Tag Archives: Contemporary Art Toledo

Material/Immaterial Contemporary Art Toledo 2019

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A Familiar Carcass by Elizabeth Cote

It’s inevitable that a group show juried by a single artist will reflect the preoccupations and interests of that artist.  But you would be hard pressed to see a collection of objects in the unique but derelict space on the 7th floor of the historic Secor Building in Toledo that more clearly reflects the esthetic of juror Scott Hocking.  Hocking, well known and admired as a keen observer of Detroit’s constantly morphing urban landscape, has juried a show presenting a distinctive collection of artworks that function more as an installation than as individual objects.

Hocking is a connoisseur of solastalgia, a form of existential distress caused by environmental change. It can be either global or local. In Hocking’s case, it centers on the city of Detroit. (His companion show at the Walter T. Terhune Gallery at Owens Community College provides a visual manifesto of his world view.)

Material/Immaterial, on view through October 19th, features the work of 25 young artists from the Great Lakes region. They work in three dimensions and in a variety of materials, some conventional and some not-so-much. It looks like the first art exhibit after the apocalypse.

The venue for Material/Immaterial is as much a part of this exhibition as the works displayed; there is a seamlessness between the environment and the art pieces in it that is quintessentially Hocking. In contrast to the anonymity of a white box gallery, the space exerts a gravitational pull on the objects and seems to absorb them into its orbit. Many of the artworks feel as if they have been discarded or accidentally left behind. The entire installation celebrates the esthetic of the found object.

Many of the pieces in the exhibit seem to be the chance result of natural disasters.  I am thinking of Summer Gobrecht’s  Serendipity, a  cluster of dish-shaped, splashed-plaster objects clustered in a tiled surround, the elegant, ghostly record of a meteor impact on a distant moon.  A different, more human  kind of calamity is implied in Leather Shoes, by Tom Reihart. Child-sized legs and feet protrude, abandoned, from beneath a dark cloth and suggest a story of personal catastrophe.

A more humorous take on disaster is delivered by Shawn Campbell, who works in diverse media including photography, sculpture, video installation and painting.  He specializes in ad hoc celebrations of spectacle involving civil, financial and political power that both provokes amusement and provides some shrewd social commentary on contemporary social and economic trends.  My favorite piece of the show is his oil-spouting plywood construction (Untitled). It’s the bastard offspring of a beaux arts fountain and a toxic waste dump, simultaneously hilarious and sinister.

Another favorite piece in Material/Immaterial is by Elizabeth Cote. At first glance you think you see a quilt carelessly thrown over a laundry line, but on closer inspection, it emerges that the “quilt” is, in fact, a folded latex mold pieced together to describe the limp façade of a building. The artist details her process: “This is a latex of a plaster of a clay of a drawing of a picture that I did not take of a building … It is not an impression taken from a physical building, but the impression of the building on me.”

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I Expand, I am Warm; Blue Cannon Steel; Blue Silo, by Laura Dirksen

Meagan Smith’s collection of small (mostly) porcelain objects are displayed on the only clean white walls in the exhibit, a free-standing gallery that has landed in the middle of a ruined landscape. These intimate biomorphic doodads are displayed on small glass shelves. They suggest “sacs, tubes, fleshy folds, hives, nets, plants, webs.” The diminutive sculptures simultaneously appear to be carefully crafted fine art pieces and found natural artifacts like fossils or exoskeletons or seashells.

One of the few pieces in Material/ Immaterial that proclaims its status as a work of fine art is I Expand, I am Warm; Blue Cannon Steel; Blue Silo by Laura Dirksen, a cheerful, chunky, colorful stoneware assemblage that’s engaging and energetic. It radiates a kind of infectious animal attraction. Across the gallery, Claudia Tommasi keeps the party going with two small scale wall mounted pieces, bulbous and stringy, that exude Looneytunes humor, Untitled (2).

Although Material/Immaterial might at first glance seem to project existential end-of-the-world gloom, I found that I left the show feeling strangely optimistic. The work that these artists have made seems to imply that although things are bad–well, okay, maybe catastrophic–they still are hopeful and idealistic enough to keep working and making art, and to keep observing the world and commenting on it.  Things may turn out all right after all.

SculptureX is a yearly symposium sponsored by Contemporary Art Toledo and devoted to collaboration and networking among artists and art teaching institutions. Material/Immaterial was juried by Scott Hocking, with curatorial assistance from Brian Carpenter.

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Untitled by Shawn Campbell

 

Cake at River House Arts

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Flesh Cake by Alli Hoag, glass, mixed media

Paula Baldoni can hardly believe that the tenth birthday of her Toledo gallery, River House Arts, is coming up, but she’s ready to celebrate. “The ten years have flown by. If you had just asked me, I’d have said it was 5,” she says.

Baldoni recalls opening her first exhibition space in Perrysburg in 2009 in an unused portion of her photographer husband Bill Jordan’s studio. She opened the gallery because she observed that many Toledo artists with international reputations had no place to show their work locally. She says, “I knew that there were artists living in the area and working here, but who didn’t have a place to show their work.  They were showing in Europe and Asia–everywhere but home.” She adds, “We thought that if we could make our mark during the worst part of the Great Recession, then maybe we had something.”

A decade later, River House Arts has found a new, more spacious venue in the historic Secor Building in downtown Toledo. Baldoni has expanded from her original main floor gallery to fill several new exhibition spaces in the newly renovated structure, filling those spaces with art from Toledo and beyond. And in 2020, Contemporary Art Toledo, a non-profit arts organization that she founded in partnership with Brian Carpenter, an artist and professor of art at University of Toledo, will open the doors to its new gallery for the first time. She gives ample credit for the expansion to building owner Jim Zaleski. “He did a lot of work on the new space–he’s been extremely generous. We would not be doing what we’re doing if it wasn’t for Jim Zaleski,” she says.

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Bloom, by Katy Richards, oil on panel

Reflecting on the past ten years, Baldoni describes herself as a hunter gatherer of artists’ private obsessions, which she then introduces to the larger Toledo arts audience. “There has to be a place to show cutting edge and experimental work.  The more people become accustomed to seeing contemporary art, art that they don’t have to imagine having in their living rooms, the more they are open to other [new] ideas.”

Baldoni views the upcoming 10-year milestone at River House Arts as a birthday celebration for a ten-year-old child. The exhibit, entitled Cake, though it coincides with the anniversary, is not intended to be a dignified affair. It’s meant to be “a show of fun, light work (with possibly a dark side because we don’t know how to do it without having a dark side). It will be light with depth…much like a cake!” She promises clouds and butterflies, mixing bowls, rugs and plates in media from glass to painting to fiber and neon. Artists will include Joanna Manousis, Boryana Rusenova-Ina, Loraine Lynn, Alli Hoag, Madhurima Ganguly, Katy Richards, Crystal Phelps and more. Cake will be on view at River House Arts from Nov. 21 through January 19.

When asked about lessons learned from past experiences and plans for the future, Baldoni responds, “The trajectory of a gallery is the same as that of an artist–you have highs and lows, good times and bad times.  We are really not that different, we have the same struggles. This is such a crazy business, and it’s not even a business, it’s a life.” She continues, ”I think I’ve hit my stride. I still have goals [for the future]. I want to continue to show work by emerging artists, promoting them to a broader audience. As we move forward one of the opportunities we’re looking at for artists is working more with businesses, both in terms of bringing corporate people in to see our collection and to see the shows we have here and also introducing artwork to go to their locations. She finishes, “I’m still committed to glass [as a medium] and to showing glass work that we don’t normally see, like the work we recently showed in JB Squared, by Brooklyn glass artists Jane Bruce and John Brekke.”

But in the future, she adds, “There must also be cake!”

