Entry begun Sunday, April 3, at 8 am
I love working with Steven Matijcio at the Contemporary Arts Center and Marta Hewett at the Marta Hewett Gallery. We are all very excited now that Steven’s two-man Moby-Dick show and Marta’s nine-woman Moby-Dick show are less than three weeks away. As you will see below, the official opening events are on the weekend of April 22 and 23, with other special events being planned. Publicity and press releases will be released soon, but here is a bit of what is going on behind the scenes.
Steven and I met two weeks ago to select the works that will be included in the show he is calling Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici: Chasing the Whale and other Endless Pursuits. We chose 171 works by Kish and 108 works by Del Tredici to mount on the walls on the lower level of the second floor of the building designed by Zaha Hadid (who suddenly died in Miami a few days ago). These will be displayed in alternating groups around the gallery; as we were making our choices, Steven was sketching out a display pattern for each group to help us project how many works could fit where. We will start with each artist’s earliest responses to Moby-Dick and sample each subsequent group, with the majority of the space devoted to the new work each artist has created specifically for this show, never before exhibited. Non-Moby-Dick creations by each of these protean artists will also be featured.
The Del Tredici part of the show will begin with twenty-four of the Moby-Dick illustrations he created in Berkeley in the mid-1960s after losing his faith as a seminary student. We will then show selections from his pioneering anti-nuclear photographs of the 1980s and from the large, gestural Moby-Dick screenprints he created at the turn of the century. These will be preludes to his most current burst of Moby-Dick creativity, from which we have selected more than forty of the seventy new “metallic” prints he has created in the last two years. Some of the newest “metallics” were drawn and lettered only days before Steven and I had our meeting. It is fascinating to see the evolution of Del Tredici’s Moby-Dick art over a fifty-year period, and it will be exciting to receive a shipment of prints from Montreal that we have so far seen only in digital images.
Our exhibition of Kish’s work begins with 24 of the 552 drawings he reproduced in Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page in 2011. It continues with four new sets of Moby-Dick drawings never before seen in public: 12 drawings of The Crew of the Pequod from 2014 and three new sets of drawing he created in 2015 and 2016 specifically for this show: 14 Cetology Whales inspired by the “Cetology” chapter, 81 Extracts illustrating the “Extracts” section, and 10 Broadsides of imaginary propaganda posters encouraging healthy young men to go whaling in the mid-nineteenth century. Kish, like Del Tredici, was creating new work right up to the day on which Steven and I were making our choices for the show, while working on other non-Moby-Dick initiatives, too, that will be sampled in our show.
Kish and Del Tredici met for the first time in November 2013, when Del Tredici was the plenary speaker for the Convocation of Honors at Northern Kentucky University and Kish was the luncheon speaker the following day. It was fascinating to watch them inscribing books to each other as they sat at a table in the Honors House kitchen. They had both been here before. Del Tredici had come to meet with my Moby class during the Spring Semester 1988, when he also exhibited Moby-Dick prints and anti-nuclear photographs in the Fine Arts Gallery. He returned during the 1999 intersession to teach Honors courses in Animated Film and Japanese Cinema; during that visit, he also began to make his first gestural Moby-Dick screenprints in the Art Department print room. When he returned to our campus to speak to the Honors students in Novemeber 2013, we had a small show in the University Archives in which a selection of his Moby-Dick artworks were paired with those of Matt Kish, who had visited the campus in April to meet with my class, give a lecture on Moby-Dick in Pictures, and execute a live drawing before a very attentive audience in our Digitorium. On the opening night of our upcoming CAC exhibition (April 22), Kish and Del Tredici will be making a joint Moby-Dick drawing projected onto the wall of the first-floor lobby, visible both inside and outside Zaha Hadid’s building.
Once Steven and I selected all the works for the CAC show, we had to begin making arrangements for loans. Kish would be himself be loaning all of the new work he had done specifically for this exhibition, but we had to borrow earlier works from the Melville Society Archive at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Special Collections and Archives of NKU’s Steely Library, the Honors House at NKU, and private collectors. Del Tredici, too, will be loaning a lot of his original work for the show, but twenty of the new “metallic” prints are being borrowed from NKU’s Special Collections and Archives, along with sixteen of the 1960s prints from a private collector. Del Tredici, who lives in Montreal, has been sending us batches of ne new “metallics” from time to time, but he will have to make one final large shipment now that the contents of the exhibition have been determined. Matt Kish lives only an hour away, so on a recent night he drove down after work with his wife Ione to deliver all of the work he is loaning to the show.
After unpacking Matt’s artwork, Steven took him up into the exhibition space to share some of our thoughts about where this and that is likely to hang. After collaborating on the live drawing in the lobby on opening night, April 22, Kish and Del Tredici will be giving dual gallery talks here in the exhibition space at 2 pm on Saturday, April 23. At 4 pm the same day, we will have the official Opening and Reception for the nine-woman Moby-Dick art show at the Marta Hewett Gallery. Marta is calling her show Adrift in the Wonderworld: Women Make Meaning of Moby-Dick.
The last few weeks have been full of new developments for the Hewett show too. Claire Illouz has shipped Dear Leviathan, her nine-foot wide triptych on fabric, from France; it arrived safely last week at Marta’s gallery on Pendleton Street. I would love to be there when she brings it out of the packing and wrapping for the first time. Of the five large charcoal drawings that Aileen Callahan submitted electronically from Boston, Marta has selected two, In the Wake of the Skin (2015) and The Split of Plummeting Scales (2016), both of which Aileen will now be matting and sending to Cincinnati for exhibition. I am sorry that Claire and Aileen will not be able to be here for the opening, but Aileen’s sister Clare, a Professor of Classical Guitar at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, will be here to see the show.
