Strong Cleveland exhibit shows how FRONT is raising ante on NEO artists
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The dormant storefront gallery at 2731 Prospect Ave. just east of Cleveland State University has sprung back to life temporarily this summer with an excellent show of recent works by four leading Northeast Ohio artists.
On view through August are luminous abstract paintings by Doug Sanderson, Liliane Luneau and Phillip Buntin, plus a series of quietly eloquent minimalist pieces by Paul O’Keeffe that are part sculptures, part paintings.
Sanderson’s paintings, which combine hot, spicy colors with geometric patterns that evoke Asian mandalas or Islamic decorative tiles, are especially noteworthy. They appear to radiate light, like stained glass windows.
Two other things are striking about the show. One is that it’s one of several examples of how the FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, the big, ambitious, region-wide exhibition launched this summer by collector and philanthropist Fred Bidwell, has upped the ante in the local art scene and stimulated other projects.
Sanderson, who organized the Prospect Avenue show, said he wanted to grab some of the attention generated by FRONT.
Also, the Prospect Avenue show evokes the years from 2007 to 2015 when William Busta, the region’s top dealer specializing in local art since 1989, ran his gallery at the same venue.
With 4,250 square feet of south-facing space on a heavily traveled section of Prospect Avenue, and lots of clean, white walls, Busta’s gallery functioned as a virtual museum of Northeast Ohio contemporary art.
Busta has retired from selling art, but he’s still engaged. He participated on the curatorial team that organized the Collective Arts Network Triennial exhibition – another FRONT offshoot - on view in July at the 78th Street Studios in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.
Artist and nonprofit arts administrator Lauren Davies took over the former Busta space in 2015, but closed the gallery last year.
Robert Bostwick, principal of the architecture firm Bostwick Design Partnership, which operates on the upper floor of the two-story Prospect Avenue building, would still like to see the space leased by a gallery.
In the meantime, he said he’s allowing artists to use it on a short-term basis “as long as the use seems compatible and the relationship seems positive.”
He calls his ad hoc art project the Bostwick Design Art Initiative. He asks interested artists to pay for utilities and insurance – not rent - and he allows them to keep 100 percent of money from any sales, unlike conventional galleries, which can retain as much as 50 percent.
Earlier this summer, Bostwick enabled Kathy Lynn Van Duzer to organize a show of her own work plus works by Tony Carroll of Dublin, Ireland; plus Ed Raffel and Gerald Vandevier of Cleveland.
Given its overall quality, the show organized by Sanderson has a thoughtful, cohesive quality that makes it feel as if Busta, who used to represent the artist, had organized it.
The show emphasizes an overall sense of affinity and shared sensibility among the artists.
Luneau’s most successful paintings are in oil and wax on Mylar. They feature calligraphic marks resembling blades of grass scattered amid horizontal lines like those on writing paper.
What makes the paintings remarkable is that Luneau’s calligraphic gestures seemed to have been rubbed or scraped to reveal layers of color.
The blurred edges and excavated quality of her surfaces make the paintings seem like microscope slides in which tiny organisms slip into and out of focus as you turn the dial. The pictorial effects are rich and engaging.
O’Keeffe’s constructions, most of which are wall-mounted, explore the effect of rich, saturated color on the visual weight, density and presence of layered geometric forms.
Rendered in Plexiglass or in steel with visually matte flashe paint, the objects resemble shelves holding cutout geometric shapes that cast shadows on their interiors, a flattened abacus with eccentrically organized beads, or multi-layered sandwiches of color and filtered light.
At their best, the constructions embody an air of confidence and authority, as if they were emissaries from a rarefied realm of logic or parallel plane of existence, imagined by the artist.
Buntin’s paintings at first resemble painted or dripped paint on flat surfaces eroded by the elements after having been left out in the rain, ice and snow. Some paintings resemble rusted metal; others evoke flecks of ice floating on the ocean between icebergs.
On closer inspection, you discover that Buntin’s apparently decaying surfaces are created by hand with minuscule brushstrokes applied in tiny flecks creating the illusion that natural entropy is under way.
Buntin’s ultimate objective is to contrast layers of paint in chromatically austere compositions that jolt the eye with numerous double takes. What looks natural is actually handmade, and what looks flat is actually spatially deep and complex.
Sanderson, who made a serious splash in New York in the 1970s and ’80s before returning to Northeast Ohio, has been painting geometric abstractions for decades. His latest works show an assurance and power consistent with the best work he showed when Busta operated the Prospect Avenue space.
In 2008, I wrote that a show of his “Arcane Image” series at the gallery created “a radiant atmosphere, as if the space had suddenly become charged by a sacred presence.”
That’s equally true of the work he’s showing now in his “Flora prime” “third generation″ or “Lotus” series.
Sanderson has an uncanny ability to create interactions of color with geometric shapes and linear patterns that demonstrate just how profoundly sensitive the human eye can be.
His paintings also convey a sense of inexhaustible joy, as if Sanderson keeps on discovering things that make him glad to be alive. Any artist who can communicate emotions like that is one whose work ought to be seen.
Bostwick Design Art Initiative gallery
What: A group exhibition featuring Doug Sanderson, Liliane Luneau, Phillip Buntin and Paul O’Keeffe.
When: Through August.
Where: 2731 Prospect Ave., Cleveland.
Admission: Free. Go to firstname.lastname@example.org