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Bent Skies,  by Boryana Rusenova-Ina, oil on linen

Bodh: New Work by Madhurima Ganguly at River House Arts, Toledo

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Earth and Sky by Madhurima Ganguly, batik, white acid-free ink, 18 karat gold on Lokta royal paper, 15″ x 18″, 2018

Emerging artist Madhurima Ganguly’s provocative but uneven exhibit Bodh, currently on view at River House Arts in Toledo,  presents us with a travelogue of the artist’s creative journey up to now. It begins in Kolkata, India, where she was born and educated, followed by emigration to San Diego, California and now her residence in the American Midwest.

The (mostly) small works on paper in Bodh illustrate Ganguly’s wide-ranging interests, from traditional  Indian folk painting, to observations of the natural world, to explorations of south Asian materials and patterns, to the beginnings of a personal feminist worldview. Or as Ganguly writes, her artworks are derived from “…everything and anything. As a visual artist my works explore the possibilities of space, nature and images from living organisms at micro and macro level.”  The richness of her heritage and the breadth of her travels provide Ganguly with an  array of sources for her inspiration which need only to be organized and edited to produce a singular and satisfying body of work. 

In Bodh, the most immediately successful pieces capitalize on Ganguly’s academic background in contemporary sculpture. Her abstract drawings are often single, idiosyncratic shapes that  seem to reference  natural forms and are presented as more or less symmetrical objects centrally placed on plain backgrounds. Coral, fungus, and even internal human organs provide her inspiration and  manage to be referential while avoiding the illustrational. She also has a gift for the manipulation of materials that have an ethnic association, such as batik and gold leaf. A particularly  satisfying example of this is Earth and Sky, the central image of which appears to refer to a coral form and illustrates many of the artist’s strengths.  The richly colored blue ground and the saturated orange batik, combined with her characteristic  lacy pattern painting and spiky tendrils, are unique and point to promising areas for future exploration. Other standouts in this vein are If Feelings were Human and Sand and Beach.   

When Ganguly strays into the figurative realm, however, she lacks the technical means to create a convincing narrative. Her educational background is upper-class, post-colonial and westernized, and she seems to have an arms-length relationship with the more humble forms of Indian painting that she references in her representational drawings.  Works such as Wall of Fame and Self-Portrait seem, to me, to be clumsy and touristic, and her personal iconography is still in the process of formation.

Ganguly is a cosmopolitan artist who feels the pull of her native culture while remaining a citizen of the contemporary art world.  A rich diversity of influences will  define her creative practice going forward, as she travels from her place of origin to an unknown destination, where her personal history and its innate conflicts can be resolved in a defining body of work.

For more information about Madhurima Ganguly and Bodh go here 

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One Sided Love by Madurima Ganguly, white acid-free ink, 18 karat gold on Lokta royal paper, 15″ x 10, 2018

 

 

 

 

SculptureX 2018: Igniting Change

Loraine Lynn here gives a useful description of the main themes of Toledo’s Sculpture X, with its emphasis on art as social practice. I’m dubious about the efficacy of this way of making art, and didn’t see anything in my (admittedly) limited experience of the work on view to change my mind. That said, I appreciate Lynn’s description of the proceedings and her earnest effort to grapple with the inherent internal contradictions and tricky social crosswinds of art as social practice.

Loraine Lynn

39686718_1062148427287864_2951454178091728896_o.pngAll art is Social Practice rang out as some of the last words of this year’s symposium, spoken by Saul Ostrow, curator and co-founder of SculptureX.

The event’s ninth year iteration, titled Igniting Change, took place over two days at the Toledo Museum of Art and Bowling Green State University. The focus was on the concept of Social Practice, a way of working in art that often gets traced back to the 1990’s. During his talk, Ostrow pointed out that the emergence of Social Practice began as early as 1913 with the Russian Constructivists (with the rejection of autonomous art) and can be seen later in the 1930’s with Social Realism (in work by artists such as Diego Riveria and Dorothea Lange).

