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Wex on Wex

Visit the Wexner Center on any given day and you’re likely to encounter something you’ve never seen before. It’s a hive of creativity, a “laboratory,” as the institution’s benefactor Leslie H. Wexner prefers to call it, for both the Ohio State University and the city of Columbus at large. Much like the priceless pieces of [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Visit the Wexner Center on any given day and you’re likely to encounter something you’ve never seen before. It’s a hive of creativity, a “laboratory,” as the institution’s benefactor Leslie H. Wexner prefers to call it, for both the Ohio State University and the city of Columbus at large.

Much like the priceless pieces of art Mr. Wexner has been collecting since the early ’70s, the center is “one of a kind.” Just within the last 12 months – with exhibits showcasing modern Brazilian art to the warped comics of Daniel Clowes – the space has proven to be a beacon for contemporary art not just in the Midwest, but globally.

So how does the Wex choose to celebrate 25 years? How do they plan to top heralded shows of the past, which have included Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, and Julie Taymor? Well, beyond the many performances, concerts, and screenings planned this season (see our Fall Arts Guide), they’ve gone full circle and asked Mr. Wexner and wife Abigail for a public view of the master works they’ve accumulated over the years.

Transfigurations: Modern Masters from the Wexner Family Collection is just that: a detailed survey of modern art’s 20th century turning point culled completely from a collection which has, up until now, only hung from the walls of the Wexners’ New Albany estate. Curated by Robert Storr, current dean of art at Yale and a former curator at the MOMA, the exhibit will focus intently on Mr. Wexner’s love of three artists in particular – Picasso, Giacometti, and Dubuffet – but will also feature a smattering of other heavy-hitters from the 20th century, with the likes of Edgar Degas and Willem De Kooning. It’s truly unlike anything the Wex has been a part of before.

I recently got to speak with the Wexners about how they’ve amassed such an unparalleled collection and why it’s taken until now for them to share it with the world.

I recently read an interview in the Wall Street Journal where you recall the early ’70s and discovering that people lived with “significant” works of art. So I’m curious to know how the two of you decide what goes where? Do you have space in your home allotted just for viewing or do you purchase pieces with a particular place in mind?

Abigail Wexner: Never. Part of that is, if a piece is acquired, having to think about where it will go, but I think that would be a funny way to approach it – buying something to fill a particular space.

Leslie H. Wexner: There are collectors who have hundreds of objects – massive collections in warehouses and they really just like to collect. There are different styles of collecting. Our style is that we like to live with it and see the things. These are pieces that start discussions. Once a year, we walk the house and decide if we should move something here or there. For us, collecting is very personal.

When you first started collecting, it sounds like you were interested in the New York school of abstraction, with Rothko and Kline, and then some cubism and surrealism. How did you come to focus on the three artists – Picasso, Dubuffet, and Giacometti – who are prominent in this exhibition?

LHW: It began purely by accident. During the time I was interested in abstract expressionism and the New York school, going to shows and visiting dealers. I was at a Chicago art fair and saw a Picasso drawing. It didn’t fit into what I was collecting; it wasn’t what I was looking for, but it haunted me. Three days later, I went back to look at it and there was something about it that forced me to buy it. Before long, I had two Picassos, and it started to make more sense in my mind. I became really interested in just these two pieces, while I was bored with 10 others that I had. I guess there’s an open-mindedness to collecting. You have to go with the flow…your tastes change. It was the same with Giacometti.

What prompted your decision to show your collection at the Wexner Center? Have you loaned out parts of your collection in the past?

AW: We’ve done a lot of loaning of individuals pieces over the years to collections around the world, but we’ve never really thought about the collection as a whole. I don’t think Les ever really thought of it as an important collection because it happened over time. That was never the goal. We never set out to create an important collection. It just kind of happened. There was a certain modesty about seeing this as something that people would be interested to see, or go out of their way to see. That changed in recent years. I was the one pushing that this would be worthwhile and a great thing for the university, not just for its access to the students but also a larger community. I had to convince Les to do it, but once we brought in some outside experts to tell us that this collection was unparalleled, we knew it was very much worth sharing. It was never out of selfishness that we haven’t shared this until now, it was more not believing it was a lot to see.

