By Jane Durrell

Outside/Inside at Covington Arts is a show its curator, Jennifer Grote, conceives as an interaction between architecture (i.e. the space itself) and the art. Two of the artists take on that challenge with enthusiasm while the curator’s placement produces relationships with the surroundings for the other two.

The exhibition’s title surely was inspired by the fully-glassed in front of the main gallery, making both looking in and looking out part of the experience here. The first thing I saw, looking in, was the exuberant thrust of Voss Finn’s “Installation Extra Swordfish,” swooping and dipping and reaching down from the ceiling, filling the upper reaches of the entire west side of the gallery. The work goes all the way to the far wall, where the space has contracted to corridor width, and culminates with an artificial tree rising from the floor, secured to the wall by a hollow pipe, metal and wood. Yellow plastic tubes make the showiest curves in the upper sections but other materials also take rounded paths and my first, totally non-art-critical, response was that the work could reflect a glorious bicycle dream.

I don’t think for a minute that was what Finn had in mind. In his engaging artist’s statement he suggests that “intuition leads and an act of faith delivers,” and that he included a Celtic knot or two, as well as 308 sniper rounds. The meanings of the piece for Finn are complicated, but art is always for the viewer as well as the maker and responses may legitimately differ. I discarded the bicycle dream but recognized a story can be found here, culminating in a plastic vitrine on a green stand, containing perhaps hundreds of neat wood shafts, each a few inches long and less than an inch across. Their precision is in contrast to the lyric lilt of the rest of the piece, but it all has a dark underside (remember those sniper rounds?) so make of it what you will. The work is a highly personal, eminently thought-provoking response to the space it occupies.

Although Finn’s piece was what I saw from outside, a group of six sculptures by Jarrett Hawkins almost acts as a greeting committee as one enters the door. They are slender, tall, abstract, angular but curved shapes that interact with one another more than with the space in which they find themselves. Some are of cast plaster or EPS foam covered with a patina that gives them the look of rusted metal; these can be made available in cast bronze, according to their labels. Hawkins is deeply interested in relationships of forms in both a mathematical sense and in the natural world; his sculptures are a continuing exploration of these ideas. One of the most commanding of his pieces here is “Linear II,” just under seven feet tall and made of cast aluminum with applied patina. Hawkins also is represented by a wall-mounted piece that is a particularly telling example of his combining mathematical and natural world rhythms.

Celene Hawkins (the two Hawkins are husband and wife), puts to use the odd niche just to the left as one enters Covington Arts. She chose that space for its qualities of “a department store window” that would allow her to explore “the nature of artifice [by constructing] a made landscape of industrial materials.” I am quoting from her artist’s statement. “Black Beauty” resulted, an airy suggestion of three trees made from steel and painted with enamel, set in a bed of caulk and coal. These are city trees, not forbiddingly tall, artificial to their non-existent roots, and a visual pleasure. Hawkins has a sure hand with her materials and is adept at using them to fullest advantage. The city sidewalk just outside the gallery’s windowed front facade and the sight of businesses across the street do lend this space a teasing sense of department store window, and the patent artificiality of Hawkins’ suggestion of a little grove of trees fits in just fine.

These three sculptors have all been living and working in Cincinnati for some time; the fourth of the group, Barry Gunderson, is based in Gambier, Ohio, where he teaches sculpture at Kenyon College. Gunderson is a sly fellow, out to make us think again about the space we inhabit. He does this very simply, by turning his neatly stylized constructions of dwellings and gardens on their sides, so that what we would think of as ground level is flat against the wall and the entire three dimensional affair juts out into one’s face. Fashioned from painted wood and polyurethane, these works make no attempt at naturalism; everything is lightly abstracted to its elements. We can look inside his suggestions of houses or secluded garden nooks, more or less from above as they are horizontal rather than vertical. The viewer who wishes to accept a sense of god-like looking down is free to do so, but most of us are more likely to recognize formalities that define our lives. “Greener Grass,” for instance, lines up two almost identical facades with almost identical space between them, suggesting perhaps that searches for greener grass may be futile? Gunderson’s work is full of clever detail and sharp observation. Certainly he is aware of the exhibition’s theme of interaction of architecture and artistry, although his work was conceived in response to places other than the one in which the show appears. The garden pieces are mounted in the three-sided space that backs the main area and the houses on a nearby side wall. This works well, as the best way to see them is at eye level and extremely close.

I have sometimes considered the Covington Arts space awkward for exhibitions, but sculptor Jarrett Hawkins set me straight. Difficult, perhaps, for wall-hung shows, he said, but excellent for sculpture. And indeed, Outside-Inside is a thought-provoking show making practical and sometimes inspired use of an unusual environment for art.

The exhibition is on view at Covington Arts, 27 West 7th Street, Covington, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Friday, through December 27.


One Response

  1. Dear Jane,
    Thank you for your wonderful review of OUTSIDE/inside. Your enthusiasm for the show reflects the vision I visualized when working to group these 4 artists together. Each had a unique approach which encountered the space and provoked conversation with the viewer.
    Jennifer Grote,
    Curator of OUTSIDE/inside
    Covington Arts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *