Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin pay tribute to the Folk Blues masters they bonded over on ‘Downey to Lubbock’

Gilmore talks about his early creative and professional development and his Alvin collaboration ahead of the duo’s show Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Southgate House Revival

STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT /SEPT. 4, 2018

MUSIC10905Dave Alvin(left)And Jimmie Dale Gilmore Photo Tim Reese PhotographyaveAlvin (left) and Jimmie Dale GilmorePHOTO: TIM REESE PHOTOGRAPHY

This was an unconventional interview with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, to say the least. When we connected via phone, he was in a physical rehab center in Lubbock, Texas to visit his 91-year-old mother, Mary, who was recovering from a broken hip. Our talk was interrupted several times so he could say something to encourage her, or because doctors and a speech therapist came in to check on her progress and talk to him. For the final portion of the interview, Gilmore was reached in a Lubbock Best Buy, where he had gone to get a charger for his much-used cell phone.

Through it all, the Grammy-nominated Gilmore remained upbeat and enthusiastic about his ongoing tour with Dave Alvin, the new album that accompanies it and his love of music. A native of Lubbock in the flatlands of West Texas, he has successfully applied his distinctly gentle, unusually wavering voice to Country, Blues, Folk and Rock long before there was a name — Americana — for his style. Before that term was coined, you could call just him — as he sings on the new album’s rumbling title song, “Downey to Lubbock” — “a hippie Country singer.”

He still is just that, actually, his long flowing hair now gray and white.

“It really is a tongue-in-cheek thing, because the word ‘hippie’ to me was meant to denigrate anybody who acted weird,” he says. “It came to be a euphemism for anybody not a complete conformist. It always has kind of irked me, but at the same time it did come to refer to the people I identified with. I was particularly strange for a Country singer.”

Gilmore and Alvin — the Grammy-winning Americana singer/songwriter and sizzling guitarist known for being a co-founder of the 1980s band The Blasters — got the idea for the album when touring together for a few 2017 dates in the Southwest.


“We both assumed it would be a song swap, but immediately we discovered we knew a bunch of stuff (to play) together,” Gilmore says. “Very quickly, we started doing every show together. I’d play rhythm guitar and he’d play lead. And Dave got me back into playing harmonica, which I hadn’t done in 30 years.”

The two realized they had a shared history. Both used to attend concerts at Los Angeles’ Ash Grove music club, which lasted from 1958-73 and presented such Folk and Blues masters as Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Bukka White. Alvin was raised in Downey, Calif., so it’s understandable that he would hang out in nearby L.A. But how did a quintessential Texas flatlander get there?

“I figured with the kind of music I was into, that (California) was the place for it,” he explains. “I was already married and with a baby daughter when we moved out in 1965, and that was really the heyday of Folk Blues. That’s when I started making music on my own. My first professional gig was in San Diego while I was living in Los Angeles. Back then, I played every Saturday night for a period. I think I made about $16, but it was big time to me.”

Downey to Lubbock, which the two co-produced in a studio with assisting musicians, reflects their shared love for the artists they saw there — or would have wanted to. They do Brownie and Ruth McGhee’s “Walk On,” Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Buddy Brown’s Blues” and a 1928 classic by Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band, “Stealin’, Stealin.’” There are also songs by more recent Folk/Country troubadours who have passed on — Steve Young’s “Silverlake,” John Stewart’s “July, You’re a Woman” and Chris Gaffney’s “The Gardens.”

Additionally, Gilmore sings a raucous tune from the days when high-adrenaline R&B was just beginning to turn into Rock & Roll, Lloyd Price’s 1952 “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”

“That’s New Orleans music; that could be considered one of the first Rock & Roll songs,” Gilmore says. “Doing it with Dave, I have the feeling we got the original feeling of it along with a modern treatment.”

There are also two songs that have quite a bite — “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” Woody Guthrie and Martin Hoffman’s protest song about Mexican migrant workers who die in a plane crash while being sent home from the U.S., and The Youngbloods’ 1969 Folk Rock hit “Get Together,” a wistfully hopeful look ahead to better, more peaceful times than the tumultuous 1960s. Gilmore sings the lead on both songs.

“Dave introduces those by saying they are both timeless and timely,” Gilmore says.

Gilmore has long been performing the oft-recorded “Deportee” — he first heard Joan Baez do it. “When we were doing this recording, Dave said he’d (first) listened to about 100 recordings of it, and then he said, ‘Wait a minute, Jimmie already has his own take on it, we’ll just do it the way he does it.’ ”


The pair has been closing their shows with “Get Together.” A longtime fan, Gilmore believes Youngbloods lead singer Jesse Colin Young sang it beautifully.

“The meaning of the song is so apropos to these times,” he says. “And I love music that’s able to reflect that.”

While Gilmore has had a successful solo recording career, he is especially highly regarded for being a member, with fellow Texas songwriters Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, of the proto-Americana band The Flatlanders, which recorded an obscure and virtually unreleased — but very prescient — 1972 album. The band didn’t last long as a going concern. But as their solo careers progressed, Rounder Records re-released the album in 1991 under the name More a Legend than a Band. Since 2002, The Flatlanders have released three albums of new recordings, and they tour together occasionally.

The last Flatlanders’ album of new material came out in 2009, so they once again can be considered more a legend than a band. But maybe not for much longer.

“We still do the one-off concerts,” Gilmore says. “And we’ve already started talking about doing another project. With us, starting to talk about it means it’s still several years down the road. But we’re still all best friends.”


Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Dave Alvin perform Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Southgate House Revival. Tickets/more info: southgatehouse.com.

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Cincinnati Unites to Celebrate Music Institution King Records’ Crucial Legacy while also Considering its Future Potential

September marks the sixth-annual King Records Month and the label’s 75th anniversary

By STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / AUG 21, 2018 
 

Cover0822King Records Building HB2The King Records building in EvanstonPHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER

It may not be as big an event as BLINK Cincinnati or Oktoberfest yet, but the annual King Records Month is rapidly becoming a genuine festival. In fact, in its sixth year it can no longer even be contained in a single month, as the events are becoming as numerous as the number of hit recordings made by King’s greatest star, James Brown, or the number of classic songs first recorded by King artists — like Little Willie John’s 1956 version of “Fever,” later covered successfully by Peggy Lee.

King Records Month is supposed to occur in September — it was September 1943 when King founder and Cincinnati native Syd Nathan recorded the first songs by Country singers Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis to be released by his new record company, which went on to be a pioneer in the development of Rock & Roll by bringing Country and R&B together. King was based on Brewster Avenue in Evanston, in buildings still  Cover0822King Records Building HB5King Records markerPHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER

there but not in good condition.

This year the celebrating of the “month” starts early — next Saturday in fact, with the first Celebrate the King: The Gala, a ticketed event at Over-the-Rhine’s Memorial Hall with special guests, live music and the presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards to key figures in King’s history: the late Henry Glover, an A&R executive and producer who was an early black executive in the recording industry, plus important King musicians Bootsy Collins, Philip Paul and Otis Williams. The design company We Have Become Vikings is organizing the event; its co-founder Jason Snell did some King-related design work for projections on the exterior wall of downtown’s St. Xavier Church during 2017’s massively successful BLINK Cincinnati.

“The idea for the gala started over beers with two people active in (the King Studios project),” Snell says. “I’d just be sitting there and go, ‘What? That happened? No.’ Just being a fan of the music coming out of here and not really knowing a tenth of what hap King0822Bootsy Collins Photo We Have Become VikingsA King Records poster honoring Bootsy CollinsART: WE HAVE BECOME VIKINGS

happened… it gives me goosebumps.”

King Records Month activities also continue well past September with two high-profile events. On Oct. 25, the Cincinnati Preservation Association is bringing in Terry Stewart — the former director of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — to speak at its 23rd Annual Fall Forum Luncheon on the importance of preserving King’s legacy.

At CityBeat’s 2008 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards’ tribute to King, Stewart came to town and famously said at the event, “There’s not a more important piece of real estate in musical history than the building over there on Brewster. If you folks don’t remember and preserve it, shame on you.”

At the urging of board member Margaret Valentine, Cincinnati Preservation decided to focus this year’s lecture on King, a break from broader topics of the recent past.

After that, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park debuts the long-awaited world premiere of KJ Sanchez’s play, Cincinnati King, on Nov. 3, which has been in development for five years as she researched the label’s history and its impact on the community. (The play runs at the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse Theatre through Dec. 23.)

September itself is packed with programming, from a serious panel discussion Sept. 5 at the Mercantile Library on Syd Nathan’s place in music history to the goofy fun of “The World’s Largest Twist Dance” on Sept. 7 at Great American Ball Park, following the end of a Cincinnati Reds’ game and before fireworks. King artist Hank Ballard had the first recording of “The Twist” in 1959, although it wasn’t until Chubby Checker covered it in 1960 that it became a massive hit and enduring pop culture touchstone. (See here for more events happening during King Records Month and beyond.)

Structural Security

King Recording1966Retouched Color(1)A retouched 1966 photo of the King Records studio in EvanstonPHOTO: PROVIDED

All this is remarkable, when you consider that King Records lost its founder way back in 1968, when Nathan died, closed its Cincinnati studio/offices on Brewster in 1971 and essentially disappeared from the city’s consciousness after a Nashville company bought its assets. It’s been a long, slow process to make Cincinnatians aware.

But neither the increase in the breadth and duration of events nor the easy peg of a 75-year anniversary is the only reason why this year’s annual King Records celebration/observation is so much bigger than the past five.

In April, Cincinnati City Council approved a land swap with the existing owner of the former studio property in Evanston, who had been threatening demolition. The city had made the space a historic landmark in 2015. The transaction was completed this summer, and the city now owns King’s old studio/office at 1532-36 Brewster Ave. That means that the owners of King Records’ home are the citizens of Cincinnati, and they can now begin to plan for using the site to honor the past and possibly play a part in the community’s future. (Another part of the King property, 1538-40 Brewster, which held some of the manufacturing facilities such as record pressing, is still in private hands.)

“It is now an important public asset,” says Greg Koehler, economic development supervisor with the city. “We just hit this milestone of finally getting control over the original recording studio. Now we can talk seriously about getting this big project to happen. It’s a big lift — like a small-scale version of Music Hall or Union Terminal.”

Elliott Ruther, a co-founder of the nonprofit Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation that advocated for saving the building, says, “Here’s a truly significant spot where culture was created that had an impact on the world.”

People involved in King preservation efforts say that it isn’t just its contribution to American music that merits its remembrance. Owner Nathan was way ahead of the rest of society in running an integrated business. As Darren Blase, a co-owner of Shake It Records who studied King Records as an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati, explains: “(King) had an integrated baseball team within the company, but when they played in the greater industrial league, they had to break into a black and a white team.”

Before efforts can start on the restoration of the King site, it first needs to be protected structurally due to the wear of time and the elements. KING0822Jack White(King Artist Bootsy Collins,King Artist Otis Williams,Jack White,Mayor John Cranley,Evanston Council President Anzora Adkins,King Artist Philip Paul)Photo Courtesy Of Third Man Records And David SwansonL to R: King artists Bootsy Collins and Otis Williams with Jack White, Mayor John Cranley, Evanston Council President Anzora Adkins and fellow King musician Philip Paul at the original Evanston building.PHOTO: COURTESY OF THIRD MAN RECORDS AND DAVID SWANSON

“Short term, we hope to get a new roof on it before the end of year,” the city’s Koehler says. “It’s essentially missing half a roof. It’s been deteriorating; it’s essentially in abandoned condition.”

He says such roof repair will cost approximately $500,000 and will include new rafters and carpentry to support the roof. The building also needs some asbestos mitigation.

“That means you won’t be able to grow vegetables inside the building because it has a complete roof on it,” jokes Tim Riordan, the secretary-treasurer of King Studios, a nonprofit with the stated goal of exposing and energizing King’s legacy while also supporting efforts to spur revitalization in Evanston.

Riordan might have some useful contacts in that regard — he is a former Cincinnati assistant city manager and former Dayton city manager.

To work with the city on long-term plans, four nonprofit community groups that have been involved in King preservation efforts have formed a steering committee to make recommendations. Besides King Studios and Cincinnati USA Music Heritage, Evanston Community Council and the Bootsy Collins Foundation are involved. They are considering forming a new nonprofit organization that could conceivably be in charge of creating a new use for the site and supervising a fundraising campaign.

Concurrently, Cincinnati Preservation has been coordinating work on an application to get the site on the United States Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places. That could help with funding — both the federal and state governments provide sizeable tax credits for the restoration of historic properties.

Paul Muller, Cincinnati Preservation’s executive director, says that kind of funding already has been used for work on such public entities as Music Hall, Union Terminal and Memorial Hall. That the King site may not be their architectural equal doesn’t matter, he says.

“Preservation is about much more than bricks and mortar,” he says. “It’s about the lives of people who create things. (Historic buildings) become useful marks for people to tell our cultural history and how we came to be as a society.”

Once and Future King

King Rendering P5A rendering of the renovated buildingPHOTO: PROVIDED

The initial steps being taken are about keeping the King building structurally secure. But the ultimate goals being discussed for the space are about much more than keeping King alive in an empty, worn-but-architecturally-sound memorial.

“Long-term demands a pretty extensive renovation of the building,” Koehler says. “That gets into things like a museum, historic artifacts on display, a studio, community space. That gets into the millions of dollars. That’s really what a lot of people in the community want to see happen in the long run, and I do believe it’s doable.”

Because the vision of what King should be is still in the early stages, Koehler says concrete fundraising efforts aren’t in place yet. But he says the plan for King to be something living and breathing in the community of Evanston is more than notional, because all four of the nonprofit stakeholders “have coalesced around that vision.”

“This would be a public memorial that we think would have a pretty significant national and international audience, as well as a local one,” Koehler says. “And there are some significant national and international recording stars interested in this and may help with fundraising at some point. And there’s a target list of major foundations as well.’’

There are some early conceptual designs that were done at King Studios’ request, but are not meant to be final. SHP Leading Design, a Norwood firm whose executive vice president, Thomas Fernandez, sits on King Studios’ board and is also on the steering committee, earlier created renderings of a building that show space for exhibits, performances, an airy room with tables and chairs and a wall lined with old King vinyl albums. There’s also a draft of a reimagined Brewster Avenue between King and Montgomery Road in Evanston that shows it turned into a colorful walking King

King Rendering P18A Brewster Avenue renderingPHOTO: PROVIDED

timeline, with historic markers on the side. Earlier, King Studios had pursued plans for a complex on Montgomery Road, in the business heart of Evanston.

“The idea in a perfect world is to still have a facility on Montgomery that’s a welcome center, maybe a record store and gift shop, and then take a cart down Brewster or walk to the original building,” says Chris Schadler, a board member of King Studios.

There is also much feeling that a revived King Records building should serve residents of Evanston, especially students, by offering music education and being a source of community pride.

There is another concern. Some feel that if and when the King site gets its second life with a museum component, it shouldn’t be a “top-down” one that solely interprets the company’s history through the eyes of the movers and shakers who owned it. There needs to be a “people’s history,” one that honors and respects all the musicians and other workers who helped create what King became.

To that end, Kent Butts — vice chair of both King Studios and the new steering committee — is trying to keep those musicians and employees still alive (or surviving family members) aware of what’s happening as the King revival grows.

“Many of them didn’t have a clue; they thought it was over with King,” Butts says. “I want to get the legacy individuals — mostly families of artists — to understand there is something here and that we’re thinking about them. It needs to be understood for history’s sake what their father or mother did for king.”

Butts has a personal stake in this — his father, Otis Williams, recorded one of King’s greatest hits, the R&B/Doo-wop smash “Hearts of Stone,” with the Charms in 1954, and still performs.

Philip Paul, a King Studios board member who became a session drummer at King in the 1950s, also believes respect must be paid to the label’s forgotten musicians. He keeps a list of lesser-known King musicians he doesn’t want to see forgotten, such as session guitarist Freddie Jordan.

“If we couldn’t get the chord changes together, they’d send for Freddie Jordan and he’d put it together,” Paul says in praise of the musician. “I promised his wife that if I got an opportunity, I’d make sure he would be honored.”

While all this is going on, national and international interest continues to grow as more is learned about the early and influential Country and R&B records that came out of King. A string of visiting Rock musicians have paid their respects in recent years — Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe, Jack White, Billy Gibbons and more.

“We’ve always said, and there is tons of evidence to support it, that King can sustain a claim to being the birthplace of Rock & Roll,” Schadler says. “I’ve always said there should be billboards on Interstate 71 and 75 that say, ‘Welcome to Cincinnati, the Birthplace of Rock & Roll.’ ”

That may happen soon.

Cincinnati organization reclaims, celebrates and activates urban passageways for pedestrians

Allies for Alleys

BY STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / JULY 26, 2017

Cover0719Alley Preservation HB21

 

Christian Huelsman enjoys wearing a T-shirt with a back designed to look like a roll call of stops on a Rock band’s North American tour, only instead of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Toronto, etc., these names are decidedly unfamiliar to most of us: Colby Alley, Nagel Alley, Manchester Avenue, Renner Street, Unnamed Alley Steps, Saint Joe Street, South Wendell Alley, Rice Street Steps, Sharp Alley, Glanker Street, Goose Alley, Eton Place.

Closer inspection of the shirt reveals that it is commemorating the 2015 Eton Place Alley Festival, a 2.1-mile walking tour and activation of “street haunts and alley jaunts” hidden in Cincinnati. You may well have missed the event, held in Mount Auburn and Over-the-Rhine. But if Huelsman — co-founder of the 6-year-old organization Spring in Our Steps, which has received nonprofit status — has his say, you’ll be hearing much more about such spaces in the years ahead. Especially the alleys, most of which are brick-lined. Cincinnati has slightly more than 500, according to his research.

Huelsman has a dream for alleys to become urban spaces that are as beautiful and cherished as our parks. This is pretty radical — many of us see them as often gritty, littered, bad-smelling and sometimes dangerous places to get through as quickly as possible and only if you must. But he expresses that dream so poetically, with such effusive romanticism, that you want to succumb. Here’s the passionate cri de coeur, the declaration of love, that he wrote on social media several years ago for South Wendell Alley in Mount Auburn, the subject of an early and difficult cleanup by Spring in Our Steps:

“This place remains my sanctuary, symbolic of every turn, U-turn and detour my heart has taken over nearly four years. It has cajoled more sweat to drip from my body, inflicted more nicks and cuts, prompted more palpitations from my chambers and awarded more tears of joy than even the mostly six years it took to finish my degree. But it’s all a journey. I can’t imagine my life without this space, this alley and all it represents…”

The degree Huelsman mentions is an undergraduate degree in urban planning from University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. As for the arduous cleanup, which among other things uncovered the near-secret existence of an overgrown public stairway, he wrote, “I’ve done it for nothing but I’ve done it for everything: to survive and thrive.”

