I recently wrote a review of an exhibit entitled Paint Piles at River House Arts in Toledo, Ohio. You can read the full text describing Natalie Lanese’s solo show of colorful abstractions at newartxaminer.org
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.
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!”
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
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.
All 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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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.
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. In 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.
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.
Wonderland, a frisky selection of imaginative objects and inventive pictures by six of the region’s more talented art players, is on view now through December 2, 2017, at the Walter E. Terhune Gallery in Perrysburg, Ohio. The show’s curator is Brian Carpenter of Contemporary Art Toledo. Wonderland is a kind of artist-created play space for adults who appreciate paradox, irony, humor and originality. Each artist is a skilled practitioner of his/her self-invented game and we are invited to play along.
The terms of engagement are established as we enter the gallery. A set of six small game pieces rests on a pedestal, each invented by one of Wonderland’s artists, for a game as yet to be invented. These diminutive avatars range from an intricately carved figure on horseback to a desultory lump of styrofoam. Though there are, as yet, no rules, no board, no start and no finish, some serious play is clearly about to commence.
Heather Accurso describes herself as “dedicated to the visual language of drawing,” and her draftsmanship is indeed a strong suit, but she has added assemblage to the mix. Handmade miniatures in shadowbox settings now enrich and enlarge her drawn and recurring themes.
In Paramedic, we find a dense composition that combines a narrative of catastrophe with angelic presence. Her masterfully drawn cherub provides the central image in a tiny diorama of disaster. Closer inspection reveals more depth and breadth, as the signs of injury and of medical intervention create a disturbing but intriguing hallucinatory tale of death and ascension.
Adrian Hatfield is an accomplished collagist, cutting and pasting his way to idiosyncratic personal meanings that are more than the sum of their parts. In the diptych Adaptive Radiation and The Morning After he samples and recombines images from art historical sources into baroque scenarios that may suggest the lush before and melancholy after of a one-night stand, or an idyllic Edenic state followed by imagery of environmental spoilage and degradation.
Andrew Kreiger’s small, meticulously constructed and toy-like artworks–or art-like toy works?– draw upon his skills as a maker, as well as his considerable talents as a painter. His opening box construction Van Dyke, Detroit, Facing North/South/East treats us to a miniature panorama of Detroit’s lost pastoral history.
In Momento Mori #1, Sarah Rose Sharp takes us on a virtual walk through the woods, where we discover a blanket upon which a skeleton rests, partly obscured by leaves and by intimations of surrounding trees. The effect is both macabre and lyrical.
Michael McGillis’s contribution to Wonderland is a single, improbably cut-up and re-assembled combination easy chair and chintz-patterned bulldozer. Phantom Limb is a comic yet poignant stand-in for an amputee, gamely holding itself upright in spite of the insult to its structural integrity.
The most mysterious and intriguing contribution to Wonderland is an installation, by Kirsten Lund, of fabric constructs which defy categorization. Lund’s process uses salvaged fabrics and each piece is limited to one individual pattern shape that is then combined and recombined into a range of symmetrical configurations. They pleat, loop, drape, sag and lope across the wall, fantasy costume pieces for an obscure period drama. They clearly reference the human body, but what body–or body part–they relate to remains a mystery.
The artists in Wonderland present us with work that is both serious and playful. It can be thoughtful or silly, but never descends into whimsy. The self-invented games they play are limited only by the structured creative process of each artist. For more information about the Walter E. Terhune Gallery go here.
Fiber artist Dayna Riemland is haunted by the ghosts of a past that is not her own. Born into an exiled ethnic community in Canada, she internalized from an early age the sense of dislocation and loss experienced by her grandparents.
They were Russian Mennonites, a persecuted ethnic German religious sect related to the Dutch-German Anabaptists. The group left West Prussia around 1789 and settled in what is now Ukraine. They thrived in their adopted country, but history overtook them, and after experiencing escalating persecution as the Communist party gained ascendance, they were finally ejected during Stalin’s regime. Fleeing families scattered to regions throughout the world: Germany, Mexico, Bolivia, Belize, and Canada, to name a few, but would never re-unite as a community.
In A Watcher’s Skin, now on view at River House Arts Gallery through November 11, 2017, Riemland, a young artist who has no direct memory of the dislocation and trauma of exile, vicariously re-experiences it as a dream-like story that is both seductive and disquieting. Her sense of her family’s loss of home represents a kind of solastalgia, a term that describes longing for a lost time or place one has never experienced directly and that may not even exist.