Are there any contemporary artists that you’re particularly fond of these days?

AW: Susan Rothenberg’s work, her “Horses” in particular, are part of the collection. I love her work and love that series.

Can we ever find you at Gallery Hop purchasing any local art?

AW: No, not usually.

This is all part of the Wexner Center’s 25th Anniversary. How do you think the Wexner has evolved and progressed since the museum first opened?

LHW: When it first opened, I don’t think the center had an idea of what it wanted to be. Initially it was just a facility. The notion of showcasing contemporary artists, which they do well, the notion of an international advisory board, with initiatives that show collaboration with places like South America and Africa, none of that was part of the original ambition. Now though it has viewers and participants from all over the world. When I think of the arts center I think of creativity, openness, energy, and democracy. It’s a model for every other college and university.

Transfigurations: Modern Masters from Wexner Family Collection opens September 21st. Visit www.wexarts.org for more information.

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Arts & Culture

How Bazaar: Popup arts fest shines a light on local creatives

Mike Thomas

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While cultivating a newfound sense of personal fulfillment might be as simple as picking up a paint brush or instrument, earning a living through your art is a more complicated prospect. As longtime friends, collaborators, and Columbus art-scene hustlers Dustin Bennett and Zak Biggard will tell you, making it as an artist sometimes comes down to who you know.

Having met years ago as coworkers at a local printmaking shop, Bennett and Biggard have gone on to individual success with their own creative design firms. For Bennett, part of this work entails curating the art displayed at Clintonville’s Global Gallery, a cafe and art space that is committed to promoting fair trade handcrafted products from around the world.

When an exhibition Bennett was planning for the space fell through, he reached out to Biggard to fill the vacancy with his work. The resulting show was a hit, with Biggard selling several pieces in one of Global Gallery’s most successful exhibitions to date.

Biggard and Bennett outside of Global Gallery (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

His reputation with the venue established, Biggard approached Amy Palmer, Global Gallery’s manager, with an idea for a large-scale show. She gave him the thumbs up, and Biggard again partnered with Bennett to help bring his vision to light. The result is a show spanning three weekends in the month of August that the duo have dubbed Bazaar Ritual.

“The idea was a bazaar, this sort of Middle-Eastern marketplace where you walk in and it’s just a feast for the senses,” says Biggard. “All of these different sights, sounds, smells—everything packed together.”

As mutually beneficial as their collaborations had been, the Bennett and Biggard hope to open the doors of opportunity wide to other artists. Through this new exhibition/festival, the two aim to shed a light on creators who may not know how to navigate the sometimes complicated process of getting work into a conventional art show.

“Most of these people have never been involved in the gallery scene or never been able to show their work off,” Biggard explains. “They are just so excited to be a part of something, and the stuff I’ve been seeing from people, I just can't wait to have everything together in one place.”

When the exhibitors do come together for the popup-style event on August 3rd, 17th, and 31st, they will bring with them works across a diverse range of media.

“We’ve got people who make jewelry, clothing, glass blowers, painters and performance artists,” says Biggard. “It’s really the diversity of the work that’s the theme.”

As diverse as the work on display in the show will be, the exhibitors themselves hail from various disparate walks of life—everyone from nurses to dog walkers, printmakers to salespeople, as Bennett explains. In addition to the work shown during the recurring weekend events, each artist in Bazaar Ritual will have the opportunity to display one piece in Global Gallery throughout the month of August. Artists will keep 100% of the proceeds sold throughout the month and during the weekend events.

https://www.instagram.com/p/By0yi8xhuPE/

Along with providing a platform, the Bennett and Biggard hope that Bazaar Ritual will serve as a networking hub where creatives can meet and form collaborations of their own. Response from artists interested in taking part has already been building organically, with those involved telling their friends, those friends bringing more friends, and so on.

