All: installation of A Thought is a River at The Carnegie. Photo credit: Elan Schwartz.
A Thought is a River
Located in Covington, Kentucky, The Carnegie Galleries are currently displaying the group exhibition, A Thought is a River—an exhibition joining the work of seven artists who reside amongst the Cincinnati and Louisville regions. The River of the title references the Ohio, which ties these two cities together and is the connecting thread of the exhibition, joining their practices not through a specific theme but by location alone, and instead asking the audience to seek out their own connections and conversations between the individual artists’ work.
Exhibited between two floors, The Carnegie’s first floor Rotunda Gallery presents a selection of work from each of the participating artists. A large sculptural work by Kiah Celeste, No Title, dominates the right-hand side of the first floor Rotunda Gallery. Constructed from a plant fiber roll partially rolled out, lifted and balanced on top of a sand filter, the work directs the viewer's eye toward the gallery’s opposite end where Albertus Gorman’s found object Styrofigures are huddled together like spectators.
Along the gallery’s perimeter, two large installations take up the majority of the gallery’s wall space. The first is an installation of brightly colored poster board, arranged in a grid that stretches from floor to ceiling. Created by Dale Jackson, the posters contain Jackson’s written notes, like a type of journal, where Jackson allows his free thoughts to flow uninhibited. An installation of circular panel works by Letitia Quesenberry are arranged across the wall parallel to Jackson, each a mesmerizing circular vortex of saturated color, the visual equivalent to Jackson’s uninhibited journal entries. Opposite Quesenberry, stacked wood plank sculptural pieces titled Stacks by Adrienne Dixon line the wall dripping with bright, saturated paint.
Upstairs, the exhibition continues in a number of smaller gallery rooms organized to give nearly each artist their own individual space. The reasoning for the organization of the artists’ work—mingled on the first floor and separated on the second—is described in the curatorial statement for the exhibition. Curator John Knuth notesthat the work’s display is meant as a reference to The Carnegie’s former purpose as a library. As the Rotunda Gallery was once the library’s main circulation desk and housed a mingling of topics and thoughts, the upper rooms were more focused by topic and following suit the artworks are arranged the same—to mingle their ideas on the first level and to offer a more intimate viewing by artist on the second.
Based on the curator’s text, there are two thoughts to guide the viewers perception of the exhibition: that of place or the artists’ relationships based on their proximity to Louisville and Cincinnati; and historically, how The Carnegie’s former use can contribute to the way we observe the artists’ works. In this sense, the combined aesthetics and materials creates an exhibition whose focus is solely on materiality. The bright colors and clean lines in the artwork’s of Quesenberry, Coors, and Dixon contrast with the organic found objects of Gorman and Celeste and equally so with the rough-hewn terracotta sculptures of Chris Hammerlein.
This material and aesthetic appreciation of the works ties to Knuth’s interest in highlighting The Carnegie’s historical use in the sense that this repurposed historical space correlates with the combination of recycled and new materials. In turn, it is easy to further push these aesthetic values and seek conceptual connections within the artworks—especially in the work of
Celeste and Gorman. In No Title, Celeste has painted the outside edge of her fiber roll bright white, reminiscent of the lines on a sports field. Directed at Gorman’s Styrofigures,found object sculptures he creates using debris and trash he finds washed up from the Ohio River, the works playfully allude not only to the trash that we leave behind but our constant manipulation of our natural spaces—our need to control our environments and the marking systems we obey that control our movement. These associations of overuse, overconsumption, and destruction of natural areas are continuously pushed in the Rotunda gallery thanks to the other installations by Gorman found in the space, including his Plastic Water Fowl Collection, a collection of rubber ducks and mallard sculptures arranged in a circle upon the gallery floor. Covered in various levels of grime, Plastic Water Fowl Collection borders on obsessive, huddled together in the way one might find a collection of Birding books at a library (another nod to the Carnegie’s past). Sandwiched between the brightly colored works of Quesenberry and Dixon, the theme of overconsumption is heightened, especially when seen in relation to Dixon’s Stacks. Dixon’s clean, freshly stacked wood boards literally ooze pure, pigmented color and glitter. Their cleanliness—their newness—is exemplified next to Gorman’s found objects, further forcing the viewer to consider these relationships between new and old, over-consumption, re-use and misuse of natural resources.
These themes are repeated upstairs in the Duveneck Gallery, a space shared equally by artists Matt Coors and Kiah Celeste. Matt Coors work, a mixture of weaved fabric hangings and small chess themed panels, offers a colorful and pristine opposition to Celeste’s black and white digital portraits and industrial sculptures. Coors’s fabric pieces, which hang on uniquely shaped wooden dowels, are bright and childlike while simultaneously graphic and acutely designed with a machine-like perfection. Their perfect craftsmanship and bright colors are stark against Celeste’s found object sculptures that combine discarded objects, steel, and vacuum hoses to form poetic and lyrical forms. Even Celeste’s black and white portrait photographs that depict her body at play with the materials she uses in her sculptural work adopt an aged look in contrast to Coors’s designs.
While this thematic exploration does sideline the work of other participating artists, it is the combination of old and new, found object structures with pristinely crafted new materials, that stands out most and speaks loudest within The Carnegie Galleries.
Jessica Oberdick (she/her) is an independent curator and writer whose research focuses on themes of identity and social perception. She currently works as the Exhibitions Assistant at the University of Louisville.