Stop by his multimedia exhibition Peeps & Bells at the Annie Bolling Gallery in Oakley, and you'll agree that Tony Luensman is making the most engaging visual art in town. The one person who still needs to be convinced — someone who's yet to see the new work — is Cincinnati Councilman Pat DeWine.
A few days before Cincinnati City Council approved a version of the 2005-06 city budget, DeWine sent out a release promoting his recommendation that arts support be completely eliminated from the city budget. His key example exemplifying the utter wastefulness of city arts support was dollars given to a local artist for a doorbell installation. That artist was Luensman.
DeWine and others on council compromised, and arts funding remained in the next city budget after a 50 percent reduction. So another doorbell sculpture has a shot at city funding, and Luensman and DeWine have another chance to meet.
Peeps & Bells is a welcome continuation of Luensman's 2002 Irato show at the Aronoff Center's Weston Art Gallery, with familiar elements like blue neon tubing and exposed wiring intact. The standout piece this time is "Fresh," an interactive sculpture with a small metal tripod and a revolving platter holding nine mechanical peeps. Floating above the platter is a set of chimes made up of a silver dildo and cock ring.
It's a child's toy meant for adult eyes, and this mix is part of its playful spirit.
There's also a new interactive doorbell — something DeWine would be happy to know — complete with ceiling speakers and a Chinese gong. Another standout piece, "Family Doorbell" consists of a small wooden doorframe resting atop a concrete pedestal. You pull back on its black plastic doorknob and, like a pinball machine, it springs a metal ball against a bell, as much a carnival game as a sleek, beautifully simple artwork.
Wherever you step in the small storefront space, Luensman has created an opportunity to create wonderful ambient noise. He's a painter, a musician, a sculptor and, along with Mark Fox, co-director of the avant-garde puppet troupe, Saw Theater. Luensman is an Elder High School alumnus and a resident of Camp Washington, where he lives in a tiny apartment adjacent to his studio space.
A true-blue Cincinnati native, Luensman has also become one the city's best ambassadors. He and Fox took Saw Theater to New York City's Theater for the New City, the Detroit Institute of the Arts and the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
Luensman was the only Cincinnati artist to have work featured in the new Contemporary Arts Center at the time of its opening. He was commissioned to create seven interactive artworks for the UnMuseum, the children's area located on the new CAC's sixth floor.
Earlier this year he returned from a residency in Taiwan, where he completed an installation at the country's Museum of Contemporary Art. Next year, he leaves for artist residencies in Japan and Taiwan.
It's humbling when an artist receives greater accolades outside his own city than inside. It's especially frustrating when a Cincinnati Councilman like DeWine points to your work as the prime reason why the city shouldn't fund individual artists.
Luensman needs to be appreciated in his own city, or we're in danger of losing him. He deserves appreciation, and in fact he's earned city support.
Everyone is an art critic — even a Cincinnati councilman — but the critic should at least take the time to view the work he deems foolish.
Peeps & Bells runs through Jan. 29. DeWine has plenty of time to experience Luensman's work firsthand and meet the artist.
It would be better to hear DeWine's opinion then.