Two other artists who had finished their work some time ago have been making new adjustments. Monica Namyar, who had completed four ceramic works in porcelain clay early this year, recently decided to create three new works for the show: a bust with Fedallah and Ahab; an all-white pot entitled Moby-Dick: The Watch; and a brightly colored pot, The End. She may be working on these right up to April 15, our first installation day, but that will work out since she is one of our local artists. Julia Oldham does not have to worry about sending her animated film, Speak, Thou Vast and Venerable Head, through the mail from Oregon because it is digital. She is does, however, have to ship the monitor on which the film will be seen, and she and Marta are arranging for it to arrive just before the first installation day, when Julia herself will also be arriving. From a recent posting on Vimeo, it appears that she has been tweaking it a little since we accepted it for the show. Her film begins in beautiful innocence, as the baby white whale is born.
Two of our local artists have completed new work since my previous entry about this show. Caitlin Sparks recently completed the unnamed whale she has made from the refuse of our society by crocheting plastic yarn. In doing so, she invites us to think simultaneously about beauty of the whale as a living creature and the destructiveness of our consumer habits. The two thoughts became one in my mind last night when Abby Langdon, another of our Marta Hewett artists, told me about a stranded sperm whale whose autopsy recently revealed a stomach full of plastic waste mixed with its traditional diet. While Caitlin was finishing her plastic whale in northern Kentucky, Danielle Wallace was finishing Ungraspable Phantom, her large oil painting (3 feet by 5 feet), which her mother will be driving up here from Alabama any day now. It will be great to see this painting, with its Turneresque layering, in person.
Two of our other local artists are each working on two very ambitious projects as the April 15 installation date gets closer. Abby Langdon’s current priority is the cloth tapestry of herself as a warrior that I saw in progress last night at the Essex Studios in Cincinnati. The photo of herself as warrior (see below) was printed into the cloth by a California fabricator. She is now stitching her own tattoos into skin depicted on the cloth with black thread which contrasts with the gold thread with which she is stitching the harpoon her clenched hand is holding (see detail left). This tapectry, as you can see, is life size, and will be visible both front and back in the show. When Abby is done with this work she will tackle her seven-foot aerial white whale, for which she has assembled all the material she needs for it interior structure and outer life.
I was happy to see Kathleen Piercefield when she was exhibiting two of her recent non-Moby prints at the Clay Street Gallery in Cincinnati one week ago. She is still working on the most complex of the two prints she is creating for the Marta Hewett show—the one that will combine a group portrait of the wives of New Bedford whaling captains with a view of the city and the expanse of the sea. She has, however, finished, or nearly finished, her depiction of the famous whale in Melville’s “Affidavit” chapter, the lovely layering of her monotype and collograph print depicting the history and character of each individual whale by the marks on its body.
When Steven and Marta originally planned to exhibit these two-man and nine-woman Moby-Dick shows concurrently, we had did not have any theoretical agenda about contrasting the work of male and female artists. We chose the artists and works in each show with an eye only for making each individual show as strong as it could be visually while also engaging with Melville’s Moby-Dick in invigorating and inspiring ways. Any additional insights that would come from the gendered nature of the two shows would be a bonus beyond what each show achieves on its own. Earlier this week, the New York Times published an essay by Hilarie Sheets about the recent “surge of women-only” art exhibitions in cities as varied as Los Angeles, London, Miami, Minneapolis, and Detroit (“Female Artists are (Finally) Getting Their Due”). Today the lead article on the front page of the Arts & Leisure section of the Sunday Times was a richly illustrated version of the same story (“Through the Prism of Gender”). Students of Melville and the Arts have known that female artists and literary critics have been among the strongest interpreters of Moby-Dick for the last two decades. Our two Cincinnati exhibitions will help to open that question in a new way for the general public.
Steven, Marta, and I are very excited about how both of our shows are taking shape. But we won’t fully know what we have in either exhibition until all of the artwork arrives and finds its place on the walls or pedestals. As each of these shows has developed, I have been interested to see how some of the newest works of Kish and Del Tredici have become closer to each other in style, color, and texture—and how the works in the nine-woman Marta Hewett exhibition have similarly seemed to have been playing off each other even though all of the artists have been working independently. Only inside each actual gallery will anyone be able to finally to see what each artist has achieved individually, in relation to his or her fellow artists, in relation to Moby-Dick itself, and in relation to the concurrent exhibition about a ten-minute walk away.
We invite you to visit both galleries on the afternoon of Saturday, April 23. Hear Kish and Del Tredici give their gallery talks at 2 pm and then move on to meet the Marta Hewett artists and see their work at 4 pm. Then come back to both venues on Saturday, May 7, to hear Elizabeth Schultz, the world’s leading expert on Moby-Dick art, give her gallery talks on the two-man show at 2 pm and the nine-woman show at 4 pm. If you want to be among the very first viewers to see either show, come to the preview of the Marta Hewett exhibition at 6 pm on Monday, April 18, the day after the works are installed, and hear Julia Oldham speak about Speak, Thou Vast and Venerable Head while she is still here from Oregon. And come, too, to the official opening of Kish and Del Tredici show on the evening of Friday, April 22, and watch them create some new Moby-Dick art together at 9 pm in the Lobby of Zaha Hadid’s magnificent building, which is, and will now remain, one of her few major commissions in the United States.