I recently reviewed Nature Morte by conceptual glass artist Joanna Manousis for the Toledo City Paper. The exhibit is on view until June 17th at River House Arts in Toledo. This is the artist’s largest exhibition to date and includes pieces made during her residencies at The Toledo Museum of Art in January, 2017 and Alfred University in March, 2017. Read more here
“Interactive” is quite a buzzword in the art world these days, but what does it really mean? The term suggests an expectation of physical contact between gallery visitor and artwork. It also subtly implies that the mere act of contemplating a work of art isn’t enough to reach the public in this age of the internet and ever-shortening attention spans.
Andrei Rabodzeenko, though, is confident in the power of visual art to engage his audience. It is on this cerebral level that his work invites interaction.
The freestanding painted figures in Projections grab your attention and demand a response. Rabodzeenko’s life-size, slickly painted portraits of his friends (and himself) define the boundaries of the space within which gallery visitors must circle and observe. There is an intentional roughness to the way the cut-outs are sited, provisionally propped up on wooden supports and sandbagged in place as if they were scenery in a theater. Arranged in an informal installation throughout Toledo’s River House Gallery, these flat wooden portraits seem to imply some kind of in-the-round theatrical performance of obscure significance.
Radzeenko, born in Kyrgyzstan but now living and working in Chicago, is first and foremost an accomplished painter, an art chameleon who can paint in any style. He mixes visual idioms for maximum effect, frequently combining several within one artwork. In Projections, he seamlessly moves from virtuosic tromp l’oeil illusionism to flat advertising illustration to religious icon painting. Whether they are engaging in some activity, or merely pausing on their way, the figures often look directly at you. The artist offers no explanation for the choice of personal emblem (an out-size ginkgo leaf? A backpack of musical symbols?) or activity. These are clearly portraits of real people, but in the absence of information about them you must invent your own narrative, as is the artist’s intent:
Our identities are an amalgam of ever-shifting and overlapping projections-we create projections of ourselves, our alter egos, and launch them into the world. At the same time, the world projects its interpretations of us onto us.
Some figures are more mysteriously resonant than others. The black-suited self portrait in the middle of the gallery is especially successful. The roughness of the O.S.B. ground and the square piercing of the subject’s shirt add interest to the accomplished painting. The direct and slightly sad gaze of the figure is reminiscent of the mood in Rembrandt’s self-portraits.
I also liked the portraits of two men digging up (or burying?) treasure. The man on the right is focused on someone or something that is invisible, and raises his hand in warning (or greeting?) The kneeling figure on the left looks delighted at the cut-out blaze emanating from the treasure box before him.
Projections also includes a series of painted hangings which ring the gallery’s outside walls. Translucent outlines of male and female figures float weightlessly across the picture plane, intersecting but not interacting, platonic shadows of idealized humans. They are well executed but lack the specificity and bite of the three-dimensional work.
Rabodzeenko’s continuing confidence in the power of visual art to move us is evident in Projections. His accomplished portrait figures invite visual engagement and convey an air of mystery that will linger in the minds of his audience long after they have left the gallery.
Projections: An Interactive Portrait Project by Andrei Rabodzeenko, is on view at River House Gallery in Toledo, Ohio, until January 7, 2017. For more information about gallery hours go here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Artist Ben Schonberger and retired Detroit Police Sergeant Marty Gaynor make an odd couple. Schonberger is a photographer, a curator and a connoisseur of masculine archetypes. Gaynor is a matter-of -fact man of action cheerfully going about his work, seemingly untroubled (although occasionally irritated) by the subtleties and complexities of his job.
The art exhibit Beautiful Pig is a collaboration between the two men and is on view until September 8 at River House Arts in Toledo. In creating this archive and accompanying book with materials provided by Gaynor, Schonberger says, “I embarked on an image-making process alongside Marty to see if I could understand the realities of identity, spirituality, and empathy.” This carefully curated collection contains many years’ worth of Gaynor’s Polaroids of police co-workers, suspects and crime scenes. There are meticulously mounted notes, police paper work and official forms documenting the day-to-day interactions between the police and the (mostly black) citizens of Detroit.
“Beautiful Pig is not just a story about police work in Detroit during the late twentieth century, but about the whole world of policing,”
Barbara Tannenbaum, Curator of Photography, Cleveland Museum of Art
Throughout the exhibit there is an unavoidable dissonance between the high ideals expressed in the Police Code of Ethics and the brutal facts on the ground of everyday police work. In the ongoing fight against crime in Detroit, it is clear that respect for individual rights is the first casualty. The requirements of police activity are at war with empathy and respect. Many of the images in the archive are shocking in their raw depiction of violence on the street.