In addition to the prospect of hanging out with artists and perusing the exhibitions, the organizers of Bazaar Ritual have a number of surprises in store for attendees. Food trucks will be on hand, as well as live local music on Global Gallery’s spacious patio.

Though Bennett and Bigard are working diligently to bring this fledgling event to fruition, the two seem calm in the lead up to the show. Their artist-first approach lends a communal feel to the event, with creatives joining forces to put on an organized yet laid-back experience that shirks the corporate mold of some traditional gallery settings.

“We’re trying to do what art is meant to do and bring people together,” says Bennett. “We’re trying to bring together as many friends and strangers as we can—motleys and misfits alike.”

Global Gallery is located at 3535 N High St, in Clintonville. You can visit Bazaar Ritual there from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM on the 3rd, the 17th, and the 31st of August. For more information, check out @bazaarritual on Instagram.

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Arts & Culture

Arts Fest Preview: Kate Morgan, 2D mixed media artist

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Kate Morgan began developing her ghostly, layered two-dimensional portraits after going back to school at the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2005. She already had some background in visual arts through her work in fashion and commercial photography, so the transition to drawing and painting was organic.

Morgan’s textured collages are inspired by folklore, mythology and a variety of artistic periods — especially Byzantine art. The 2011 Columbus Arts Festival Emerging Artist alum and 2019 exhibiting artist welcomes a wide array of complex themes into her pieces — including symbolic, cultural, historical and spiritual themes — while utilizing layers of vintage paper and original drawings to create visual depth and a sense of mystery.

Her pieces are purposely vague, leaning toward more minimalistic ideas to allow for wider interpretation by audiences. Largely her art depicts the female form, with as many layers and stories to tell as that of every human being. This is done with an eclectic assortment of materials — including sheet music, German Biblical pages, newspaper and maps — to add detail in both a topical and textural sense.

And yet, Morgan still continues to look for a challenge. From venturing away from her familiar blue hues to exploring different mediums like ceramics, her work knows no creative limits.

Morgan has exhibited at the Columbus Arts Festival nearly every year since 2011. She has gone on to win two jurors’ choice awards in the 2D category at the Columbus Arts Festival, as well as sell and have work juried at other major festivals across the country. In Columbus, her work can be seen as part of the Columbus Makes Art and Donatos Pizza collaborative mural “Every Piece Is Important” at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Morgan has a BFA from CCAD and currently works out of her Franklinton studio in Columbus. Experience this stunning work first hand when you visit her at booth M572 on the Main Street Bridge during the Columbus Arts Festival from June 7-9 at the downtown riverfront.

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Arts & Culture

Be Square: Changes coming to arts community at 400 W Rich

Mike Thomas

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If you haven't visited the thriving arts community at 400 West Rich street in awhile, you might be surprised to see how much things have changed. Now, the minds behind the city's hub for the arts are changing things up to better reflect the area's evolution.

400 Square is the new collective moniker for the array of concepts that currently occupy the buildings on the 400 block of Rich street in Franklinton. The rebrand seeks to unify the community of artistic innovators who call the area developed by Urban Smart Growth their creative home.

Promo art for 400 Square by Anthony Damico

Spaces encompassed in the rebrand include Strongwater, The Vanderelli Room, and Chromedge Studios, and of course, the studios at 400 W. Rich. While the name may be changing, the group remains committed to providing and sustaining a thriving hub for creatives through education, resources, and entertainment opportunities in the area.

With the launch of 400 Square, Urban Smart Growth Director of Operations Seth Stout has led his team to develop new offerings for each of the growing spaces. Food and Beverage Director Lauren Conrath and Events Director Molly Blundred have taken the lead with changes to the Strongwater brand, while Community Director Stephanie McGlone and Art Director AJ Vanderelli are facilitating programming for all ages and abilities on the artist side.

Through all of the changes on the way, the staff at 400 Square are committed to bringing the public the same high quality of workshops, events, exhibitions, and more that have always been part of their unique creative community.

Stay tuned for more info—the new 400 Square officially rolls out during the weekend of Columbus Arts Fest 2019, June 7-9.

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