Spring in Our Steps is a small organization with just four board members, including Huelsman. (A fifth position is open.) It was founded in 2011 by him and Pam Sattler. For its alley and stairway cleanups, it has relied on volunteers. For current income, which it has used for community events, it has relied on a $10,000 grant from the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation.

But its advocacy of the emotional bond between contemporary Cincinnatians and our public alleys, many of which date to the 19th century and have outlived their original purpose of providing a rear service entrance for buildings, has struck a chord.

“Their value is in the historic granite curbs and the bricks,” says Jules Michael Rosen, Spring in Our Steps board member. “They’re just as much a historic asset as the buildings are downtown.” (Though Rosen believes public stairways — another of the organization’s focuses — hold more promise than alleys as urban pedestrian thoroughfares.)

That belief in alleys as a great civic resource has support from the city, too. “Alleys are certainly public assets, and by their nature and role in Cincinnati’s fabric, a historic asset,” says Michael Moore, director of the Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE), via email. “They are called out in (a section) of the Cincinnati Municipal Code and their use and/or restoration requires review on a case-by-case basis.”

As a result of that city support, on a recent Friday afternoon Huelsman attended the dedication of a new, long-percolating cooperative project between DOTE and Spring in Our Steps. Wearing that distinctive T-shirt, he arrived at the foot of the Main Street Steps to meet a small group of others.

This project is the Stairway & Alley Signage Project, involving the placement of 12 concrete bollards, with aluminum sign panels, along eight pedestrian gateways on the hillside between Mount Auburn and Over-the-Rhine. DOTE’s Moore says this $20,000 project was chosen because the steps, especially, can help get neighborhood students to Rothenberg Academy, a public school. But they’re for everyone. Once all are in place, some intersections whose locations would test the best Cincinnati Uber drivers or postal carriers, such as the junction where Peete Street, Peete Alley and the Peete Street Steps all meet, will have identification signs that also say, “Pathway cleared by Spring in Our Steps.”

“(That) means we have adopted them per our maintenance agreement,” Huelsman says. “We have agreed to host regular cleanup events to ensure regular surface maintenance (trash pickup, weeding, etc.) of these spaces … so that they continue to be viable, safer pedestrian connections in the community.”

Remarkably, Huelsman had come in for the event from Minneapolis, where he’s been working for the past year as a community livability specialist for that city’s downtown improvement district, as well as being a member of Minneapolis’ Pedestrian Advisory Committee. He has stayed active in Spring in Our Steps despite his distance and activities out of town, organizing local events, planning the signage and posting about city alleys on social media.

“Christian has done an incredible job of managing things, even from Minneapolis,” says Spring in Our Steps co-founder Sattler. She’s been less active in recent years, but attended the signage project’s dedication.

“There’s been more awareness from the city that there are people paying attention to these spaces,” she says. “There’s definitely a stronger connection with the city, just knowing there are people paying attention to these spaces and that they do matter.”

Huelsman’s larger vision is to see public acceptance for a concept called “living alleys,” which serve the public-at-large rather than just being where businesses get deliveries or load products.

“In a living alley, it’s about how people interact with the space, whether they are making use of it for leisure or brunch/lunch activities,” he says. “It’s about bringing in elements that attract people.”

This may sound counterintuitive, since cities already have open streets and sidewalks, plazas and parks as focal points for human activity. Urban alleys — narrow and often lined with buildings that create shadows and feel enclosing — are generally little used or, worse, used for such nefarious activities as public urination.

But Huelsman believes they have great potential if made more accessible and inviting for pedestrian use and activity. “There is a natural human inclination to go where people feel secure and feel they have full visibility of their environment,” he says. “A person’s interaction with a space, when their back is to a wall, creates a sense of control over the experience. So the enclosure of an alley works for the purpose of creating comfort. It allows people to feel they have full scope of what their surroundings are.”

The trick, he says, is to recreate the alley “as a focal point for human activity.” (Also, he points out, to the extent that cars use alleys, they tend to be driven at much slower speeds than on streets. Thus, they are less of a threat to pedestrians than thoroughfares.)

This is a transformation that’s not going to come without challenges, as a walk along the Stairway & Alley Signage Project route reveals. As Peete Street starts to turn into the much narrower Peete Alley at one end, the terrain begins to get rugged and a little bit weird. Graffiti on a chunk of rock points to “free hugs” awaiting adventurous urban explorers willing to go off-road. As the alley portion begins, there are a couple buildings, at least one of which looks vacant. Unnerving graffiti can be seen, like “If $ Is the Foot.”

Worse, it looks like the alley’s rare surface of 19th-century cobblestone pavement — it’s one of the city’s few cobblestone alleys — has been removed. Perhaps someone came back to this remote spot with a large vehicle, possibly to do some construction work, Huelsman suggests; there’s also a dumpster placed in the area. Spring in Our Steps had spent three years cleaning up this space, highlighting the cobblestone.

“We put a lot of time and energy into it,” Huelsman says. “But it’s hard to keep people accountable when it’s not being cared for or there’s nobody there to care for it.”

This is a problem elsewhere, too. Even Huelsman’s beloved South Wendell Alley has gotten overgrown again. (On a subsequent visit along Peete Street and Peete Alley by CityBeat photographer Hailey Bollinger, the dumpster and possibly some of the graffiti were gone.)

Amazingly, as we stand around this area and bemoan the visible destruction, a young man comes seemingly out of nowhere, nonchalantly walking up a pathway that doesn’t even seem to exist but is where the alley subtly bends, tightens and continues downward to Vine Street. He is carrying a bag with some purchased items and walks right past our small group without stopping. “If it’s an available pathway, people are going to use it,” Huelsman says.

Spring in Our Steps realizes they need to organize residents of the areas where it works to maintain their alleys and steps. “Engagement with residents, not just in the immediate communities of these spaces but also with volunteers in general, has been a huge struggle for us,” Sattler says.

