Sunday, February 2, 2003

Carnegie shrugs off the 'Truth'; art lies in mud


Visual art

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's hard to say which is the more potent image: The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center percolating with the congestion of an opening night, or the 8-foot-high Warren Hall sculpture wallowing on its side in a mound of mud near the entrance.

The exhibition, Figures, through Feb. 14 features the work of nine local artists and is a fine show featuring excellent work by Susan Klahr, Matthew Stacy and Helen Burden.

But the looming silhouette of the beached sculpture is a grotesque, graphic comment on our attitude toward public art.

"The wind blew it over (nine months ago), so we left it," says Carnegie gallery director Bill Seitz of the Cor-ten steel abstract. "We felt the expense to reinstall was money we didn't have. Secondly, we felt it wasn't in its natural environment. It should be out in the country where you can walk around it and examine it on all sides."

"Where Does Truth Lie?" placed before the Carnegie about 25 years ago, is part of an initiative by the Smithsonian Institute's Museum of American History to save urban sculpture. A joint project with the National Park Service and coordinated locally by the Kentucky Arts Council, Save Outdoor Sculpture! has registered pieces as diverse as Alexander Calder's painted steel abstract "The Red Feather" that stands on the steps of the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville to a relief of Abraham Lincoln carved on a boulder in Owsley County by an unknown artist.

"A major goal of the Kentucky chapter is to increase community awareness and responsibility regarding these works," reads the arts council's Web site. "A source of community pride and identity, outdoor sculpture is an important expression of our art and culture, and is the most readily accessible form of public art."

Not in Covington. Here "Truth" is stuck in the mud.

Word of the sculpture made its way to Jennifer Weber, executive director of the foundation for Covington's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

"We heard the center's future plans did not include the sculpture," she says. "We thought the grassy area in front of the cathedral on 12th Street would make a good home, so we said we would take the piece if we could find the money to move it."

Although Weber was able to find a company to donate time and equipment to trucking "Truth" from Scott Boulevard to 12th Street, she hasn't been able to raise the $4,000 needed to pour a foundation, conduct a ground survey or rent a crane to mount the piece in its new home. Further complicating the fate of "Truth" is the shadow of 12th Street expansion.

And so "Truth" falters. When asked why "Truth" lies rather than being restored until a new home is secured, Carnegie director Mary Anne Wehrend says, "The board decided not to do that."

Local artist Aileen May, who has filed suit against the Carnegie for the alleged destruction of a mosaic she created with at-risk kids through the Diversion Program, is appalled by the continued neglect of the sculpture:

"The blatant disregard for the value and significance of the art by those who were entrusted with its safeguarding is a major betrayal to Mr. Hall.... This is not a message to be sending to the community about public art."

Modern art education: The final hearing to decide the fate of"The Crystalline Tower," a proposed sculpture by Miami University professor Susan Ewing and Czech art star Vratislav Novak for the Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park, is set for Feb. 10.

In November, the park board's Willie F. Carden Jr. agreed to a stay of execution for the public art project that won an international competition held by his department more than a year ago, pending the submission of architectural plans.

In a memo to the board prior to the November meeting, Carden expressed his intent to kill the project and redirect the majority of the $200,000 commission to correcting a bad concrete pour. But local artists and educators spoke up on the importance of public art and the importance of the city living up to its commitment.

What an education this meeting might have provided for Cincinnati art students. Had they attended they would have learned that artists can win an international arts competition only to find their project (and money) in jeopardy and that the city's concern was bird droppings and graffiti. They would have seen that a single mom and artist was willing to stand up for what she believes even if it means taking on city hall, and they would have heard a local business owner pledge $50,000 toward making "The Crystalline Tower" a reality.

What they wouldn't have seen are the heads of local museums who were part of the committee that judged the parks board's contest, defending the work they selected for construction.

At the same time, imagine the powerful statement the students would have made simply by their number and presence at that meeting. They would have learned how they may directly impact the future of public art projects in the city.

They'll have another chance on Feb. 10.

Young Yecks: For the past four years, Miami University has held a $10,000 Young Painters Competition, which has identified some of the most interesting twentysomething talent working around the country. Sponsored by William and Dorothy Yeck and coordinated by Ann Murakishi, the contest also underwrites a one-person show of the previous year's winner.

The one-man show by last year's winner, Chicago painter Jared Joslin, in the Hiestand's northern gallery is a series of acrylic narratives of identical twin sisters who share a psychic intertwining.

This year's winners are Chicago painter Scott Anderson, first place, and New Yorker Nola Romano, second place. The show closes Monday.

E-mail mbauer@enquirer.com




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