The seven artworks that Riemland has created for this exhibit are modest in size and make good use of the crafts of embroidery and needlepoint she learned from her grandmother in childhood. She explores how tradition and its associated formalities and motifs “can be combined with ghosts of a collective history that has become pre-occupied with the past.” She takes fabric remnants– vintage handkerchiefs, gloves, bed sheets and pillowcases (many taken from the household of her grandmother) and labors over their surface to create images that are resonant and uncanny. Riemland’s visual vocabulary, especially her repeated use of the unblinking eye in My Seeing Skin and in Watcher, is reminiscent in mood to the nightmarish but captivating imagery from Pan’s Labyrinth, a film by Guillermo Del Toro. Perhaps not coincidentally, that narrative also tells the story of a child navigating an imagined world at the periphery of adult reality. Riemland likewise seems both disoriented and enchanted by her exiled grandparents’ stories of a lost and distant time and place.
Riemland describes the process of embroidering as an “act that creates a devotional surface.” She begins her compositions with traditional floral and decorative motifs and moves to more fantastic imagery in the center. In Watcher, the largest piece in the show and one which took her almost a year to complete, she begins with a frame of traditional roses and then moves inward to a many-eyed presence that seems to beckon us forward.
In An Inverse Tradition, Riemland inverts a female figure in ethnic costume, literally turning it on its head to make the familiar strange. The upside-down figure might be a visual metaphor for Riemland’s intimate yet distant experience of a vanished family history, one which can no longer be touched or experienced directly, but which haunts her and drives her creative process forward.
Dayna Riemland graduated from the Maine College of Art with an MFA in Studio Art in 2017. She currently lives and works in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, Canada. This is her first solo show.
When was the last time you found yourself in a phone booth? I don’t remember, and I bet you don’t either. These little, closet-like structures used to dot the urban landscape, providing points of tinny contact with far away people and places. The internet and cell phones have changed all that, and now the lowly phone booth is a seldom-seen and even more seldom operated relic of the analog era. But global citizen and Afghan American artist Aman Mojadidi wants you to pick up the phone right now, and reconnect with the outside world via 3 re-furbished and re-purposed phone booths installed in downtown Toledo until October 22.
Born in 1971 to a prominent Afghani family (his uncle is a former president of Afghanistan), Mojadidi grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where he learned to navigate the psychological contradictions and similarities between his family’s traditional Afghani culture and the values of the American south. From his unique cultural vantage point, Mojadidi drew satirical comparisons between the macho culture of the Afghan mujahedeen fighters and American “gangsta” culture in staged photos such as “A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster After a Long Day’s Work (2010) and made pointedly humorous artworks like his fashionable suicide vest, Conflict Chic.
The phone booths Mojadidi recently designed for Once Upon a Place move away from satire and toward a more journalistic approach to the subject of immigration. As part of his Times Square Arts residency, Mojadidi was drawn to the phone booth as a perfect vehicle from which to tell the immigrant story. “I learned that phone booths were being removed from the streets… the idea immediately hit me. The fact that so many people have used these booths in the past… made them a natural way to present new stories.”
He researched the full variety of immigrant experience by studying census records, articles and reports on immigration and then went out into the community to contact immigrants directly in community centers, mosques and temples. There, he admits, his interest was suspect, “… there was a lot of suspicion from them, which added an extra barrier to reaching people. They wanted to know why I was collecting information on immigrants. Many people who spoke with me were illegal and stayed anonymous.” Rather than a scripted interview, Mojadidi’s methods were open-ended. He asked his subjects to tell him anything they wanted to share, such as, “why they left home… [or] why they came to NYC. Was there something unique that happened on the journey?” In the end, he collected over 70 stories of immigrants from 26 countries.
When I visited Once Upon a Place in Promenade Park recently, Mojadidi’s skill in putting together a moving collection of stories was apparent. As I listened to the interviews in the phone booth, I often couldn’t understand the language that was being spoken (I’ll admit here that my Urdu is weak). It gave me a sense, though, of how large and interconnected the world is, and amplified the emotional impact of the interviews. Whether the speaker was a young man carried over the Mexican border by his mom when he was three years old, or a man from Yemen whose attitude about politics was completely changed by 9/11, or a Puerto Rican woman who came to New York to make a change in her life, each story was deeply personal and unique. Or as Mojadidi said in an interview, “Picking up that phone and listening to someone’s voice is an intimate experience; it’s different from hearing someone’s story on the news or through some other medium. In a way, the project just cuts out the politics; the person just tells their story.”
Local arts organizartions sponsoring Once Upon a Place’s Toledo residency include Contemporary Art Toledo, River House Arts, the Arts Commission and the Toledo Museum of Art. Next, Mojadidi’s phone booths are headed for Miami, before returning home to New York. The artist told me that he is working on plans for a European variation of Once Upon a Place for Paris and beyond. He also plans to begin “working on a commissioned project related to notions of Home within the context of conflict, at the Imperial War Museum in London early in 2018.”
When asked about his experience as a visiting artist in Toledo, Mojadidi replied, “I was very touched by the warmth and enthusiasm of folks… both those who helped bring Once Upon a Place there, and … the engagement of students during talks I gave at different Universities.”
This post is reprinted from The Toledo City Paper.
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.