Schonberger strives to find common ground with his subject, both as a man and a fellow Jew. He has photographed Gaynor with a prayer shawl over his uniform, next to a neon Star of David, and has added the Hebrew word for gold (also in neon) as a tribute to Gaynor’s post-retirement job as a pawnbroker. He even puts himself in Gaynor’s shoes-literally- posing in a t-shirt with a gun and police style cap.
Schonberger clearly feels great empathy for his collaborator and for the difficulty of police work with its moral ambiguity, routine drudgery and occasional violence. In the end though, I had the feeling that the gulf separating these two men was unbridgeable. Or to quote artist and writer Anouk Kruithof, Beautiful Pig is “a loaded puzzle that cannot be resolved.”
In a week when human folly and violence are on full display, it can be a relief to view our world through the wrong end of a telescope, reminding ourselves that we inhabit only a small and relatively unimportant corner of the cosmos. Artist Eric Zeigler has made this possible and palatable in underlying, a handsomely curated collection of archival pigment prints from sources as diverse as the Hubble Space Telescope and Fermilab’s particle accelerator. The show, which is on view from now through July 30 at River House Gallery in Toledo, Ohio, is an exploration of images made possible by our ever increasing technological means of perception.
In underlying, Zeigler casts his photographer’s curious gaze over the universe, examining everything from a minute and rare instance of subatomic neutrino interaction to a star’s birth and death. Since the artist must rely (mostly) on images gathered from public sources, the essence of his unique work lies in his editing choices, framing, print color and scale. He has captured a few images directly, such as his Meteorite, a slice of which he has photographed. But I’m aware even as I write this that I am making a false distinction, because like all photographers, Zeigler’s considerable talent is in his eye and mind, translated through the technological devices that capture visual information, no matter how rudimentary or advanced.
Zeigler describes his wonder at seeing for the first time in 2015 a clear image of Pluto, previously visible only as a “several pixel-wide blur”. He marvels too, at how our perception of time is altered by the knowledge that many of the images coming through our telescopes are of objects many light years away which, in fact, no longer exist. And in Milky Seas, he shows that even in our own natural world there are mysteries yet to be solved.
Since its widespread introduction in 1839, photography has put documentation of the visible world within reach of just about everyone. Now with technological advances, human perception has gone beyond what we can see and record with the naked eye. And it can be argued that these most recent advances in our ability to quantify the universe are simply a development and elaboration of inventions–the telescope and compound microscope– by Dutch scientists in late 16th and early 17th centuries, during a period in history when observation of the natural world held particular fascination. The creation of lavish botanical encyclopædias recording discoveries in the Western Hemisphere and in Asia, the beginning of scientific illustration and the classification of specimens and even the invention of still life genre painting were all features of this seminal period of humanist thought. Eric Zeigler’s work can be understood as another step on a road already well paved with discovery and invention.
The theme of underlying is, ultimately, that mystery still surrounds us, both near and far. The natural world and the universe beyond it is full of marvels yet to be discovered. And we can take some comfort in the knowledge that the thrill of discovery so intrinsic to human nature is still available to us.
River House Arts, formerly located in a historic building overlooking the Maumee River in Perrysburg, Ohio, has moved to downtown Toledo. The new space (or I should say spaces) are located in the Secor Building, a former luxury hotel at 425 Jefferson. The former Secor Hotel, built in 1908, is also the home of the Toledo Opera and the Registry, an upscale gourmet restaurant. The main gallery on the ground floor features high ceilings and grand baroque-style windows. Gallerist Paula Baldoni says that in addition to providing a larger space to display more ambitious work, River House Arts is now located in a busy urban setting with lively street life.
River House Arts also has a smaller, more intimate space on another floor of the building to accommodate works on paper and smaller artworks.
Artworks by various artists represented by the gallery are displayed in the spacious lobby of the building and throughout the common areas.
The inaugural exhibition is a solo show by Cuban artist Augusto Bordelois. His work is an example of the more ambitious scale and scope of work that will be featured in future shows in the gallery.
The show is entitled Immigrants, Outcasts and Other Heroes. Immigration and war, insecurity and fear, romantic and familial love and the absurdity of the modern age are some of the themes addressed in these colorful and intricate compositions. Mr. Bordelois’ style can called a kind of magic realism, a visual counterpart to the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Filled with symbolism and allegory, the paintings give the viewer plenty to contemplate.
The exhibition will be open April – June 4. Call 419.441.4025 for hours, or email: email@example.com