Pills through an artist’s lens

Exhibits at The Co prompt discussion.

The Contemporary Dayton is quickly establishing itself as a great place to see the kind of new art that triggers discussion. Three current exhibits, on show through July 22, provide perfect examples.

Upon entering the Arcade, you’ll be struck by the giant sculptural paintings that fill the largest gallery space. You can immediately enjoy them for their attractive shapes and colors. Or you can look at the titles and the Gallery Guide and learn they are based on the variety of pills many of us take every day! Pills for anxiety and stress, for ADHD and migraines, for asthma and pain, for sleepiness and high cholesterol.

Beverly Fishman, a Detroit-based painter and sculptor and formerly an artist-in-residence at Cranbrook Academy of Art, has titled her exhibit, “Cure.”

The question up for discussion: What do these myriad pills say about our lives and our society?

“My guess is that we all take something,” says Michael Goodson, who curated the show. “Bev recognizes the benefits of some of these drugs but also recognizes how they exist in an overmedicated culture. How we’re sold this stuff to remain mildly happy.”

Fishman insists she isn’t against big pharma but is against people not understanding the medications they are on. And she questions the “illnesses” such as PMS that didn’t exist before medical folks created them. “How the hell do adults have ADHD now when 10 years ago no adults had ADHD?” she asked in her artist talk at The Co. “You can thank big pharma for that.”

At a dinner party one evening Fishman mentioned to a friend that she had a headache. “My girlfriend took out one of those pill things and said she had vitamins, Vicodin and everything in-between and asked me what I wanted!” recalls Fishman who was shocked to see what her friend carried around in her handbag everyday.

Fishman’s artistic process begins with collages, some of which are on display. Although the shape of her paintings are taken from actual pills, the colors are her own — dusty roses, soft lilacs, cool blues and pale sands. She occasionally mixes in lime green, nuclear yellow and traffic-cone orange. To find precisely the right paint, she visited body shops and now uses urethane, the same paint that is used on high-end automobiles.

Life during a pandemic

George Rush, who moved to Columbus from New York, teaches painting at OSU and has filled the second gallery at The Co with more than 200 vignettes capturing everyday life during the pandemic. The title is “Assisted Living.” Goodson says it’s an album of the past three pandemic years. “He’s trying to capture the real rhythm of the world, the things we live with everyday that we stop paying attention to.”

Rush, who had previously been making large fabricated paintings inspired by pictures from books and magazines, says that in 2018-2019 he had been going back and forth from Columbus to Tampa once every month to visit his mother who was descending into Alzheimer’s.

“I was driving in Columbus and in Tampa, taking the planes, spending time walking the dog, and –as we all do –I was carrying around a camera and started taking photographs,” he explained in his artist talk. “I grew up in New York and didn’t learn to drive until I was 35. Driving is still kind of exotic to me.”

Those cell phone photos became the inspiration for the small framed paintings that now line the walls at The Co. Images range from a masked karate session to empty parking lots and from discarded couches sitting on a curb to family scenes.

“It wasn’t a predetermined intention,” Rush explains. “A friend came into my studio and I had about 70 of the paintings done and we were talking about the power of accumulation and she said ‘wouldn’t it be great if there were 200 of these? ' "

He says he likes having a challenge. The 200 photos” became a kind of ethnography of our time. "

Rush says the paintings aren’t arranged in any particular order but are an intersection of various stories including the story of suburban America, his personal story that has to do with teaching. “The scale of the car in relation to our surroundings is a big part of the show as well and the paintings of books add a sort of poetry.”

“Night Kitchen”

The video gallery at The Co currently features “Night Kitchen,” by Mary Reid Kelley and her partner Patrick Kelley. The exhibit includes a 10-minute film and floor sculptures.

The Dayton exhibit is a portion of what was recently on show at The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia. In this film entitled “I’m Jackson Pollock” the artists are exploring “”the mechanics of power and its fallibility.”

The partners are known for black-and-white video works and for rhyming raps delivered by Mary who appears in original costumes. In this film, she sports a pumpkin head and is eventually covered by pumpkins while reciting lines like:

“I’m the Jackson Pollock of service to Moloch.

I’m the Nat King Cole of selling your soul.

I’m the Maria Tallchief of climate grief.

I’m the Mae West of the Trinity Test.”

Reid Kelley is a 2016 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Award. The Foundation recognized her as “an artist who makes arresting playful and erudite videos that explore the condition of women throughout history. Drawing on literary and historical material the videos involve extensive research and critical reassessments of standard historical narratives. "


What: Exhibits by Beverly Fishman, George Rush, Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley

Where: The Contemporary Dayton, 25 West Fourth Street (in the Arcade)

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Until 8 p.m. on First Fridays. Through July 22.

Admission: Free

For more information including videos of the artist talks: codayton.org. Phone: (937) 224-3822.

Related programming:

Friday, June 3 - Virtual Artist Talk: Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, July 1 - Spotlight Tour of the Exhibitions with Curator Michael Goodson, 6:30 p.m.

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