In our culture, where Bigger is often equated with Better, there’s a decided relief in turning to a competition where Small is All. Manifest Gallery’s eleventh annual Magnitude Seven, with no boundaries on method or media but strict boundaries on size – seven inches max in any direction – this year as for every previous year, attracted many, many submissions (five hundred and forty, from a hundred and ninety eight artists in thirty-nine states and ten countries). This bountiful response has been trimmed to twenty-three works by nineteen artists from thirteen states and three countries and may be seen through June 26th at Manifest Gallery,  2727 Woodburn Avenue in Walnut Hills, Cincinnati.

It’s clear that size restrictions place no burden on these artists, who seem to relish the opportunity to push the boundaries of size to imaginative lengths. The works incorporate the usual media (watercolor, oils, acrylic, ink, etc.) on customary bases (canvas, paper, etc.) but also branch out with certain surprises.  How often do you see “collodion tin type”? Susan Bryant (Clarksville, TN) uses that for “Italian Gesture #37,” which shows a hand and arm to below the elbow in a curved and graceful pose that does in fact evoke a volatile Italian presence.

Walter Zurko (Wooster, OH) employs cardboard and plywood to construct a couple of mysterious shapes that, from their titles, refer to an ancient city (“Phyrgia”) and an ancient god (“Janus”), relating to times when neither cardboard nor plywood had a place. They are tidy but thought-provoking works. Christian Schmit (Lakeside Park, KY), in two of the most engaging pieces in the show, uses nothing more than cardboard and paper to construct a rucksack and its contents (lantern, cooking pots, compass, a book) and also an old fashioned typewriter erect on its stand, an accompanying straight chair, file case and neat pile of paper as tall as the file case itself. Scrupulousness of workmanship makes Schmit’s pieces appealing; they seem to reflect some other, smaller world where the computer has been held off.

Three dimensional objects are the exception here, however.  For “March Run” Alicia Rothman (Brooklyn, NY) turned a page of figures sideways, so that the many zeros are simply background at top, to use mixed media for a faceless running figure, possibly playing a stringed instrument, a band of swirled lines across the bottom. The result, undeniably cheerful, is likely to cause the viewer to smile. Smiling in answer to art can be underestimated.

Vince Natale (Woodstock NY) gives us “Drifting II,” a cloud-hung seascape (oil on board) that brings on entirely different responses. Whatever or whoever is drifting (canoe? sailboat? swimmer?) is not shown but could swiftly be in trouble; ominous weather is brewing.

The two non-U.S. artists are Anna Belleforte of the Netherlands and Marion Delarue of France. Belleforte’s collage, “Myth-Building: Catch” rewards close attention. Delarue’s “Blue Agate Bracelet” is more likely to be seen mounted on a wall than worn on an arm – it looks heavy – but is the result of an intensive process in which ceramic, glass, glaze and chamotte are fused together, cut, sanded and polished to handsome ends.

A number of artists use their limited space for portraits. The two graphite drawings by Tanja Gant (Plano, TX) show, respectively, a spectacled boy in adolescence and a gentle portrait of a girl-child. Each looks directly out at the viewer. Neil Callander (Mississippi State, MS) contributes a self-portrait, quick brush strokes in oil on panel, a bright background of mostly yellow but the face itself almost obscured.

What began as a practical measure – the Gallery wanted to attract submissions from anywhere in the world, so instituted the seven inch limit in order to encourage greater response – has steadily produced interesting work and become a factor in Manifest’s calling itself a “Neighborhood Gallery for the World.” Although the majority of the works in this eleventh annual presentation date from this year or last, it is not a show that suggests trends or specific interests. It does speak to artists’ inborn response to challenge. “Seven inches max?  I can do that” one can almost hear them saying.

–Jane Durrell

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