Despite discrepancies regarding its origins, Social Practice is rising in popularity, both in art and academia. Taking this into account the question of whether or not artists…

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Pretty Queer

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Untitled by Colton Clifford

Pretty Queer,  a provocative summer exhibit at River House Arts, closed on August 5 but  lingers in the memory  as a thoughtful echo of one of contemporary art’s most vexed and vexing preoccupations. The artists in Pretty Queer want us to know that gender identity and gender normativity are far more thorny and ambiguous subjects than we thought, and there are as many shades of sexuality as there are humans to express them.

Over the last fifty years, the issue of alternative gender and sexual identity has taken the foreground in public discussion of how people love, present themselves and interact with the broader culture. The spectrum represented by the initials LGBTQ has fractured, with distinctions increasingly finely sliced and diced, atomized and reconstituted. Pretty Queer is an effort to quantify and enumerate some of these distinctions as they exist now,  in this historical moment.

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Untitled by Troy Hoffman

Pretty Queer’s premise is anchored in the exhibit by a work of the late David Wojnarowicz, an art polemicist who is enjoying a moment in the art world now that contemporary concerns with gender identity have caught up with his pioneering AIDS activism. The serigraph, Fire and Water (1990), projects a sense of dislocation and peril, multiple images of a confrontational pugilist overlaid by a grinning red devil. (Wojnarowicz is currently the subject of a retrospective at the Whitney Museum, David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Up at Night.)

The works in Pretty Queer are characterized by a desire to act out and a countervailing compulsion to conceal which might be a core of the queer aesthetic, described by academic sex researcher Iain Morland as “the sensory interrelation of pleasure and shame.”  A number of the works in the show address the artists’ compulsion to show themselves as they are, accompanied by a pervasive sense of discomfort in this self-exposure.

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Pink Planter by Zachariah Szabo

Troy Hoffman has nailed this ambivalence with two digital prints. The first is a small, lush close-up of what appears to be a bed of roses, the centers of which turn out to be human anuses. It’s comic, pretty and deeply disturbing. It’s unclear to me what he means by his other entry, a digital collage of a sado-masochistic dog mask on a female human, overlaid by fragmented black and white images of policemen, but it’s one of those images that, once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it.

Fiber artist John Paul Morabito has taken a more reticent approach. His woven pieces Frottage 052 and 049, are woven tapestries that at first appear to be elegantly minimalist until (upon close inspection) ghostly images of genitals become visible.

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Boys Wear Blue by Robert Fitzgerald

Several of the artists in Pretty Queer have chosen kitsch imagery and objects to describe their response to received gender norms. Robert Fitzgerald’s Boys wear Blue is an example: A set of three deceptively demure boxes contain reproductions of 18th century china  figurines in the act of “performing” masculinity and femininity within the confines of a box (could his meaning be any more transparent?) By adding a small mirror in each box, the artist invites the viewer to place him/her/their self in relationship to given norms of gender behavior. Atop and outside the top box, a china figurine rests, his back turned in a gesture of rejection.

Across the room, Zachariah Szabo returns to the subject of kitsch as a received view of norms, turning the concept on its head with  irony and humor.  The ultra-adorable china figurine in Pink Planter seems to say “ You want cute?  I’ll give you cute!” It calls to mind pieces by Jeff Koons (Balloon Dog, anyone?) but with a sharper satirical edge. Colton Clifford’s digital print of two identical, stereo-typically feminine figures surrounded by flowers and formally arranged and constrained within an under-scale dollhouse continues and amplifies the critique on received gender norms.

Perhaps the most comprehensive and ambitious exploration of queer/gender issues is the large, mixed-media montage by Rowan Renee. Part memoir, part political polemic, the installation recounts a dispute over ownership of nude photographs of the artist with their then-partner and now-adversary, set against a backdrop of gender transition.  In a statement, Renee describes their method: “My labor-intensive process centers on the obsessive act of material transfiguration to recast a relationship I am ashamed of into the pleasure of artistic production.”

