Weston Gallery at 10 Former Cincinnati Business Committee Director Ron Roberts didn't have the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery in mind when years ago he called the Aronoff Center for the Arts "the most important economic development here since the opening of Riverfront Stadium in 1970."
Roberts, like most people, was pointing toward the Broadway Series, the annual tour of traveling big-budget musicals that would fill the center's spacious Procter & Gamble Hall, as the prime source of new crowds and much-anticipated success.
The Weston Gallery was something of a design afterthought for the Aronoff Center, a last-minute addition. Its inaugural director, Salli LoveLarkin, was forced to make do with a massive glass lobby suitable for only the largest installations and a basement-level space often too claustrophobic for viewing artwork enjoyably.
LoveLarkin, who passed away in April 1999, and her successor Dennis Harrington met the challenges of the space handed over to them. They took an afterthought and turned it into something vital, creative and frequently beautiful.
Ten years after the Weston Gallery's debut, Ideas into Objects: Reinterpreting the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci features a group of artists who have shown work at the Weston over its history; they're back with new work inspired by Leonardo da Vinci drawings. The show runs through June 12.
More celebration than knee-jerk reunion, Ideas into Objects powerfully articulates the Weston Gallery's legacy. The exhibit showcases significant artists who have passed through Cincinnati or continue to call Cincinnati home, and they deserve a high-profile public space to display their work.
The Weston Gallery is in the Joe Winterhalter business, whose extraordinary untitled canvas — a sprawling map rendering using spray paint, marker, acrylic paint and pencil — hangs in the street-level glass box. They are in the Tony Luensman business, whose sublime installation "Floating Puddle #2," tucked away in a side closet, sparkles thanks to its poetic use of plastic strips wound tightly into rolls and hung from acrylic strings.
Harrington, Assistant Director Kelly O'Donnell and their staff are in the Voss Finn business. His out-of-this-world sculpture "Axis Mundi" molds steel, wood and plaster scrap into something playful, intentionally cumbersome and unforgettable. More cluttered than Finn's trademark sculptures, work that's inspired by da Vinci's engineering drawings, "Axis Mundi" is the result of a master who happened to stroll through a junkyard on his way to his studio.
It's the highlight of an impressive survey of all that the Weston Gallery has brought to Cincinnati.
A lot has happened over the Aronoff's 10 years, and much of it isn't good. A number of theater companies based there in the Aronoff's early years — from The Children's Theatre of Cincinnati to Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival to Stage First Cincinnati — have left for other performance spaces or quit performing altogether.
Supporters of avant-garde performances look at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus and its year-round calendar with envy.
But when it comes to visual art, the Weston Art Gallery remains active and creative 365 days a year. Their mission of celebrating the best local talent doesn't come by accident; it's seaped into the gallery's consciousness via LoveLarkin's long-shuttered CAGE gallery (Cincinnati Artist' Group Effort) and the Toni Birckhead Gallery, where Harrington once worked.
After seven years in charge of the Weston Gallery, Harrington has emerged from Love Larkin's shadow and begun his own impressive legacy. More importantly, the gallery's stature continues to grow.
Broadway Series crowds these days no longer seem as large or as frequent as in the Aronoff's early days. When it comes to success stories at the Aronoff Center, the Weston Gallery is at the head of the line.
Ideas into Objects closes soon, but the Weston mission continues in 2005/06 with new shows by painters Tim McMichael and Stewart Goldman and installation artist Sonja Henrixson.
Remember that state funds earmarked for moving the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) to the Emery Theatre on Central Parkway were diverted in the early 1990s toward building the Aronoff Center for the Arts. It's worth considering what Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati might be like today if the CAC had relocated there.
In its place, we have the Weston Gallery, and that's just fine. Its growing role in the community is worth celebrating all year round.