Both artist and patron Alice Weston, and dealer/art guru Carl Solway were rightly honored this month, Weston at a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of The Weston Gallery in The Aronoff Center downtown, which she and her late husband Harris initially funded, and thus are responsible for that superb gallery’s virtual existence, and Solway at the opening of an exhibition at The Cincinnati Art Museum, showcasing forty years of artwork either shown at or commissioned by Carl Solway, Cincinnati’s most visionary art dealer and the one man who opened this region’s eyes to what we might now call “international contemporary art” (Aeqai’s review of the Solway show also appears in this issue). I’ve known both Alice and Carl for decades, and join with many others in celebrating their massive achievements and in thanking them for making Cincinnati an important center for the exhibition of contemporary art of the most exciting types. 2016 also marks Alice Weston’s 90th birthday.
Weston herself is an extremely accomplished photographer; her photographs have appeared in the books Great Houses of Cincinnati, as well as its successor on great commercial buildings of the city. She has shown her work both at Solway and the old Toni Birckhead Galleries, and I first became aware of all the ritualistic aspects of the Indian mounds at places such as Ft. Ancient by looking at Alice’s work. Photographing on solstice days, she found examples of sculptures and stones and mounds built directly to correlate to nature’s rhythms, including solstices, and her interest in this kind of environmental work is as early and prescient as any I’ve seen. Blown up to very large scale, the vertical photographs, in color, are commandingly beautiful as well as scientifically accurate; she seems almost a precursor to Nancy Graves, who would, in the 70s, create prints from recent maps of the moon taken from early moon flights. Both Weston and Graves show interest in both science and art to great effect, reminding us that these two disciplines need not be considered at odds with one another; both artists prove that science and art can be comfortable bedfellows. Weston’s work tends towards the minimalist, usually, as does some of the most exciting work in her own collection. I was present, years ago, when she flew Richard Tuttle in from Amsterdam, where he was working on a project, to Cincinnati to install five, I think, sculptural works by Tuttle in her house; these delicate metal sculptures, when lit appropriately, also look like drawings, as the shadows of the works play against the white backgrounds where they are installed in Weston’s house. Alice Weston’s eye is keen and quick, but subtle and elegant, and that’s probably where her own collecting and her own work merge, through either making or purchasing work with these traits. Weston has been collecting art since Abstract Expressionism’s heyday, and her collection has been bequeathed to the Cincinnati Art Museum: this is a very big deal, as up through the mid-’80s, the relationship between the Contemporary Arts Center and The Cincinnati Art Museum was tenuous, and people like Alice and Harris, by showing their own collection at the museum when Millard Rogers was Director there, began to build significant bridges between the two institutions, leading to the museum collecting some contemporary art and creating galleries in the museum to showcase such work. Alice Weston was quite instrumental in bringing these two institutions together. When she commissioned great musicians to create work about or around her own photographs, including when she utilized the entire Cincinnati Symphony, we got a real sense of genuine collaboration by Alice’s own handiwork and her strong sense of interdisciplinarity, particularly between contemporary art and orchestral music. She’s described the role of art patron as secondary, to me in conversation, as she was rather born into the role, but her generosity has been legion, and her passion for contemporary art in particular has made Cincinnati a more sophisticated visual city, and a more passionate one, as well. Alice Weston’s contributions to the visual arts here are greater than most people realize, because one really has to blend her own artmaking into her collecting and her philanthropy: she would see all three roles as complementary, and they have been for her, and the rest of us have been the beneficiaries. By helping to create The Weston in The Aronoff, the Westons helped create one of our premier exhibition spaces; the team of Dennis Harrington and Kelly O’Donnell at The Weston’s the best in town, and their shows never less than first rate, always worth seeing, and always thoughtfully and exquisitely installed. Alice’s touch thus pervades the shows at The Weston, and we have her to thank, indirectly, for the very high quality of those shows. With the advent of the 21c hotel, the trifecta of The Weston, the 21c hotel, and The Contemporary Arts Center makes the block around 6th and 7th and Walnut one of the most exciting areas for contemporary art anywhere in the Midwest.
Weston was honored at a celebration/fundraiser for The Weston Gallery on May 6th. A video interview by Carl Solway with Alice Weston was highly intelligent—it was also very gratifying to see these two local legends in casual conversation with one another—and was followed by a dinner on the stage of The Aronoff Procter and Gamble Theater (the design by Joe Rigotti was magnificent, by the way). Former Contemporary Arts Center Directors Dennis Barrie and Charles Desmarais had flown in for the evening, and both these mens’ remarks about Alice were truly touching; their affection for her was very real, and the impact made by all three of these people was amazing to recall (more so with the recent death of CAC architect Zaha Hadid, whom Desmarais had so hoped would build the new CAC from the very beginning of the search for an architect). The sold out evening was a warm and intelligent tribute to Alice Weston, whose rarity as artist, collector and patron was even clearer after all the remarks had been made. Let me add that Alice is one of the most intelligent women I’ve ever met; I’ve always found conversations with her stimulating and important, and I add my own “hats off” to this very fine artist/collector/patron, and thank her for her vast contributions to this city and to contemporary art itself.