Mention the "Art World" to most people, and it'll conjure images of expansive Chelsea galleries, international art fairs filled with selfie-snapping celebrities and collectors, or the outrageous number of biennials and triennials that have popped up over the years. The fact of the matter is that most of us rarely--except when we're working for somebody else with surplus capital--participate in those glitzy, market-driven contexts. Rather, we're involved with myriad art worlds that might be regional, internet-based, or centered around labor-of-love project spaces run by, and for, artists. The bulk of these parallel worlds function because of an intentional or happenstance social fabric of interpersonal relationships resulting from shared classroom experiences, senses of humor, or geographical practicality. "Networking" itself is a pretty gross word, but I think the vast majority of us on the ground would be quick to point out the value of our own networks. Lately, it's been a curious and enjoyable time watching two individuals from my own network, artists Lydia Rosenberg and Rebecca Steele, represent fractal networks through programming at their relatively new gallery Anytime Dept. in Cincinnati, OH.
Rosenberg, Steele, and I were all students a decade ago at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, OR. Despite having all relocated to different cities at some point after college, we've remained in touch through social media, periodic emails, and making sure to hang out while visiting one another's new towns. When I took a class from New York on a field trip in 2014 to see "Easternsports," a collaborative exhibition by Alex Da Corte, Jayson Musson, and musician Dev Hynes at the Philadelphia ICA, Rosenberg was a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania and joined us for our trip to the museum. Whenever Steele would visit New York, between bouncing around shooting photo projects all over the country, we'd make sure to catch a beer and talk shop. Somewhat recently, both Rosenberg and Steele independently moved to Cincinnati and reconnected over a shared desire to bring artists from their networks into conversation with their new city. They opened Anytime Dept. in the summer of 2017 with a solo exhibition, "standing around waiting to inhale," by Portland artist Derek Tyler Franklin, whom we all knew from college.
To some outsiders, the insular appearance of artistic communities smacks of nepotism. But I'd argue that's hardly the case; rather, artists with similar interests, politics, and shared experiences tend to develop bonds of intimacy and go to great lengths to support and amplify one another's work. Programming one's peer group isn't an exclusionary tactic, it's a reaffirming one. In the United States, there's little economic support for anybody who wants to fill up a room with effectively useless objects that are meant almost entirely to stoke discourse. To fill that void, artists create spaces for one another and foster communities where the audiences are primarily made up of active participants. Increasingly, these spaces are political in nature and explicitly designed to legitimize and give space to marginalized voices. At the same time, other spaces are less specific-by-design and casually--even subconsciously--feature primarily artists with overlapping orbits that result from a variety of factors. The good thing is, there's room for both approaches and each is important.
Throughout the summer and fall after Franklin's solo exhibition, Rosenberg and Steele programmed multiple two-person shows that aimed to put two artists from their respective networks into conversation with one another; a kind of manifest Venn diagram that signaled to the networks rippling out from each artist that they should be looking at those connected to the other. For "All Sounds Concern Me," they tapped University of Pennsylvania alumnus James Maurelle and Pacific Northwest College of Art faculty member and alumnus Jodie Cavalier. Thereafter, "VICIOUS CIRCLE" paired Annie Zverina and Thomas J Gamble (the artist behind Humor and the Abject's INFINITE HESH comics), also alumni of UPenn and PNCA, respectively. For their fall program, they put the aesthetically and formally disparate practices of Brooklyn's Laura Bernstein and Portland's Daniel J Glendening on view for "The Barometric Pressure is All Over the Place." Despite the material differences in their work, that exhibition delivered on its promise to look at "two artists who are working towards a bodied future from a disembodied present" with a stunningly dystopian, tight show. Following that show, they hosted a performance evening featuring Portland artists sidony o'neal and Lu Yim.
It's been an ambitious program thus far for such a young space, especially considering that none of the aforementioned artists are local to Cincinnati. Part of Anytime Dept.'s original charge was a commitment to supporting experimental practices and providing artists from other parts of the country an opportunity to interface with an audience their might not typically reach in-person. Both Rosenberg and Steele are adjunct professors and have paid largely out-of-pocket for most costs associated with the exhibitions, and their staff is all-volunteer. They're quick to give praise to their landlords, who are also artists, for making an experimental gallery possible. Anytime Dept. pays rent, but the owners have a sincere desire to house creative projects in their building and give them a very reasonable monthly rate. The landlords also give them access to an expansive space known as the "ballroom" above the gallery where they're able to host artist dinners, performances, talks, and meetings. Because of the relatively minimal overhead, Rosenberg and Steele aren't overtly concerned with presenting work that will sell. Instead, they're focused on developing a strong platform for predominantly emerging artists who themselves aren't inherently market-focused.
With Cincinnati's lack of a national reputation as an art city, it's worth interrogating why Rosenberg and Steele didn't launch their space first and foremost as a venue for local artists to cut their teeth. Shouldn't the lack of local venues dictate that new spaces prioritize exhibiting the immediate community? It's a fair inquiry, but I'd wager that what they're doing with Anytime Dept. is, by design, creating proof of concept. Instead of acting like locals immediately--despite the fact that Steele was born and raised in Cincinnati--they focused on networks of which they were already a part. As artists themselves, they have a specific set of criteria they look for in work, and when the opportunity to get access to the space presented itself, they moved quickly. By bringing in artists whose work they already believed in, and whose critical and political frameworks they trusted, they quickly set a rigorous tone for their venue.
