, lit from beneath with an electric-blue cold cathode fluorescent light. The character, constructed of clear plastic, stands with arms raised over its head, essentially "cheering" for the winners. The blue light highlights the edges of the figure, throwing them into relief and almost making it appear as though another light is encased within.

The effect is striking in a remarkably effortless and clean manner. Luensman said he wanted something "playful and fun, to celebrate the people who win. Looking at it, it's very lighthearted and sort of has a South Park quality to it."

Whatever quality it evokes, Luensman's inventive trophy will hold a special place on the CEA winners' award shelves. It's doubtful it resembles anything else they've received.

Luensman's artistic career has spanned genres as well as continents over the years. Trained in painting and sculpture at Kenyon College, he's taken that knowledge and used it to become a true multimedia artist.

As co-founder of Saw Theater, the locally-based puppet theater company that produces original multimedia works, Luensman found a way to combine his artistic interests with an interest in music. He's collaborated on numerous original theatrical productions and has traveled to San Francisco, New York City, Detroit and Philadelphia with Saw Theatre, garnering national acclaim for his performances.

Luensman's work with Saw formed the basis for his now-famed interactive sound sculptures. He was commissioned by the Contemporary Arts Center to create seven interactive sound sculptures for the Sara M. and Patricia A. Vance Education Center (the UnMuseum). He's received numerous awards and grants, most notably a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a city of Cincinnati grant for solo exhibitions.

In 2000, he was the artist-in-residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in California, and most recently he traveled to Taipei, Taiwan, for a four-month artist residency at the Taipei Artist Village. The residency led to his first major solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei last year.

Luensman's next project, later this month, will take him back to Taiwan, where he will participate in an artists festival with 12 other artists, honoring the city of Kaohsiung. And keep an eye out for a local exhibition in early 2006. ©