Jessica Stockholder, "Untitled." 1998

By: Jane Durrell

Imagine a cocktail party where everyone knows everyone else and the conversation never stops. That’s Carl Solway Gallery’s 50th Anniversary exhibition. More than one generation are here, but the young ones know the old ones and refine upon or react against, just like in your neighborhood.

Sixty-three artists are represented. An early press release says fifty-eight, but “Carl just kept pulling things out” says Anita Douthat, associate director for the gallery. The show begins the moment you step inside the door. Willem de Kooning and Hans Hofman are in conversation, more or less, to your right – de Kooning with the oddly titled – “Wah Kee Spare Ribs” (1971) – a large and flighty lithogram in transparent ink, Hofman nailing things down in an untitled smaller exercise in ink and gouache on paper (1938). A little farther on is a nifty run of prints: two 1930s etchings by Chagall give way to several 1960s etchings by Picasso, but the etchings are interrupted by a terracotta plate (1964) turned out when P. wanted a change of pace. A familiar Picasso woman’s face takes on a third dimension in the terracotta, etchings resume and then, abruptly, as the wall makes a V, Georges Braque has his say with a color lithograph (1961) that stops things dead. A bird is in flight, it has multiple wings, it is white as purity itself against a blue/black circle.

Meanwhile, in the first of the large galleries, Jessica Stockholder’s untitled work from 1998 assembles a painted music stand, fluorescent light, a red covered can and other flotsam into a work that is memorable to me for its electric cord, green on one side and black on the other. Next Hannah Wilke has done things you wouldn’t believe with chewing gum, as well as produce several painted ceramics of grace and style.  Jay Bolotin’s Hopper & Bernice appear next,, in both two and three dimensions. I think neither Hopper nor Bernice is averse to chewing gum.

The far wall is lined by a ledge bringing to eye level some of the particular treats of the show. Nancy Graves, whose career benefited from Solway’s interest, is represented by “Enfolded Order” (1989), a graceful, colorful sculpture that manages to suggest motion without actually doing it. Two works by George Rickey, on the other hand, beg to be put in action.  I did just that. I blew on “Steelhenge” (1992) and saw it respond delightfully. “Open Triangle Horizontal” (ca. 1990) tilted at a touch, although my museum training  left me gasping that I’d do it. Blowing was bad enough, but touching! However, I did and am confident the artist would have said Yes!

On the wall behind these works is a very Noel Martin piece, Martin being a Cincinnati artist and designer whose work anticipated and shaped the look of post-World War II design. In this painting he is forthright: “Repeated Three Times” is the title and that is exactly what he does, repeat three times in three different aspects a shape that is a circle with a wedge cut out.

Nearby is Julian Stanczak’s painting, “Forming in White III” (1991-92), in which the artist is having an interesting time with line, exploring ideas that much later would become 3-D for his block-long, second story installation on the garage that borders Sixth Street between Walnut and Vine in downtown Cincinnati. Stanczak’s relationship with Solway, I believe, goes back to the period when he  taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

An important relationship for Solway himself was with John Cage, whose work  is seen in the second floor gallery here and whose influence brought Solway in contact with Buckminster Fuller. Fuller appears downstairs with a piece of airy elegance called “ Thirty Strut Tensegrity.”  If you’re frowning over “tensegrity,” it may be useful to know it was coined by Fuller himself as a contraction of “tensional integrity.” Does that help?

Another significant association was with Nam June Paik, who put television sets to purposes previously unimagined and is seen here in a 1992 work that moves into the 21st century without a hitch. Paik, who died in 2006, was born in South Korea but worked in Cincinnati and was represented by Solway, who also organized fabrication of the artist’s designs. Paik’s studio was in space at the Solway gallery location.

Moving on, it’s a pleasure in the next gallery to look from Joan Snyder’s color-heavy “The Nights of Summer” (2010), in which oil, acrylic and paper mache move into three dimensions, to the nearby “Down” (1971) by Sam Gilliam, where the same colors melt and fade together in decidedly two dimensions.  Color continues to be key in the works just beyond: Pat Steir’s subtle layering in the big “Six-foot Square Green, Gold, Red, and Blue Several Times Over” (2012) contrasts with Peter Halley’s in-your-face Day Glo “Borderline” (2012). Joanna Pousette-Dart’s untitled sleigh-shaped panels repeat the sleigh shape in acrylic lines (2003), a calm excursion before Judy Pfaff’ unleashes a combination of steel wires, plastics and paper, fluorescent light fixtures and a Chinese paper lantern in “Dragon Arum” (2012). Pow.

For those of us old enough to remember, a wall in the next area fittingly begins with a Josef Albers screenprint “Homage to the Square” (1970). Albers is dealing with yellow, here, homaging the color, as always, rather than the square. Next, Ellsworth Kelly has a thing or two to say about color as well. “Blue,” is what he says, and “Red,“ in the lithograph “Dark Blue and Red, Axsom 18” (1964-65) each color firmly squared..  Alexander Calder in “Untitled (Waves with Circles)” (ca. 1970), then makes those color squares into circles afloat and free but, just as it seems the conversation is predictable, Helen Frankenthaler dissolves everything in her lithograph called “Altitude” (1978).

Some Cincinnati artists went on to make good in the larger world but retained ties to Solway. Jim Dine is one. His “A Sincerely Devoted Comrade” (2012) mixes acrylic, sand and charcoal on canvas and is in honor of the anniversary. Tom Wesselman is another, in good spirits here with wall hangings of cut-out steel that tickle the imagination.

Other Cincinnatians are included in the narrow photography corridor. Douthat, whose gallery duties do not preclude her work as a photographer, is represented by a haunting photogram “Candelabras for Constantin VI” (2007) and Cal Kowal makes social/artistic comment with his C-print “Art Jr.” (1991). Gregory Thorp turns up here as well, along with Jerry Uelsmann and others,

The conversation continues upstairs, where Cage’s two screenprints from 1981 suggest music stilled in compositions incorporating a grid and a swoop, and Frank Stella’s “Multicolored Squares” (1972) just might be homage to the maker of “Homage to the Square.”

It’s been an exciting 50 years in art, and Carl Solway has been a close observer and sometime participant. Clearly, he’s had a fine time. The party that is the exhibition is winding down, but you can still catch it through August 11, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday noon to 5 p.m., at 424 Findlay Street.  Stop by, and raise a figurative glass.



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