Mark Fox's Farewell Bat

The most incredible of all the Bats Incredible! public sculptures scattered throughout Cincinnati, Newport and Covington this summer can be found downtown on the east corner of Fountain Square. The

The most incredible of all the Bats Incredible! public sculptures scattered throughout Cincinnati, Newport and Covington this summer can be found downtown on the east corner of Fountain Square. The piece is titled "This Is Not a Pig (Bat's a Pig)," and there's not a single baseball bat in plain view. In the place of painted baseball bats stands a large Fiberglas pig, a throwback to the popular 2001 public arts extravaganza, The Big Pig Gig.

To find the hidden, miniature bats in "This Is Not a Pig (Bat's a Pig), you have to bend over and peer between the pig's butt cheeks. The tiny bats are shoved inside the pig's painted pink anus, and I suspect the sarcasm is lost on Fountain Square passersby and ArtWorks Director Tamara Harkavy, head of the nonprofit arts education organization behind "Bats Incredible!" But I laugh hysterically every time I pass it.

Told how comical and slyly sarcastic "This Is Not a Pig (Bat's a Pig)" is, artist Mark Fox, who collaborated with Tim McMichael and Justin Summersell, simply raises an eyebrow and flashes a knowing smirk. He says he's grateful for the thick Bats Incredible! check to do the project.

Every local artist can use the money, although some artists told me they refused the bat gig out of integrity.

"This Is Not a Pig (Bat's a Pig)" is a well-crafted, well-thought-out raised finger to Cincinnati's gushing embrace for all efforts to blanket the city with mediocre sculptures based on scatterbrained themes. Undoubtedly, next year will bring another public sculpture show, one tied into the 2004 opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on Cincinnati's riverbank.

Fox laughs about the possibilities. Get ready for Fiberglas sculptures of Uncle Tom sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of his cabin. Consider yourselves warned.

"This Is Not a Pig (Bat's a Pig)" is what locals have come to expect from Fox over the years. It's smart, stunning work that reflects a cynical mindset, a boyish love for pranks and a subtle poke at his hometown and all the things about it that drive him batty.

It's also Fox's farewell gesture. Cynics have been predicting his exit from Cincinnati for years. Many have encouraged him to leave. Instead Fox — who grew up in Bridgetown on the far West side, where his family continues to live and work — stayed put at his sprawling, second-floor studio in the gritty Camp Washington neighborhood.

Fox has had plenty of previous opportunities to leave, but between school and artist residencies he's always returned home. His most recent chance, a shot at joining a friend in Lower Manhattan in New York City, is too significant to pass.

At 40, Fox is Cincinnati's great working artist. He's a painter, a filmmaker and, along with Tony Luensman, co-director of the avant-garde puppetry troupe Saw Theater.

This summer has been significant for Fox. His installation Dust — a series of eight works installed throughout the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM), with six of the pieces grouped in the final gallery of the new Cincinnati Wing — brought his artwork local credibility and sizable audiences. The installation was a bold step forward after recent shows at the Linda Schwartz and Semantics galleries.

Fox has always referred to himself as something of an underground artist. His cult audiences represent the city's arts counterculture. He once proudly declared that no one dressed in a business suit ever attended a Saw Theater show.

Fox's cult status looks to change. His CAM installation and his Bats Incredible! sculpture have put his name into the public arena, which means it's the perfect time to go. In past years, I would have lamented his departure as the latest sign of Cincinnati's creative drain. His exit would have been solely bad news — this time, I see it as a positive.

Away from Cincinnati, he will attempt to take his artwork to the next level and it'll be exciting to watch what happens. Locally, any handful of new artists will step into Fox's footprints as the city's must-see talent.

Until he returns — and he says he will for the next Saw Theater production — we'll have his "This Is Not a Pig (Bat's a Pig)" piece to keep us company. Give Fox credit: It's a great farewell flip-off.

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