David Johnson: In Memoriam

Many of us were shocked and horrified to learn of David Johnson’s tragic and untimely death last week.  David was our colleague, a superb teacher, curator, educator, who enriched the visual arts with his knowledge, hard work and frequent wit.  I first met him way back when Carl Solway was developing what became West Fourth Street, that cluster of art galleries all in a row in the eighties, and David was involved with CAGE, Cincinnati Artists’ Group Effort.  Most of the people involved with CAGE were just out of graduate school at UC-DAAP, and CAGE was one of the best run early nonprofits in this region.  I still have quite a few works of art that I bought at CAGE, which was known for its superior exhibitions of unknown artists, and the gallery was very professionally run and managed and it was a necessary stop for the thousands of us who went to all those West Fourth Street openings without fail every six weeks back in those days.  Art was beginning to sell , to be collected, and places like CAGE provided affordable , quality artwork in a very professional setting, and David was very much a part of it.

He would leave there and join Dr. Ruth Meyer when she was Director of The Taft Museum of Art, first as a kind of assistant of all trades, but eventually he rose to Curator of Collections of The Taft, where he remained after Dr. Meyer’s departure and for the entire duration of Phillip Long’s tenure as Director of The Taft, too. David had a cadre of friend with whom he started his art career, many of whom worked at The Taft with him: Abby Schwartz and Cate O’Hara come readily to mind, and I also know of his long and beautiful friendship with area artist Deborah Morrissey-McGoff.  No doubt there are others, as David was a good and loving friend. He was widely respected in the visual arts.  He returned to school and got a Master’s Degree in Art History
in African art, as I recall (Forgive any errors on my part: I am writing this strictly from my memory of David, and any errors in fact are my own).

After some time spent in Washington, David returned to Cincinnati, a city he loved , to work again, this time as Interim Director of The Art Academy of Cincinnati, where our friendship reemerged, as well.  He has an astute reading of people, had learned to understand the complexities of fund-raising, and became, again, a respected leader in our visual arts community.

His life got more complicated after that, as work was difficult to find.  He worked briefly at The Phyllis Weston Gallery in O’Bryonville, selling art there.  But his health was fragile, and he suffered both from physical maladies and from the kinds of depression we all get when we feel professionally unproductive.

I miss him.  I miss his giggle, and his razor-sharp observations, his astute judgments about art.  We were the richer as an arts community with him, and we shall be the poorer without him.

—Daniel Brown

8 Responses

  1. Thank you, Danny, for this heartfelt word portrait of our dear friend–and a great friend of the arts.

  2. Thank you, Danny, for this heartfelt word portrait of our dear friend–and a great friend of the arts.

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