BW Alumni Show: People In Your Neighborhood
A college’s alumni art exhibit—not that of an art school, but of a liberal arts college, with a football team and a whole variety of degrees—might seem to be an insular affair, of interest primarily to that college community. And on the front of thematic cohesion, this kind of show faces an uphill battle: if alumni are the focus, then the exhibit is sure to be as diverse as the school’s whole history of graduating classes.
The Baldwin Wallace alumni show (on view October 27 through November 21 at the school’s Fawick Gallery in Berea) is certainly diverse, in its media, style, and subject matter, in the works of 13 graduates. The message, though, is that graduates of BW are a well-known and active group on the Cleveland art scene–active not only as exhibiting artists, but also as organizers, gallerists, entrepreneurs and educators.
BW’s Fawick Gallery is managed by Rich Cihlar, who most of the Cleveland art scene knows as co-owner of e11even2 Gallery at 78th Street Studios, owner of the Pop Shop framing studio, and formerly Pop Shop Gallery in Lakewood. Cihlar’s pop culture sensibility, combined with ceaseless entrepreneurialism have driven a multitude of ventures well-known in Cleveland, from his gallery itself to several inventive collaborations with Bob Peck, to a cigarette vending machine converted to sell art. Cihlar’s works in this show, like much his familiar output, reference popular culture –in this case sci-fi, anthropomorphic robots. In the case of “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”, the subject humanizes not only in its form—a robot with eyes, nose, mouth ears, a prominent chest and arms—but also in its promise of loyalty. How that reads is up to the viewer: Is it a robot with heart, like the Disney Pixar trash compactor WALL-E, or is it a commentary on the way humans sometimes follow leaders, like blind, unthinking robots?
Cihlar’s colleague, both as BW alum and e11even2 Gallery co-owner, Christina Sadowsky offers a series of sharply focused photo landscapes, printed on metal plates. The images are of the southwest—flowing, barren rock formations, a land bridge, and a sweeping scape with vividly colorful sky. They document the magnificence of the scenery, but also show the power of composition to focus the eye.
Mark Yasenchack keeps a ceramic studio at the ArtCraft Building, where for years he’s been an organizer of open studio events and holiday sales (including this year’s ArtCraft holiday open studio, December 2). Yasenchack is also busy as an educator, teaching classes at ArtHouse, and also through the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning. His works in this show include several in mosaic tile that on first glance might call to mind paintings, dividing up space, creating and resolving compositional challenges. The title of Gee’s Bend, though, reveals another allusion, to traditional quilting, and therefore using the available scraps of material to make a new whole. For painters, the compositional possibilities are infinite, and the challenges wholely invented by the painter. For the quilter, though, there is an element of playing the cards that are dealt: You’ve got to work with what you have, and respond to both the difficulty as well as the possibility. These wear the allusion well.
Ceramic artist Todd Leech recently was part of a text-based exhibit at Artists Archives of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, where he showed examples from his running series of platters: made for exhibit, not for function, those at AAWR served up song lyrics in what he described as a hip-hop influence—sampling fragments across media, re-framing them in a new context, like a good re-mix. The works he showed at Baldwin Wallace are also platters, but emphasize sculptural forms, evocative of coral, or artifacts exhumed from deep seas. The basic plate-form of his Transition Tubes seems to have been consumed by growing branches of coral, or a kind of living crystalline structure. The impression is that you are looking at an object with a past, something transformed by the ravages of time.
Another work, Found Tracks, shares that impression that an enormous amount of time has passed, or some object has been preserved, but in this case it’s created by the inclusion of a couple of metal coils—a thermocoupler and some heating elements—which look like fossils. Seeing these everyday, present-day objects that way calls to mind our own transience: at some point the evidence of our lives now will be found by the archaeologists of the future, fossilized, and based on what they find, they will piece together a story of our lives.
Odds are the most photographed works in this show are Tony Trunzo’s larger than life charcoal drawings of dancing women, mounted on stands, dominating most of a room. Trunzo means to explore “ideal beauty,” and with their energetic lines and graceful poses. These do that. They also put viewers in the position of interacting with them, which plenty of people did intentionally, shooting selfies and posing their friends. Photos of the ways people interact with these would make a compelling series unto itself.