But there are other people and organizations standing up for our alleys. Sometimes literally. Margy Waller, an Over-the-Rhine resident and community activist, almost got arrested last summer trying to protect quiet Adrian Alley from damage.

“I was working at home early in the morning and heard a loud noise coming from the alley behind my house,” she says. “I looked out my window and saw there was a big piece of equipment drilling through the bricks. So I went to see what was going on and it was a contractor for the city’s Water Works — they needed to get into the line underneath the alley. I asked them to stop because I was pretty sure they weren’t supposed to be drilling through historic bricks.”

She is right on this — DOTE’s Moore says his department’s 2016 Street Restoration Manual demands that “methods and materials used in making the permanent restoration shall match the existing pavement or surface conditions or be replaced as directed by the DOTE Inspector.” But it took Waller awhile to get that point through to the contractor, who wanted to keep working. She took action to protect the bricks.

“Eventually, I stepped in front of the machine onto the bricks so they had to stop,” she says.

A more artful example of Over-the-Rhine alley revival occurred last year when ArtWorks and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful collaborated on 14 mini murals along alleys between Main and Sycamore streets, south of Liberty Street. Called New Lines, this program included the alleys Goetz, Plough, Cogswell, Enon and Bland. “It was both to increase pedestrian use and access and to decrease blight and litter and make people feel safe so they could walk through alleys,” says Keep Cincinnati Beautiful’s Marissa Reed.

New homeowners — and new residents of Cincinnati — are discovering the pleasure of neighborhood alleys. There’s a good example in Northside, where a network of them sometimes crisscrosses its streets. Some are in good shape and access garages behind homes; others are overgrown and tough to navigate. Some folks might see them as a nuisance, a detriment to privacy, but Kelly Johnson and husband Chris Kerns saw them as a real plus when they moved from a “cookie-cutter” Northern Kentucky subdivision into a custom-built home on Fergus Street between Lingo Street and Chase Avenue. (There are two new homes on the street so far.)

Cover0726Kelly Johnson HB5Recent Northside arrival Kelly Johnson sweeps Pope Alley, adjacent to her home.PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER

They are right at the intersection of Gray and Pope alleys; the entrance to their garage is on Gray and the couple has started sweeping their portion of Pope. They are out to revive their small segments of Northside’s alley grid.

“One of the features we really liked was the idea of keeping the alleys,” Johnson says. “We walked those alleys to different places around Northside when we were first thinking of building here. We loved that they connected to the main drag of Hamilton Avenue. It’s such a lovely walk along Pope Alley, though there are definitely some spots that need to be cleaned up. And I feel like I can walk the dog without having to worry about cars. We’ve considered the idea of keeping our alley looking good all the way to Hamilton.”

The opposite of alley revival is alley removal — and it does happen. DOTE’s Moore says the city has turned down requests to vacate, sell or privatize portions of alleys, as in a request by Chatfield College to take a portion of Kemp Alley in Over-the-Rhine. But, if there’s a compelling reason, as in a developer’s recent request for a portion of downtown’s alley-sized Bowen Street for a planned Kroger grocery and residential tower, the city might agree.

“Vacation and sale of an alley is not common, but the city probably averages two requests per year and approximately five or six requests for leases each year,” Moore says. “However, not all of these requests are granted.”

Huelsman and Spring in Our Steps would just as soon see none granted. “The sale of alleys to private interests eliminates options for pedestrians and opportunities to develop the city in more dynamic ways,” he says. “The leasing and gating of alleys only provide a short-term safety solution. Alleys should remain public and receive the same amenities we consider in making our streets and sidewalks safer and more desirable.”

The next Spring in Our Steps community event occurs Friday, beginning at 6 p.m., and Huelsman will be back from Minneapolis for it. It’s called the Dead End Film Festival and will also have some music, “lawn” bowling and other activities, in a very surprising and even eerie locale. It’s where two Over-the-Rhine alleys, Coral and Drum, meet to form a “T” between Main and Clay streets, just north of East 13th Street. Coral between Drum and East 13th can be a little gamey — during a visit with Huelsman, a syringe and socks lay on a curb near the brick pavement, which had been painted a light blue. There was trash near a garage door that faced the alley. But beyond that — behind a fenced-off and gated dead-end portion of Coral — was a more picturesque, kinder and gentler stretch of alley. There was what seemed to be an oasis, where trees grew in the right-of-way. And someone, Banksy-style, had stenciled two white tulips on a building wall. Spring in Our Steps has gotten access beyond the padlocked fence and on Friday night will project short films in this space. It’s possible the dead-end portion of Coral might someday become Spring in Our Steps Park.

“Over the years, we’ve cleaned up that space behind the gate tremendously,” Huelsman says. “It used to be covered in tall weeds, beer bottles and all sorts of siding had been disposed there. We really take ownership of the space and continue to improve upon transgressions of the past.”

All Cincinnati alleys should have such dedicated champions. But perhaps, with Spring in Our Steps, they all do.


SPRING IN OUR STEPS presents the Dead End Film Festival Friday at Coral and Drum alleys in Over-the-Rhine. More info: springinoursteps.com.
PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER

Ten Interesting Alleys

Christian Huelsman, co-founder and executive director of Spring in Our Steps, finds these 10 Cincinnati alleys especially interesting.

Colby Alley (Over-the-Rhine)

An extensive granite block alley with a view of Rhinegeist (formerly a Christian Moerlein bottling plant) that runs behind structures from the former Moerlein empire and ends at the foot of the old Jackson Brewery/Metal Blast Building. From Eton Place to West McMicken Avenue.

Combs Alley (Camp Washington) 

Zigzags and angles of settled brick that weave through Camp Washington’s well-loved northern half, from Valley Park and the World War I Doughboy statue to the interstate. From Bates Alley to Massachusetts Avenue.

Corn Alley (West End)

A rare exhibition of cobblestone paving terminating at the rear of the historic Lafayette-Bloom School building. From Freeman Avenue to its eastern terminus.

Fortview Alley Steps (Mount Adams)

A picturesque alley stairway featuring two beautiful homes with exclusive access via steps. From Hill Street to Fortview Place.

