I have a very special fondness for the Solways, because my relationship with that family predates my meeting Carl himself and buying art from him, which began in 1970. My sister’s best friend throughout high school and long beyond was Tammy Solway, Carl’s half sister, and my own family and Tammy’s mother (Harry Solway, owner of Solway Furniture in OTR, was dead by the time we came on the scene) were frequent friends. We were often visitors in their house on Knoll Road, in Amberly Village, and I have very strong memories of Sylvia Solway in her sculpting apron and in her studio in that house; she was a very fine representational sculptor, and, it would turn out, a kind of real estate genius. Sylvia Solway couldn’t have been more than five feet tall, maybe shorter, but she had a commanding personality, and made an odd picture driving around town in her pink Cadillac and thinning red hair. I first met Michael Solway in that house when he was two years old, and my memory pictures him as the weed part of a dandelion–I’d never seen so much frizzy hair on a kid before, and it looked as if one could poof his hair and all the dandelion seeds would fly away with the wind. I hadn’t yet met his father, Carl, who, of course, has the same Einsteinian hair.
Fast forward from the 1950s, when the Browns and Solways saw a lot of one another (I was in high school, then), to 1970, and my return to Cincinnati from grad. school. I’d already begun buying art in Ann Arbor, thinking/hoping I’d buy Asian art as I could, but finding none in Cincinnati. So I turned to contemporary art, which was very available here, and bought some art from Miller Gallery (I’d also known Barbara and Norman Miller since I myself was two–they lived three houses away from where I grew up). One day, I was downtown with my then wife, and we’d bought some furniture at Contemporary Galleries, on West Fourth, and we’d heard of Flair Gallery, which was kitty-corner across the street, and decided to wander in: that’s where I first met Carl Solway. I fell in love with a Jim Dine print called “Rainbow”, which was $250, way beyond my then very limited budget, but Carl allowed me to pay $50 a month until the print was paid off. Little did I know that I’d have lists of Solway invoices later on, with “Paid: $150” and the date next to it for the better part of at least twenty to twenty-five years, until I went into the art business myself and could find my own material, though I still bought prints from Solway with delight and affection. Carl’s way of encouraging collecting was oblique but enthusiastic. His knowledge of art seemed intuitive; he didn’t quote art magazines or talk about “investment potential”: he was able to explain certain works of art with an incredible brevity that was the best kind of teaching. And he came to know and understand my own tastes, and would just as likely detract me from buying something as encouraging me to–he’d sometimes say “that’s not for you”, and he was unfailingly correct.
But I also trusted him entirely as a dealer, and his eye and intellect, so that when I bought an early print by Joan Snyder, and another by Pat Steir, I wasn’t entirely certain what they were about, but trusted Carl’s instincts that I would come to understand them (and others) and he was uncannily correct. I was drawn, early, to POP Art, and bought two Warhol soup cans from Carl’s original Warhol show of them (1971?). They were $250 a piece……and I bought five Lichtensteins from him, a couple of Oldenburgs, the one Dine, later a Rosenquist, three Christos (which I consider Pop in certain ways). Along the way, to the extent that I can remember, I bought prints by de Kooning, a sculptural multiple by Mark di Suvero, prints by Alfred Leslie, two by Ed Paschke, an enormous Chris Burden (“The Atomic Alphabet”), Martin Disler, Robert Longo, a watercolor by Rafael Ferrer; two Nam June Paik prints, two Nancy Graves prints, a Tom Wesselmann, a David Hockney, “Kent State” by Richard Hamilton, two Ed Ruschas—I admit that I don’t remember them all, because part of my plan was to keep buying until the walls were full, donate about 8 prints per year to the art museum here, and keep buying: the art museum staff recently told me that I’ve donated 68 works of art for their permanent collection, 60 of which came from Solway Gallery. I don’t recall ever spending over $750 on anything I ever bought from Solway, either, so I wasn’t a “big” collector in that sense.
Carl was a mentor as much as a dealer, uninterested in the politics and gossip of the art world, a purist, if you will. His passion for contemporary art was total, his enthusiasm amazing, his vision exemplary. There was no aspect of international contemporary art, as the art he sold became, that he wasn’t part of, and he had an uncanny ability to determine what was going to be important and what wasn’t. It was fascinating just to be in the gallery (he always called it just ” the gallery”) with him,as you felt like a part of something international and important, that collecting was probably the most single important thing you could do to encourage contemporary art. The gallery seemed to pulsate with almost an electrical charge when new art came in, and I felt almost like a part of a club, that of contemporary art collectors with Carl as our guide, our chief, our mentor: he never pressured me, ever, to buy something, nor would he let me overcommit financially. He was the Poppa Bear of art collecting.
So it’s with the greatest of pleasure that I join many other Carl Solway fans in congratulating and thanking him for all he’s done for the visual arts in this region, and well beyond. Without Carl’s gallery and presence here, Cincinnati would be an entirely different city; he and The Contemporary Arts Center made Cincinnati a lively place to see, discuss, and purchase art of the finest quality, and one can feel Carl’s pulse on virtually every visual aspect of Greater Cincinnati. That The Cincinnati Art Museum is honoring him and his contributions with a show dedicated to him and the art he has sold and/or commissioned is something none of us would have dreamed of back in the 70s , no doubt including Carl himself, but his presence has been as important as any single individual’s in the visual arts here.
Aeqai has asked a number of other Solway friends and collectors to write short tributes to Carl, all of which appear in this issue. Carl’s had a long footprint here, though a gentle and generous one, and, as son Michael takes over the gallery increasingly, it’s reassuring that another generation of passionate Solways is here to carry Carl’s vision long into the future. So let me be amongst the many to thank and congratulate Carl Solway, the King of Art Dealers, the visionary who lived to see his visions become realities and who changed the face of art collecting and of what art means within this entire community and region, as well as nationally and internationally.