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Together But Separate (detail) by Rowan Renee

Pretty Queer,  in my opinion, does a good job of placing us within the discourse on gender and sexuality in 2018.  The question that comes to mind, though, is what will this discussion look like in 2028?  Or 3028? It seems clear that we are in the midst of an evolution that is headed for parts unknown, but one hopes it will get us to a future where equality and respect for difference prevail, when we can be content to merely call ourselves human.

For more information about Pretty Queer and Contemporary Art Toledo visit https://www.catoledo.org/pretty-queer . Artist/arts blogger Loraine Lynn has written a thoughtful review of Pretty Queer which you can access here 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking with Animals

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Reintroduction II (Grey Wolf) by Emily White

Animals. They share our beds, our homes, our back yards.  We love them, as friends and as dinner.  And in some ways our relationship with them reflects a confused and self-contradictory understanding of our place in nature, a place that is being reassessed in the early 21st century as we confront climate change, animal cruelty and mass extinction.

Our fraught  relationship with animals forms the premise of Thinking with Animals, a thoughtful collection of  exquisite artworks currently on view at River House Arts in Toledo. Artists Jessica Tenbusch and Morgan Barrie have curated this exceptionally beautiful show, and share the gallery walls with the work of fellow artists  Julie Bahn, Emily White and Breanne Sherwood.

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Artifacts/Ecofacts (detail) by Jessica Tenbusch

Jessica Tenbusch employs silver and bronze casts of natural objects such as animal bones, insect exoskeletons and bits of plants in dialog with highly refined manmade materials to create a series of lapidary landscapes displayed in a grid pattern.  The overall effect is one of beauty and order that invites close looking.  Each single component of her piece Artifacts/Ecofacts is a complete work of art but together they constitute a world of minute perception.

Morgan Barrie’s two large photo collages riff humorously on the well known Netherlandish Unicorn in Captivity  tapestry owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She adapts the decorative plants from the original tapestry by introducing  plants native to the upper Midwest, such as purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans and joe pye weed, digitally collaged on a dark background. nature-9-dogIn the center of the composition formerly occupied by the mythical unicorn are life-size domestic companion animals, the dog  and the cat, surrounded by what appears to be modern storm fencing of the type available at Lowe’s or Home Depot. The dog in Tapestry is a handsome boxer and, as it happens, her own family dog . Though chained, he seems to be comfortable in his confinement, while the feral-looking cat in Captivity lurks within the fence, scheming to  escape.

Fiber artist Breanne Sherwood is clearly in love with the substance of nature. She shows a particular  affinity for the decorative qualities of bird plumage in Relics of Santiam, embellishing  disembodied avian wings with carefully embroidered and appliqued threads and tulle. They retain their anatomical identity but the delicacy of the artist’s handling imparts reverence to these relics of departed creatures. Sherwood’s more ambitiously scaled One Yard, One Bird applies human organization and emotional tenderness to a fatal event.

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One Yard, One Bird by Breanne Sherwood

The intimidatingly-sized and accomplished paintings of wild animals native to North America  in Emily White’s two artworks Reintroduction II (Grey Wolf) and Velvet (a truly disturbing  life-size rendering of a moose shedding the velvet  skin of its antlers)  dominate the gallery.  They  look as if they could easily grace the walls of a natural history museum.  The landscapes in which the animals stand are surrounded by highly finished birch plywood, framing the wilderness in civilization. Easily missed in the paintings are the artist’s sly additions of human technology into the natural environment.

Julie Bahn’s work is the most directly political of the group.  She addresses human consumption of animals for food  and consumerism in One Hundred Twenty Eight Days of Protein.  A silver plate is piled high with the broken bones of consumed animals, embellished and be-dazzled by Swarovski crystals, ready to be re-cycled and re-consumed as art.  Her soft sculpture Hug Me, is a tantalizing visual enigma. The large vinyl fish with strangely human eyes hangs limply from the gallery ceiling, a glittering tag around its neck, inviting us to engage with it as a fellow creature, not just as dinner.