Goetz Alley (Over-the-Rhine)

Spanning nearly the full depth of OTR south of Liberty Street and running parallel to Main Street, it offers an intimate neighborhood experience with a window into the city’s lush hillsides. From Michael Bany Way to Liberty.

Pope Alley (Northside)

A popular walking route beginning with a piazza at the business corridor and running to the Northside Children’s Playground. From Hamilton Avenue to Fergus Street.

Schorr Alley (Clifton Heights)

The lengthiest known alley without intersecting streets, it climbs steadily from the original commercial core in Clifton Heights to today’s bustling business district near the University of Cincinnati. From Warner Street to West McMillan Street.

Sharp Alley (Over-the-Rhine)

An inclined walking route with an identity crisis, it starts as a brick alley, continues with granite paving near the former Hudepohl Brewery and flows onward as an alley stairway. From Back Street to Mulberry Street.

South Wendell Alley (Mount Auburn)

From the former estate of beer baron Christian Moerlein, it travels past the dwarfing stone retaining wall and wilderness along its length and ends at a long-closed public stairway. From Mulberry Street to St. Joe Alley.

Weaver Alley (Downtown)

A nearly three-block stretch beginning at Doerr Alley that crawls under a sky bridge at The Phoenix, passes by a mix of historic and contemporary buildings along Garfield Place and goes to Plum Street and the front steps of City Hall.

The Cincinnati/Weegee Connection and Other Discoveries During a Trip to L.A. Art Shows

CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / MAR 6, 2012 

(Nam June Paik’s “Video Flag Z”)

Sometimes you have to leave Ohio — and Cincinnati — to discover how many interesting and unusual connections there are between the Buckeye State and the larger world of modern/contemporary arts and design.

That was brought home to me, in varied and stimulating ways, when I ventured to Los Angeles recently to see Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980. This massive show, years in the planning, involved 60-some cultural institutions and looked at the evolution and worldwide impact of Southern California art and design. Going to Los Angeles for the show also gave me the opportunity to see one major museum building, new since I moved from there in 2007 — the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 

The Broad displays some of the largest contemporary pieces in L.A. public collections. And on the main floor was Nam June Paik’s 1987 “Video Flag Z.” This museum-owned work, in which TV monitors show video images that comprise a large American flag, has pride of place on a central wall — at least during a show called Human Nature — because it has just undergone restoration. 

“Video Flag Z,” it turns out, exists because of a working relationship Paik had with Cincinnati’s Carl Solway at the time. 

“The piece was built in Cincinnati, first exhibited at Chicago Art Fair in 1985,” Solway explained in an email. “There were three versions — ‘Flag X,’ the Chicago-exhibited version, sold to Detroit Art Institute; the Chase Bank purchased ‘Flag Y’ for their collection; and LA County Museum purchased ‘Flag Z.’ ”

Moving from that into LACMA’s Pacific Standard Time-related show, California Design 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way, I quickly was confronted with another Ohio connection. Perhaps the key iconic piece in the exhibit is from an Ohio company, Airstream of Jackson Center. Modernist in form and in its vision of the American open road, the 1936 aluminum-body Airstream Clipper on display was designed by the company’s founder, Wally Byam. He created Airstream trailers in L.A., where they were manufactured from 1932-1979. But the company opened its Ohio plant in 1952, part of its post-World War II expansion. In an odd case of reverse migration, that’s where it is located today.

Probably the most interesting connection of all — another Cincinnati one — occurred at the downtown Museum of Contemporary Art’s Pacific Standard Time entry, Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles. Weegee (Arthur Fellig), the New York crime/street-life photographer who was propelled to fame after a 1945 book, Naked City, became a best-seller and prompted a movie, used the proceeds to move to L.A. and pursue a career.

I was struck by the fact that the 1945 clothbound copy of Naked City on display — the edition that triggered his fame — had been published by Zebra Picture Books of Cincinnati. According to MOCA, it sold through six printings, at 25 cents a copy, in its first year. (The unabridged hardbound version, also published in 1945, was from New York’s Essential Books.) 

And in trying to learn about Zebra Picture Books, I discovered George S. Rosenthal, part of the printing/publishing family that owned S. Rosenthal & Co. (Richard Rosenthal was his cousin.) He died young, not yet 45, in 1967, but his legacy is preserved by his wife, Jean Bloch of Cincinnati. She has provided his work to Cincinnati Historical Society and recently spoke to me about him in a phone call.

In 1944, when he was about to enter the family business and already interested in photography, he attended a summer session at Chicago’s Bauhaus-inspired Institute of Design under photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which inspired his subsequent work. 

Collaborating with editor Frank Zachary, soon after the war he published a beautiful one-time magazine/yearbook called Jazzways. It was followed by the way-ahead-of-its-time graphic-arts magazine Portfolio, which apparently lasted three issues and featured work by Charles Eames, Alexander Calder, Richard Avedon, Saul Steinberg, Ben Shahn and others.

Rosenthal, meanwhile, pursued his own photo projects, such as one of Mexican ruins and another documenting the pre-expressway architecture of the West End. The Historical Society has these. 

Zebra Picture Books seems to have been more pop-oriented — besides Naked City, other titles were Life and Death in Hollywood and Murder Incorporated (about the Mafia). I looked through Jazzways at the Historical Society and it’s extremely impressive, with articles and photographs devoted to New Orleans, Chicago and elsewhere.

I look forward to finding out more about his work — he deserves renewed attention. Thanks, L.A., for introducing him to me

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: srosenone@aol.com

WUSSY: THE NAME JUST LOOKS RIGHT

SPILLIT_ChuckCleaver_photoJesseFox.57f50e312d8eb

BY STEVEN ROSEN

Blurt Online / June 9, 2009

 

Growing up in rural Clarksville in southwest Ohio, Chuck Cleaver learned early to hide his artistic interests from friends — even though at age six he had a gift for making up songs.

“I think in the community I came from, any kind of artistic
aspirations that a male had were considered wussy or gay, and you just don’t
want to be that in a small town,” he says. “So I never let on.”

Cleaver, who turns 50 in June and now lives in more arts-friendly Cincinnati,
isn’t sure if that memory is the impetus for the name of his band Wussy. It’s
the successor to the critically beloved but commercially iffy alt-rock band he
led, Ass Ponys.  In Wussy, he shares singing and songwriting with Lisa Walker, his significant other.