From the outset though, Rosenberg and Steele have been consistently working collaboratively with what has come to be known as the "Committee," a fluid group of local Cincinnati artists, poets, designers, and academics who have provided them with invaluable guidance. Further, the Committee has organized numerous public programs within Anytime Dept.'s exhibitions. On December 9th and 10th, they're working together on-site to present local and regional presses through the first ever Cincinnati Art Book Fair. Every exhibition at Anytime Dept. also includes an elaborate dinner for the artists where they have the opportunity to meet, and engage in conversation with, the Committee and other Cincinnati residents.
"The last few events and dinners would have been impossible without the Committee's help," Steele told me. "And we owe so much to our five amazing interns."
"Replacing Place" looks at artists whose work derives from a particular location be it physical, cultural or psychological. This group of artists address place as an expanded field where inspiration of a unique site, moment in time, or psychological state evolves, shifts, collapses and spreads into something new. Temporal, spatial, narrative, and physical modifications reshape the work into something in relation to the catalyst site, but different, an echo, offering new meaning in connection to aspiration, memory, longing and desire.
It's a funny twist of fate; Guth was a professor of mine, Rosenberg's, and Steele's at PNCA when we were students together years ago. Now they're the real world venue hosting a show she's put together. While Guth is known for her installation work that often incorporates social practice methodologies, her insistence to us in school that art communities only function if they're effective social fabrics wasn't an attempt to indoctrinate us with relational aesthetics Kool-Aid. Rather, she demonstrated the importance of supportive communities and networks by regularly bringing artists she counted as friends out to Portland to spend time with us. Portland has always had its share of notable artists, but it was profoundly valuable for us to get to meet and have studio visits people like Alix Pearlstein, Reggie Watts, Matt Keegan, and Sara Greenberger Rafferty, many of whom I now count as peers.
"Replacing Place" is less an exercise in social practice than it is one in social praxis. Whereas social practice often feels utopian or theoretical, the endeavoring to make manifest a physical exhibition representative of interpersonal networks feels weighty, concrete. Guth had developed relationships with each of the artists over the years--save for Cincinnati's Amanda Curreri, who was recommended by Rosenberg--through her teaching, exhibitions she'd been in, or casual mentorships.
Guth and Rashawn Griffin from Kansas City, MO were both in the 2008 Whitney Biennial and reconnected while showing together in the exhibition "In Scene" in 2016 at Southern Oregon University's Schneider Museum. The curator of that show, Scott Malbaurn, created for the artists what Guth described as "akin to an art camp where, for three days, we all installed, ate and drank together, and talked." She added, "In many ways, the format of 'Replacing Place' functions similarly; it brings artists together into direct conversation."
When New York artist Beth Campbell did a project for Portland Institute Contemporary Art's 2006 Time-Based Arts Festival, the two hit it off. Guth invited Campbell to be visiting faculty at PNCA the following year and I had the pleasure of taking a course with her. They've remained tight friends ever since.
Nan Curtis is a longtime friend of Guth's in Portland and a de facto mentor of sorts. Guth had hired artist Sammie Cetta, a graduate of PNCA, to assist on a project and became intrigued by her work. And Ruben Garcia Marrufo, who splits his time between Mexicali, Mexio and Portland, is currently Guth's mentee in one of the MFA programs at PNCA.
Guth is represented by Cristin Tierney Gallery in New York City, and its associate director, Candace Moeller, had recently been curating a video screening series. One part of the series was in perfect concert with the themes of the exhibition in Cincinnati, and Moeller agreed to do a screening for the public during the exhibition's opening reception. It featured videos from Claudia Bitran, Nina Katchadourian, Molly Surno, Janet Biggs, and Malia Jensen. Also included that night was a reading by artist and author Samantha Krukowski, whom Rosenberg had introduced to Guth at a College Art Association conference where Krukowski had given Guth a copy of her 2014 book, Playa Dust: Collected Stories from Burning Man. According to Guth, if you give her a book, she'll read it. While not a Burning Man enthusiast herself, she was drawn to the book's diverse voices articulating how utopia-oriented worlds are constructed. Considering the charge of "Replacing Place," it also fit nicely into the framework. This time around, the artist dinner was created by Jared Miller, who employed the themes of the exhibition, presenting what Guth called a "pause that allowed for artists and guests to eat together, talk, and make use of senses other than sight and hearing."
"Guth kept telling us she is not a curator," Rosenberg told me. "But as she steps into that role she is as generous and insightful as ever." Over email, Guth also stressed that she's a visual artist and educator, not a curator. "Replacing Place" certainly looks and feels like an exhibition organized by someone who identifies as an artist; its themes are artist-centric, and the selection of whom to include is rooted in interpersonal relationships formed organically over years instead of a who's-who of art fair trends and magazine covers. For a place like Anytime Dept., it's a logical addition to their growing exhibition history that has actively centered the bonds developed between artists themselves as a central curatorial tenet.
Having made their opening statements to the city of Cincinnati, they're now moving consciously in the direction of incorporating more local artists into their exhibitions program. Following the Cincinnati Art Book Fair, they'll hold a solo exhibition by Cincinatti printmaker and interdisciplinary Terence Hammonds in February. The rest of the 2018 program is still coming together, but it will feature numerous exhibitions including a series of of videos and performances by women-identified artists. By establishing Anytime Dept.'s vision first with the artists they know and trust from their own networks, they've managed to set a high bar for the future. As they and the community in Cincinnati grow a mutual trust, it'll no doubt result in an exciting mixture of local, national, and international artists developing new networks and establishing an important Rust Belt program worth following regardless of where one lives.