The comical admission boombox is back, one of the installations from Stacked, the Weston Gallery exhibition that ran in 2000. Coins hit a metal plate, which triggers a switch that sends a signal across a cable. The cable trips a wooden mallet that creates a loud thump from a metal sculpture installation by Cincinnati artist Anthony Luensman, rigged high above the gallery doors. Luensman's installation has practical benefits. Mesmerized by the sound, you can't stop dropping coins into the box.
"Donation Boombox" was one of my favorite pieces from Stacked, and now, for the exhibition Irato, Luensman has transformed the Weston's entire street-level space into a concert hall filled with 19 interactive sound sculptures.
Luensman is the first artist in memory who recognizes the Weston Gallery as basically a large glass box, and he takes advantage of its design. Irato impacts your ears and eyes in an imaginative manner. It's also fun, and that's seldom the case with art exhibitions.
Boycotts, unrest and racial divisions have made Cincinnati a city in chaos, and Irato captures that chaos and molds it into something beautiful.
At the opening of Irato last week, the gallery's large crowds worked the sculptures to a noisy frenzy. For people familiar with the work of the Current Quartet — an experimental music group comprised of Luensman, Paul Hogan, Tony Franklin and Mike Barnhart — Irato's cacophony of buzzes, whistles and whirls is a welcome and familiar sound.
A week later, on a quiet afternoon, the subtle beauty behind Luensman's sculptures becomes loud, clear and immediate. Without the din of a crowd, the music from the wall-mounted speakers makes a more subtle impact. It's more poetic, more musical.
Tucked alongside a staircase heading into the main auditorium lobby, a silver horn emits ambient noises from a nearby speaker. These horns, the kind you often find attached to a child's bicycle, are parts of "bikehornspeaker coils," one of Irato's sculptures.
In the center of the space, "stainless steel doorbell for a larger house" is the largest and heaviest sculpture in Irato. Two pian pedals and a drum pedal create resonating sounds from a large steel drum.
At eye level, one sees the quality of the metal craft in Luensman's work. Closer to the floor, one sees the multiple power adapters, 16-channel mic/ line mixer and tangle of wires and cords that bring Irato to life. Visitors to the exhibit have enjoyed a rough-and-tumble relationship with the sculptures. On a recent visit, "kimitaka-kun," a toy monkey mounted above the steps leading to the Weston's lower-level gallery, has been removed for repairs.
There's a keen sense of humor behind Irato. Part of the fun is trying to figure out where the cables and thick cords lead. Against the gallery's south wall, "the huttinger model desktop doorbells" has a fan that inflates two sealed condoms into one long cylinder. A metal dildo vibrates against silver chimes, accompanied by a recorded voice loop that repeats: "Hello Peter Huttinger. Peter Huttinger. Annie Sprinkle here." In this voice loop, as well as in decals scattered throughout the space, Luensman pays homage to the community of artists — Huttinger, Hogan, David Rohs and Matt Distel, the curator of Stacked — who helped make Irato possible.
Two other exhibits accompany Luensman's show — Michael Scott's The Diaries of Little Red Horn and Fred Ellenberger's Filter — but Irato is capturing all the attention. The Weston Gallery commissioned Irato as a site-specific installation. The work is chancy, and all of Luensman's risks pay off brilliantly.
Fans of Luensman's work know him best as one of the founding members of Saw Theater, a mixed-media performance group based in an abandoned meat packing plant in Camp Washington. Luensman might not be as recognizable as other Greater Cincinnati artists, but Irato proves he should be.
Some passersby at Seventh and Walnut appear puzzled by Luensman's sound sculptures, but I'm completely mesmerized. Irato will be dismantled on June 8. Until then, it's the buzzing soul of our chaotic city in distress.