“Wussy just looks right,” he says of the name, during a
weekend breakfast at Blue Jay Restaurant in the city’s scruffy but hip
Northside section.

Active in the local music scene for three decades, he knows
just about every person in the divey, friendly place. The restaurant also
happens to be next door to Shake It Records, the city’s premiere record store
and also part of the enterprise that releases Wussy’s music.

On its new self-titled album on Shake It – the band’s third
since 2006 (plus an EP) – Wussy is looking right to a lot of people. Besides
Cleaver and 36-year-old singer-songwriter Walker, Wussy consists of Mark
Messerly on bass and late-arrival Joe Klug on drums (recently replacing Dawn
Burman). Its sound is often foreboding and intensely urgent, yet eminently
tuneful with an approach that recalls R.E.M. and the Velvet Underground.

Cleaver and Walker’ voices work well in harmony and solo; he’s capable of an imploring falsetto, she of compelling insight. Cleaver gets credit for the lyrics to five songs; Walker six. On a twelfth song, he wrote “most” of the lyrics; she “the end.”

The literate, mysteriously imagist quality of the songwriting about relationships (“Little Paper Birds” and “Gone Missing”) or life’s meaning (“Happiness Bleeds,” “Scream & Scream Again”) is striking. For instance, on the song “Happiness Bleeds,” Cleaver rhymes “porn” and “born” not in a jokey or smutty way, as so many bands might do, but rather almost existentially as he envisions a compellingly strange scene from rural youth:

“Trampling through the brambles til our pants were all
torn/
searching for a paper bag of mildewy porn/ reflecting on the neverending question/why had we been born?”

Wussy will be touring the East Coast and Midwest
this summer in support of the album. And in September, Cleaver and Walker will
do acoustic shows in Great Britain.  It will be his first time overseas. The Ass Ponys once were about to go, even had dates booked, but the original guitarist suddenly quit.

“We had gotten back from a 2½-month tour and his infant daughter didn’t know who he was,” Cleaver recalls. “So he said, ‘Screw this.’ By the time we got a new guitarist, the tour was over. That was between Electric Rock Music and the album after that.”

Electric Rock Music was Ass Ponys’ shining moment in the culture at large. Although that 1994 album was the band’s third, it was the first on A&M Records. The band had been signed when the majors chased offbeat and impassioned indie-rock acts in the wake of Nirvana’s breakthrough. It even spawned a modern-rock hit, “Little Bastard,” and earned the band a spot on tour with Pavement. But by the time of a 1996 follow-up on A&M, the
moment had passed. It came and went quickly.

“I think the label felt it had the next big thing, and for a while there was some frenzy,” Cleaver says. “But we were a bunch of midwestern guys, not especially good-looking and in our thirties, so they did not have the next Nirvana. We always got the impression they wanted us to be a little less heavy and to dress a little better. But we were like old grumpy men who didn’t want to do what they’d say.

“The guy who signed us to A&M really liked us,” he continues. “He signed a lot of ‘odd’ bands – Kitchens of Distinction and a band who were all really little and marveling at how big we were. They were really tiny people and looked like they all could be on charm bracelet.” Cleaver remembers that band had a one-word name, but can’t recall what it was.

Cleaver, it should be noted, is still a strapping guy – 6-2, heavyset, with a thick graying goatee, darker tousled hair and prominently framed glasses that give him a seriously bookish presence, like Trotsky. The tattoos, however, hint at a life on a hipper, alt-culture edge. He fits in both camps – he has a degree in fine arts from University of Cincinnati,
where he also started playing in experimental-music bands.

Ass Ponys continued on after the A&M moment passed. Two albums on Checkered Past, 2000’s Some Stupid With a Flare Gun and 2001’s Lohio, won praise for their committed rock and their witty and offbeat pop cultural references.

But something was happening to Cleaver around that time. “After we made Lohio, which was my favorite record, I thought I don’t know what’s beyond it,” he confides. “We were coming up with new material, but having trouble getting into it. I felt I needed a break. I’m not sure the Ass Ponys ever broke up, just faded out.” In fact, Ass Ponys is planning a
compilation, The Checkered Past Years, for release this summer on Shake It. It will include both albums, plus some live tracks and songs from various compilations.

After an Ass Ponys gig at a club in Newport, Ky., just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Cleaver was sitting on the building’s front porch when a younger women he had never met – Walker – came up to him.

“She picked up my guitar and started playing a song she had written and it was actually really good,” he says. “I tend to be a little picky – writing is the only thing I can do really well. So I was really impressed by that. And when she sang, Bam! That’s about all it took.”

Cleaver had earlier agreed to play a solo acoustic gig – a rarity for him – at a local festival. After that, “We thought maybe we can do this,” he says.

It was a tough time for them. Both were in the process of having their marriages fail. Cleaver was so financially strapped he had all his electrical musical equipment and gave up his fulltime business as a collectibles dealer. (He now works as a stonemason.) Then romance ensued. “We sort of went with it,” he says. “When you meet somebody, you don’t really have control over it. Our intention was never to be a couple.”

It has not been the easiest of relationships, Cleaver says, and some of that might be reflected in the songwriting. But, however much his image of the “old grumpy man” may persist in certain quarters, he feels renewed.

And, as he turns 50, he’s optimistic his best songwriting lies ahead.

“I hope so,” he says. “I always kind of hoped it was.”

 

(Photo, above, of Chuck Cleaver of Wussy by Jesse Fox)

‘A Lot of Sorrow’ Is Headed Contemporary Arts Center’s Way

BY STEVEN ROSEN / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT / MARCH 11, 2015

 

 

 

As Steven Matijcio, curator of the Contemporary Arts Center, puts it about the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, “Boy, he’s really taking Ohio venue by venue these days!”

That’s true — indeed, Kjartansson, not yet 40, has become one of the hottest contemporary artists, period. He’s a performance artist, a musician, a creator of fine-art videos that use music and musicians, and a painter. And his work is especially being embraced by Ohioans.

Starting Wednesday and continuing through March 20, one of his most acclaimed video creations, last year’s A Lot of Sorrow, will be screening during regular gallery hours in the CAC’s Black Box Theater. It is here in connection with the MusicNOW Festival, which starts Wednesday and runs through Sunday at Music Hall, Memorial Hall and Woodward Theater.