Artists, always the shock troops of changing cultural attitudes, are thinking hard about the way forward in our relationship with nature, and in the process creating art that resonates, questions and inspires with its beauty. The work in Thinking With Animals ably addresses the complexity and ambivalence of our evolving thoughts about animals, humans and our place in the environment.  

For more about Thinking with Animals and River House Arts, go here .  If you’d like to read more about animals and art, go here.

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One Hundred and Twenty Eight Days of Protein by Julie Bahn

Quiet Glass in Toledo

 

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Static Puddle by Jessica Jane Julius

When someone says “art glass” do you think immediately of the colorful, often whimsical and crowd-pleasing objects that are staples of  art fairs and craft festivals? Well, think again.

HUSH.ex, a  group show of four artists from Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art, on view until November 4 at River House Gallery in Toledo, will re-order your preconceptions of what glass as art can be and do.

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Tall Vase with Thorny Vine by Amber Cowen

Working within a narrow range of colors and a broad array of glass types, Megan Biddle, Amber Cowan, Jessica Jane Julius and Sharyn O’Mara have filled the gallery with a collection of visually and conceptually challenging work that refuses the flashy over-stimulation of the digital age. The easy appeal, saturated colors and fluid shapes of conventional art glass have been replaced by a more austere vision that is expressive of solitude and silence. The artworks are predominately black, white and shades in between;  the types of glass include production milk glass, airport grade glass reflector beads,  found and second-life glass and more.  The artists heat, crack, fuse, burn and pour their way to artworks that push the medium of art glass well beyond its previous aesthetic borders.

Jessica Jane Julius’s Static Puddles are made by pouring black matte glass over shards of canework. The story of their production is evident in the jagged centers of black and white surrounded by the  gloppy shape of each piece, but that is secondary to the lyrical appeal of these weightless black blooms.  In another instance of prosaic material transcended by the poetic, Julius has applied airport grade glass reflector beads suspended in paint on four panels to create a wavy, translucent river that flows across the wall of the gallery. The title of the piece is Absorption.

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Milk Glass Installation by Amber Cowan

 

Recycled, up-cycled and second-life glass provides the raw material for the works of Amber Cowan.  Her installation of commonly recognizable milk glass objects, heated and deformed, transforms these everyday vessels into ghostly memorials to their humble use. In Tall Vase with Thorny Vines, Cowan has heated a production vase, pierced it and collaged ceramic plants into it, shaping it into a matte white still life that is both familiar and surreal.

The work of Megan Biddle focuses on process-driven work  that emphasizes the unique qualities of materials and their response to outside forces such as time, growth, erosion, breakage. (In addition to her glass work, she produces installation, sculpture, drawing and video.)  Her Further for Now  series examines the way that layers of cracked glass can create a kind of line drawing on a hazy, semi-transparent field.

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Further for Now 1-4 by Megan Biddle

 

Dog hair, optical fiber and typewriter tape are the eccentric components that characterize the work of Sharyn O’Mara.   Particularly prominent in this exhibit are her carbon burn-out “drawings” on glass.  These hair-on-glass process pieces are abstract, yet often seem to reference seed pods or plants.  They have an ethereal quality, as if they might disappear into thin air, blown away by fugitive winds.

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Botanical IV by Sharyn O’Mara

 

The glass art that is featured in HUSH.ex is neither easy nor pretty nor decorative, but satisfies on a deeper level.  These four artists demonstrate that there are many unexplored avenues for discovery in this medium that is so central to the regional aesthetic. They point the way to a creative trajectory in art glass that is cerebral, experimental and conceptually rigorous.

HUSH.ex is the second in a series of museum-quality exhibits organized by Contemporary Art Toledo, a collaborative partnership of gallerist Paula Baldoni of River House Gallery with Brian Carpenter, Gallery Director at the University of Toledo.  (Their first exhibit was Beautiful Pig). The goal of CA+ is to  provide a showcase in the Toledo area for provocative and groundbreaking  contemporary artwork by nationally known and regional artists.

For more information about HUSH.ex and River House Gallery hours go here