Having gotten lost finding Ash Street to see a six person private exhibition curated by Mary Heider, I finally arrived at 506 Ash Street on this beautiful, sunny, cloudless Saturday afternoon in the seventies, just about everyone was saying how hard it was to find their way here—and what an unexpected pleasure it was once I got there. This exhibition is the second of its kind in this venue. It was easy to find 506 with its open garage door, as a large blow-up of an image by Kevin Muente’s, Zoo Gardens, Cincinnati Zoo (2004), was the landmark.
Curated by Mary Heider in a former industrial space recently converted by Laura Sams, this exhibition had a one-day “Opening and Gathering” on September 20; it is otherwise open by appointment. Six artists’ work is in the show, three of whose work I had seen before, three new to me. All were represented by at least seven works, in many cases spanning a decade. Media ranged from painting and drawing to photography and sculpture and content features the human figure and natural landscape along a broad spectrum from representational to abstract. A show like this encourages a viewer to search for personal favorites among each artist’s work, in the process asking fresh questions about content, scale, medium, and other formalist properties.
Travel photographs by Barry Andersen and mixed media travel pieces by Diane Kruer are inside the open overhead, industrial, garage door. How lovely on this breezy sun dappled day to cruise through France, Italy, Ireland, and England in Andersen’s spacious archival digital prints dating from 2001 through 2013. Most of these subjects are landscapes in which no human presence detracts with the natural environment. My eye kept reverting to Dublin Houses and Field (fig. 1), in which a row of identical looking houses strung together very tightly raise uncomfortable questions about the built environment. The composition of this photo would be effective even on a handheld digital screen, but it takes the scale of a large print like this (16 x 31 inches) to reach into the space we occupy with our own physical bodies.
Diane Kruer’s hand-painted photographs cover a different geographical range (Ireland, Italy, China, Kentucky) over a shorter period of time (2009-2013). Kruer’s digital photographs have a tactile overlay in hand-coloring, gold leaf, and varnish that at once personalizes and universalizes them. The personalizing element is particularly exquisite and strong in her Travcl Journal—in which nine images, each 4 x 4 inches, are arranged in three rows of three, each horizontal row including an image from Ireland, Italy, and Kentucky (fig. 2). The three rows of three make a harmonious square with which each image is itself a perfect minute square representing an expansive outdoor space, the artist’s extensive travel condensed through the power of art into visual constructs that takes us through exotic landscapes, the way 19th century Orientalists’ landscapes and interiors did, cleverly reversing mediums, as photography has now replaced painting.
Barbara Ahlbrand’s paintings and drawings in the alcove at the other end of the open air garage vary in scale from the (7 x 7 inches) to expansive (24 x 32 inches). One is oil on canvas, others are mixed media, combining aspects of drawing and painting. Ahlbrand’s mode of expression strongly favors abstraction, relying on titles such as Night Fog, Trees, and Tide to convey the subject in a generic way rather than with the specificity found in Anderson’s or Kruer’s titles. The works of hers that most compelled me were the smallest and most representational, Greenfield and Hayfield (fig. 3), both 2012, each in oil on panel, about seven inches square.
Contrasting with Alhbrand’s abstract art at the far end of the space are Kevin Muente’s large, landscapes in oil on canvas, many of them with the kind of realistic specificity found in photographs. The landscape subjects range from rivers and ponds to orchards and mountains, each titled for its site-specific locale. I have wanted a Muente painting for nearly a decade now, but here were several paintings I’d never seen, including Homage to Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Mount Sainte-Victoire, its beautiful sunflower field seen from behind, with Van Gogh’s sunflowers bowing their bright, unseen faces towards to Cezanne’s Mount Sainte-Victoire. The Muente painting to which I kept returning to is Poplar Creek (fig. 4), an absolute marvel of detail and expanse, of nature shaped by human perception in a manageable scale (38 ½ x 50 inches).
Rob Anderson’s large oil paintings are comparable to Muente’s in scale, but Anderson paints the human figure in domestic settings in a style ranging from representational to semi-abstract. Anderson typically presents a solitary figure in an enigmatic interior space. One feels some kind of strong internal drama in the man seen from behind in Hallway View. We see just enough of the woman in Laundry to wonder what she may be pondering. The semi-abstract handling of the paint was appropriate in both of these paintings, but the one that held my eye most strongly, was Sunlight, (fig. 5), the most representational of them all (2013, 24 x 48 inches). The position of the female figure in casual dress, the play of the light of it, and the mastery of the handling gives this work visual lucidity and an emotional wholeness I will never forget.
Robert Fry, the one sculptor in the show, combines granite with marble and bronze with walnut or mahogany. At 506 Ash he displayed work inside the open-air garage as well as in an outdoor garden. I enjoyed the works in the garden—as did the long-legged insect camping out on one of them. Indoors, two sculptures in particular caught my attention. Nap is a small work in bronze on walnut, perfectly placed on a narrow pedestal in front of Anderson’s reclining figure in Sunlight. Asea (fig. 6), in granite and marble, manifests superb transition between the two stones, lifting these weighty materials into a buoyant shape that floats in the mind long after it is seen.
Here just off of Dixie is a lovely garage showing art, hardly a traditional garage sale, but a manifestation, even in Erlanger, of how Greater Cincinnati is enriching its history as a hub of light industry in a renaissance of visual and other creative arts.