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Art Review: The Evolution of Columbus Art

Jeff Regensburger Jeff Regensburger Art Review: The Evolution of Columbus ArtCharles Owen (1922-1997) | Bridge to Freedom (n.d.) | Acrylic on wood
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We’re at a point in our collective gallery calendars where the art of Central Ohio is front and center. In a New Light: Alice Schille and the American Watercolor Movement and Greater Columbus 2019 (both on view at the Columbus Museum of Art through September 29) have filled our summer with stunning, home-grown talent. Similarly, the Ohio Art League’s Fall Juried Exhibition at the Cultural Arts Center provides a chance to enjoy the works of many other exceptional artists who call Ohio home. From that perspective, now is perhaps the perfect time to appreciate the rich history of Columbus artists and their work. To that end, there’s perhaps no better opportunity for such reflection than The Evolution of Columbus Art currently on view at the Columbus Historical Society.

Curated by Fred Fochtman and David Terry, the Evolution of Columbus Art traces the development of Columbus art through the display of nearly 100 works spanning 150 years. As for bona fides, both Fochtman and Terry are as qualified as any to curate such an exhibit. Both are accomplished artists and collectors in their own right, and both have strong ties to the Columbus art scene. Their expertise bears fruit in both the breadth and depth of the works presented. Not content to simply highlight the most well-known artists (though there are plenty of those), Fochtman and Terry dig deeper, introducing viewers to some our city’s hidden artistic gems.

Lucius Kutchin (1901-1936) | Still Life (n.d.) | Oil on Canvas

The result is a sprawling exhibition in an intimate space. It’s an exhibition that manages to highlight a wide range of styles and approaches while still maintaining its focus. While there are plenty of notable works to enjoy, one of the most striking and well-realized is Lucius Kutchin’s Cezannesque Still Life. Kutchin (1901-1936) was one of Columbus’s premier modernists; a painter whose national reputation was just beginning to blossom before he died of bronchial pneumonia at the age of 35.

Another Columbus artist who embraced modernism in the early 20th-Century was Yeteve Smith. Smith studied at The Ohio State University and was active in the Columbus Art League (later the Ohio Art League). Her Market Scene presents a crowded street market in vivid, impressionistic colors, applied with bold brushwork. Given the strength of this work, it’s no surprise that Smith exhibited in New York City alongside such luminaries as Alice Schille, Hoyt Sherman and Clyde Singer.

While the exhibition pays deserving homage to the past, it also recognizes the accomplishments of more recent Columbus artists. As viewers wind through the roughly chronological exhibition, they will eventually find themselves in the presence of works by Barbara Chavous (d. 2008), Denny Griffith (1952-2016) and Levent Isik (1961-2019). All serve as recent reminders that art in Columbus continues to grow and evolve.

Carl Springer (1874-1935) | Snow Scene (n.d.) | Oil on panel

Thematically, it’s worth noting that Evolution pays particular attention to place. Fochtman and Terry have made a special effort to present works with the intent of understanding how location can focus and inspire artists. Whether it’s images of old Union Station, Canal Winchester, Red Bird Stadium, or Mary Merrill’s interpretation of I-70 West, Evolution presents Columbus as fertile ground for the creative impulse.

It should be noted, too, that The Evolution of Columbus Art represents well the contributions of both women artists and artists of color. This is important. The visual arts in Columbus have always been supported and advanced through the contributions of women and African Americans. Artist like Edna Boies, Hopkins, Barbara Chavous, Harriet Kirkpatrick, Aminah Robinson, Roman Johnson and a host of others created works that brought unique perspectives to the arts in Columbus and helped establish the rich, vibrant arts scene we enjoy today.

This is an exciting time for the visual arts in Columbus. As we imagine where the arts will leads us, it’s worth considering where we’ve been. The Evolution of Columbus Art allows for exactly that. We’re unlikely to see a group of paintings like this brought together again for quite some time, so take advantage of the chance to savor the past, and learn from it.

The Evolution of Columbus Art is on display at the Columbus Historical Society, 717 W. Town St., through October 29. For more information, visit columbushistory.org.

Mary Merrill (1920-1999) | I-70 West (n.d.) | Acrylic on board
Yeteve Smith (1888-1975) | Market Scene (n.d.) | Oil on panel
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