Recycled wood and light projection constructions at Cincinnati’s Weston Gallery
By Jud Yalkut
Photo: “Not Just a Bench” by Robert Fry on display at the Weston Gallery in Cincinnati through June 2
Three intriguing breakthrough exhibitions share the spaces of the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery in Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center at 650 Walnut St. through Sunday, June 2. A film installation exploring the changing industrial landscape of the Midwest by Wright State University (WSU) Motion Pictures Coordinator Russell Johnson is accompanied by minimalistic light projection sculptures by Cleveland artist Kathryn Kuntz, and preluded in the street level gallery spaced by elegant wooden sculptural formations fashioned from reusable natural materials by Robert Fry from Covington, Ky.
Russell Johnson, a native of Ogden, Utah who interned at the June Laboratory of Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Institute in 1981, has been a longtime professor of filmmaking at WSU since 1990 and a recipient of five Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowships from 1985 to 2001. His earlier association with the Weston Art Gallery began with the presentation of his imagist film “Necropolis” in 1997 and his continuing role as founder and lead instructor for the annual “Families Create” Children’s
In 2001, three weeks after 9/11, Johnson started work on what was to be a conventional documentary on globalization starting with interviews in Washington, D.C., a project which transmuted through his own creative evolution into the installation piece called “American Pacemaker” now in the lower Weston rear gallery space. “American Pacemaker” includes portions of an interview preserved from the above aborted project with Joe Enderle, the owner-operator of a machine shop in the Northside section of Cincinnati, juxtaposed against footage of workers using the shop’s large metal lathe, made in the 1940s by The American Tool Works Company. This actual “American Pacemaker” machine, weighing about 5,000 pounds, is displayed as an “almost art deco” object in the same darkened gallery.
Based on his observations of the metamorphosis of the Ohio farming landscape into barren warehouse and retail outlets over the years, Johnson felt it necessary to come to terms with the “stark physical reality” of the profound changes in the economy and standing of the Midwest. “I consider this piece to be a documentary film exploded into its component elements,” Johnson said, with multiple screens allowing “the spatial structuring of images and of the viewer’s experience” fusing “familiar imagery and verbal rhetoric.”
The deconstructed slow pans in the final darkened gallery is a tripartite panorama drawn from four locations including: an unused distribution warehouse north of Cincinnati with row after row of closed shipping docks; the former machine shop in Northside; the decaying brick wall of an abandoned Reading, Ohio factory; and a double-layered pan revealing the destruction of old industrial buildings being hosed down to restrain dust contamination. There is a powerful observational penetration effected by this non-linear presentation of unavoidable facts in the progressive and continual visual loops which unfold before the spectator’s eyes in Johnsons’s monumental “American Pacemaker.”
In his “Redux” suite of mainly wooden scripture/structures, Robert Fry incorporates other contrasting materials like rope, stone, paint and wires to create large-scale pieces which effectively contrast the street gallery’s high ceilings and architectural ambiance. A self-employed artist and fabricator and product of Northern Kentucky University, Fry works in his second Weston assay to produce “complex interactions of gravity, control and positive and negative space” produced with “primarily abandoned and purposed wood.” Thus, like Johnson in his structural essay, he references the refurbished possibilities of the detritus of American industrial society.
“Each piece is hand carved and machined … into custom-made but mass-produced” dissimilar pieces which are composed of wood “recycled from old buildings and yards, fallen trees, floor joists, etc.” and even wood recycled from previous sculptures. Fry exults in the open ambiguity his pieces instill and confronts the viewer with monumentality in such works as the tall triangular wall of metal and cherry wood in “Don‘t Fence Me In,” the carefully fashioned uneven wooden tower on metal casters of “Neo-Henge” and the ethereally framed amalgam of soaring wood, metal and paint of “Into the Wild” (all 2013). Other pieces approach the human scale while still defying functionality like: the multi-legged ash and walnut wood “Not Just a Bench” (2011) and the double accumulated legs of “Sit at the Table” (2013), as well the blue pedestal-mounted triangular elongated and mysterious “Untitled” (2013).
Also employing wood, but in minimalistic terms referencing the shapes of Sol Lewitt and the color theories of Josef Albers, and combined with color-filtered halogen theater lights to produce positive and negative shapes and complementary colors, are the light projective works by the young Cleveland artist Kathryn Kuntz. A graduate of the University of Dayton with a masters from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Kuntz calls her show “Symbiotic Balance” based on the psychology of color.
Kuntz’s pieces are effectively installations exploring “the symbiotic relationship of complementary colors,” and she accompanies her glowing hypnotic configurations with earthy poetic notations. An open triangle in a blue/indigo trapezoid of light occasions, “If the sun were cool instead of warm this is what it would feel like, I think”; a wooden trapezoid floating within a larger trapezoid of blue light brings forth “In here the world is violet, bright, but not sunny”; and a warm pink oblique parallelogram of light encloses an inverted L-shaped wooden shelf with a pronounced shadow extemporized as “As I stand my phone slips off my lap and hits the floor with more noise than I care for this early.”
The Weston Art Gallery is located at 650 Walnut Ave. in downtown Cincinnati. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and noon-5 p.m. on Sunday. Open late on Procter & Gamble performance evenings at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. For more information, call 513.977.4165 or visit westonartgallery.com.
Reach DCP visual art critic Jud Yalkut at JudYalkut@DaytonCityPaper.com.