Artist and Southgate House Gallery Director Andrew Loughnane asked me not to mention his recent arrest by Newport Police on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and, well, basically being a drunken jerk. It's not how Loughnane wants people to picture him, although everyone who knows him has experienced his tendency for excessive behavior.
Loughnane is colorful and larger than life, and I wish more people shared his enthusiasm and spontaneity. In my book, he's the King of Newport, a one-of-a-kind personality in a small city focused on building cookie-cutter shops, restaurants and movie theaters along its riverfront.
Loughnane was feeling embarrassed about his arrest the past couple of times we spoke. So I told him that the last Cincinnati art director to be arrested was then-Contemporary Arts Center Director Dennis Barrie over the Robert Mapplethorpe controversy. My point is that Loughnane, as the Southgate House Gallery director, is in good company, even if his fight with Newport is a lot less prestigious than Barrie's landmark freedom of speech battle.
Loughnane can be crazy, which is partly why the Southgate House Gallery has become an essential part of the local visual arts scene. You never know what to expect, but you're always glad to have checked it out.
It's been approximately six months since Loughnane carried two-by-fours and tools up the stairs of Newport's Southgate House to remodel its attic gallery.
He installed his own work in the space earlier in the year, a regulation croquet court he titled Courtship.
The experience inspired him to take over programming for the gallery. So he fixed it up and reached out to friends and colleagues, many of Cincinnati's emerging artists, to create an alternative arts venue. So far, he's done wonders.
Installed on the Southgate House's top floor above the first-floor lounge and pool table, Loughnane's gallery thrives in a Rock & Roll environment that reflects his own personality. He and the Southgate House are kindred spirits. It's hard to imagine them apart.
"People tell me that the gallery loses credibility by being an extension of a concert hall," he says, looking out from the building's front porch. "But I'm proud of the fact that the gallery is becoming cross-cultural. With the Southgate House, we hook up with good stuff."
The best example of Loughnane's "good stuff" is the gallery's latest installation, Bilden Sie Maschine: Factory Showroom, from the Louisville artist collective the Radix Commission. Brett Ernst, Jake Heustis, Jay Jordan, Bryan Warren and Ben Huber make up the Radix Commission, and their sense of playful irony matches perfectly with Loughnane's own ideas about the progressive art on view at the Southgate House Gallery.
A tall white wall, a small table and two chairs form a lobby area directly inside the gallery. A small window offers viewers a look at the steel worktable and storage cabinets inside the makeshift art factory. A nearby loudspeaker delivers an endless drone of company announcements. Radix Commission lab coats and personnel badges hang from a coat rack.
The atmosphere is purposefully antiseptic, stark and worn around the edges. Huber's small plaster molds of President George W. Bush fill a large pickle jar — customers can use a blue latex glove to grab one for the discount price of $5. Heustis' "Factory Fresh" paintings sell for $25-$50.
The works — a series of small paintings, photographs and mixed media canvases — are all made in the factory. On their own, the pieces are well made but not noteworthy. It's the whole Bilden Sie Machine experience that makes the installation exceptional.
The Radix Commission has turned the Southgate House Gallery into a surreal, make-believe factory. The piece is everything Loughnane hoped it would be.
The same thing can be said for Loughnane and the Southgate House Gallery.
The Radix Commission will hold open houses at the Southgate House Gallery at 5:30 p.m. April 25 and 11 a.m. April 26.