A Lot of Sorrow consists of the band The National, most of them dressed in black suits with white shirts, performing their three-and-a-half-minute song “Sorrow” — from their 2010 High Violet album — for six hours straight. Kjartansson used up to six cameras to record the 2013 performance at the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1 branch and showed it at the New York gallery Luhring Augustine Bushwick last September.

MusicNOW was founded by Bryce Dessner — guitarist with The National and, like the other members, a Cincinnati native. The band is playing live on Friday with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Music Hall as part of the festival. And Dessner wanted A Lot of Sorrow here.

I only have seen a 12-minute clip on Vimeo, and it was great, but Roberta Smith of The New York Times saw the whole thing and was deeply moved. “The delicate cooperation of The National’s members with one another to fill the space with sounds that gratify both themselves and the audience is perhaps both the subject and content of the piece,” she wrote. “Another subject, of course, is time, the way music changes and measures it, as well as the trancelike state the repetitions can induce.”

This Cincinnati debut of A Lot of Sorrow is occurring at the same time that another of Kjartansson’s videos, 2012’s The Visitors, is on display at the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art through May 24.

This is the prolific Kjartansson’s most well known work. A nine-channel video and audio installation, named after a 1981 ABBA album, it lasts just over an hour and chronicles eight performers — including Kjartansson — making music in separate rooms of an old country mansion while listening to each other through headphones. Museumgoers can move among the monitors that display the individual performers.

Actually, Kenyon College’s Graham Gund Gallery in Gambier, Ohio, already showed The Visitors from July 2013 through January 2014. In an unusual arrangement, Gund — a Kenyon graduate — purchased one of six official copies of the work (with another, The Man), and donated it in three equal shares to Kenyon, the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

“We were the first U.S. museum to exhibit The Visitors,” says Natalie Marsh, Gund Gallery director, via email. It is loaning the piece to Cleveland. (It has also shown at the ICA and Guggenheim Bilbao.)

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Museum of Art is preparing to show the high-definition DVD documenting Kjartansson’s 2011 Song, a live performance project at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art.

Truth be told, I’m a little worried that A Lot of Sorrow is going to get overlooked in its brief Cincinnati stint.

The CAC is busy with its own activities. On Friday night it has a members-only unveiling of its newly renovated lobby and related new art installations. And on March 20 from 7-11 p.m., the CAC is opening two new exhibitions — Albano Afonso’s Self-Portrait as Light and Daniel Arsham’s Remember the Future.

Since Kjartansson’s video runs during regular gallery hours, it will not be playing during the lobby reopening this Friday night. But since the March 20 opening of new exhibitions is for the public, A Lot of Sorrow will show that evening but be shut off from 7-8 p.m. for Arsham’s talk in the Black Box.

There could be more Kjartansson in our future. “We’re having ongoing discussions with Ragnar and his studio about an exhibition of one of the multi-channel works in 2016 or 2017,” Matijcio says via email. “We’re hopeful that Icelandic song of some sort will be ringing through the building in the near future. Ideally one of the videos would be paired with a new performance work to be premiered in Cincy.”

Visit contemporaryartscenter.org for more information

Making Prints and Graphics Hip and Popular for Museums

denverartmuseum

Two popular art museum shows are disproving the notion that the public rarely flocks to prints/graphics shows: ‘The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters from the San Francisco Bay Area 1965-1971’ in Denver and ‘Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand’ in Boston. The latter show comes to the CAC here in February.

BY STEVEN ROSEN
 JULY 29, 2009 / CINCINNATI CITYBEAT

For art museums, one knotty problem is that the public rarely flocks to prints/graphics shows.

Prints are an important art form for museums to collect and display — many institutions even have curatorial departments devoted to them. But they’re tough to promote to visitors, which is frustrating during a recession when museums need to develop more affordable shows that can draw a crowd.

Because the public regards prints/graphics as multiples, it rarely responds to them as being the equal of paintings. This is despite the fact they can be worth a lot of money and often take great effort to design and execute.

But maybe pop culture is coming to the rescue — and Cincinnati looks like it’s in a prime position to benefit.

Last Sunday, the Denver Art Museum closed a smash exhibition that exceeded attendance expectations, The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters from the San Francisco Bay Area 1965-1971. It had already extended the show once. For the museum’s second quarter, April through June, a period that included three of the show’s four months, total attendance was close to 136,000.

It’s worth noting that, for that same period, Cincinnati Art Museum’s attendance was 66,085 — and for half of that quarter, it had a very popular show, Surrealism and Beyond: In the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. It’s also worth noting Cincinnati Art Museum is free; Psychedelic Experience cost $15.

Denver’s assistant curator of graphic design, Darrin Alfred, organized the show from a 2008 acquisition of 875 psychedelic posters from Boulder collector David Tippit. These included full first-print sets from Bill Graham Presents and Family Dog, the two main concert presenters in San Francisco during the hippie era.

I saw the exhibition and thought Alfred did a superb job of making a case for the artistry of the work, delineating the subtlest of evolution in the graphic-design innovations of people like Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse and Rick Griffin. I also have to say that, because this was a big show, after a while such subtle variations became lost on me.

So instead I became fascinated with the musical acts advertised on the posters — some fabled, some forgotten. I’ve heard other visitors did the same. Does that still make it an art experience?

Cincinnati Art Museum originally had a show scheduled for the coming season with less edgy but still noticeable pop culture overtones: circus posters from Sarasota’s Ringling Museum of Art. But the Ringling delayed it, given the economy.

shephard

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe has reported that the current Shepard Fairey exhibit, Supply and Demand, at that city’s Institute of Contemporary Art — predominately screen prints, collages and Rubyliths — had exceeded 105,000 visitors by June, making it the most popular show in that museum’s 73-year history. The show opened Feb. 6 and continues through Aug. 16. Fueling that show’s popularity is the hip street/poster artist’s impact on popular culture and history — his “Obama Hope” poster has become almost as iconic an image as Uncle Sam, making Fairey a celebrity.

That show comes to Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center on Feb. 20, 2010, and might well be running for two exhibit cycles, into the fall, to meet expected demand. The CAC, it’s well to note, debuted an influential show that predicted this trend of pop culture-fueled art shows back in 2003, Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture. It included Fairey.