By the People, For the People, At CSU
Democracy rules every edition of the biennial People’s Art Show in the Galleries at Cleveland State University, an unjuried, un-curated, uncensored display of just about every artistic pursuit on the Cleveland art scene. The 23rd iteration is on view October 26 – December 7.
This year, a couple of interactive works in the show are particularly relevant to democracy, and one is especially timely. Students in Sarah Rutherford’s Graphic Design for Social and Cultural Contexts course created an interactive installation with the intent of engaging voters. It was modeled after “Instagram playgrounds” like the Museum of Ice Cream or The Color Factory. The students created graphic backdrops, including one with the statement, ”I Will Vote” translated into multiple languages to encourage selfie-taking and spread the idea on instagram and other social media platforms.
There are pledge cards, with blanks to fill in so that viewer-voters could write their names, the location of their polling place, and other details to seal the commitment. Graphically they capture the look of political campaigning—bold, trustworthy blues and reds, clear no-nonsense fonts, and not a shred of whimsy to be found. Cheery students from the class were present at the opening to talk about the project. We wish them every success, and whether you saw this exhibit or not, we encourage you to vote.
Another interactive piece did not have a get-out-the-vote agenda, but directly adressed the idea that drives the show, which is that anyone –everyone–can play a role: make art, be an artist, and exhibit their work. Louise Foresman’s invitation to that land of opportunity –literally titled “Everyone Can Be An Artist,” consisted of a panel with a dozen sheets of paper in a matrix, each of which had on it a line drawing. There were skulls, and flowers and Spirograph-ic patterns, and one that challenged the viewers with a statement: “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” Next to the work itself on the wall was attached a glass full of colored pencils with a sign encouraging visitors to “Go Ahead and Draw!” On opening night some artists had accepted the invitation, mostly coloring inside the lines.
The People’s Art Show is always steeped in Cleveland character. Joan Deveney–AKA Joan of Art, creator of the recent We CAN Exhibit at Doubting Thomas Gallery—offered a large-ish acrylic-on-canvas painting of a palate-headed, humanoid figure, the pools of paint reconceived as five eyes, the thumb hole standing in for the mouth, penetrated clean through by a paisley patterned phallus. There were Arabic letters in the background, which Deveney says she got by running a song title through a variety of internet translation programs. The title of the song, by the old Cleveland band The Adults, informs the title of the work: “Translation: Fuck Art, Let’s Dance.” “F.A.L.D.” from the album, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Adults.
Exhibiting something in public in this way is a kind of publishing, and while we are on the subject of Cleveland character, poet Chris Franke used the opportunity to show a collection of his trademark punditry—mostly short poems printed on colored paper, and a display rack of collected volumes, with a sign at the top declaring “Free Verse.” Whether that is a description or a command, we take it to mean he’s giving it away. Franke’s puns are merciless: “The Venezuelan wing of the Democratic party . . .”? – Gee! Oh: Pee! “ But he is also a maker of unquestionable grace: “O Listen, moon, / soft as an eyewink, / the tree of night trembling, / leaf and star / you rap to my heart / in original syntax / and pump to the brain / in a new lovesong / now blue sky pigeons’ broken window.” . . . (from “Too Old to Hope for Utopia”)
Some of the participants in the show have never exhibited before, like Sean Wheeler, who has been painting in a studio at Soulcraft Woodworking, in the Hamilton Collaborative building, which is now home to Ingenuity. Wheeler is new to exhibiting, but says he is “a couple hundred [paintings] in” as he pursues the practice. His large, carefree abstracted figure drew admiration from CSU Gallery director Robert Thurmer. Matt O’Reilly, maybe best known for pen and ink drawings like those in his solo show at the former Canopy gallery, showed a glossy swirl of mixed media abstraction in shades of flesh, white, black and blue, called “February.”
Historically one of the great things about this show is that accomplished artists who are commonly seen in solo shows but clearly unafraid to be seen in an unjuried context will bring their work too. So we were happy to see paintings by John Carlson (who is represented by HEDGE Gallery and recently had a solo show at the Massillon Museum) and retired CSU professor Ken Nevadomi, a photo by Cleveland Print Room proprietor Shari Wilkins (who currently has a show with Laura Bidwell at the Massillon Museum), a print by Creative Fusion artist Dale Goode, and many others.
Gallery director Robert Thurmer says there are about 350 artists with work in the show, which means you probably know someone whose art is included. Here’s an idea: Go to the gallery on Tuesday, right after you vote.