The King of Newport

His performance piece begins the weekday afternoon when Andrew Loughnane carries two-by-fours up the stairs of Newport's Southgate House. In the first-floor lounge, a group of 'townies' gather

Mar 7, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Andrew Loughnane

His performance piece begins the weekday afternoon when Andrew Loughnane carries two-by-fours up the stairs of Newport's Southgate House. In the first-floor lounge, a group of 'townies' gather for a cheap beer. On the top floor, Loughnane unloads the wood and looks out the attic window.

It's a clear February afternoon, but much of the riverfront view has been obscured by Newport on the Levee, a vast complex that includes shops, restaurants, a 3-D IMAX theater, multiplex cinema and the Newport Aquarium. Newport is intent on transforming itself into a family-friendly entertainment hub, and old landmarks like the Southgate House aren't part of the package. Neither are artists like Loughnane.

Newport's movers and shakers are fixated on expanding riverfront development. They want to be more cosmopolitan like their big-city neighbor across the Ohio River. They should be interested, however, in getting to know people like Loughnane who make this city interesting and eclectic.

I like watching movies at Newport on the Levee more than most people, but I know that arts and culture require more than movies and popcorn.

If Newport leaders are serious about being big-time, they need to recognize that the city of Cincinnati helps fund local artists and arts organizations. Newport should do the same, and Loughnane would be a good artist to inaugurate the program.

Loughnane is a wiry man with a shaved head and an impish grin. He has a broad cut above his left eye, something he says he received from a recent scuffle. After spending some time with him, I'm surprised he doesn't have more barroom scars.

To me, he is Newport: laidback, affable and friendly. He's everything an emerging artist should be, earnest about his work but not the least bit egotistical. He's excited when his friends take an interest in his projects. He's also confident that people will enjoy what they find in the Southgate House attic.

Installed on the building's top floor, Courtship is a re-creation of a regulation croquet court. A scoreboard hangs on the south wall. Two long benches hug the edge of the court.

Its installation required more sweat and strain than artistic inspiration. The creativity lies in the interaction between the artist, the players and the scorekeeper.

'I've done these types of projects before,' Loughnane says, squeezing out his words between constant puffs on a cigarette. 'I put together a hayride last November as part of a show at Unit 2 in Camp Washington. When I was a student in Munich, I mounted hundreds of plastic toy soldiers all over town. Nobody knew what the soldiers were about. I just wanted to watch the people respond.'

Holding a croquet mallet is performance art when it's Loughnane doing the swinging. He wants to make a difference in Newport, and I believe he's just the guy to do it. Like Laura Hollis, who runs The Artery — a gallery and performance space in a ramshackle Monmouth Street storefront — Loughnane is one of Newport's unknown gems.

At age 28, he's become one of Greater Cincinnati's significant installation artists. He's lively and comical when talking about his work. Visited over numerous days, Courtship is inventive, clever, unique. Loughnane earned a German degree at Indiania University, but most of his time and energy are spent working on projects like this.

Newport's 'Sin City' bars and strip joints are mostly gone, replaced by family spots like the Aquarium and the IMAX. Somehow, I can't picture Loughnane at those places. In my mind, he belongs at the bar inside the Southgate House.

I miss Newport's old firehouse and the Campbell Tower. In their place, the Millennium Bell looks dated and ugly. I know Newport wants to change, but what I always liked best about the town was its blue-collar charm. I believe that Loughnane, a Kentucky native, feels the same way.

Some nights at Courtship were crowded. On others, Loughnane waited alone in the Southgate House lounge. He has no regrets. The installation was everything he hoped it would be.

I don't know what local developers have planned for the Southgate House. I also don't know what will become of Loughnane. I do know they deserve a bright future together. But I'm not convinced Newport is deserving of either.