Outdoors it may be hotter than August, but inside the annual Toledo Area Artists exhibition at Toledo Museum of Art's Canaday Gallery, it's cool, hushed, and dark.
It's not just the gallery. It's the artwork. Some of this art could scare small children, or give grown-ups the wim-wams.
The local art scene's biggest night is Friday, when the annual show, coordinated by the Toledo Federation of Art Societies, opens its doors at 8 p.m. Judged by two nationally noted artists who culled them from 726 entries, these 121 pieces are the cr me de la cr me of artwork produced in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan. They compete for prizes totaling $8,000.
Even though the cast is rather consistent, each year's “May Show” differs in tone from the last. Usually there are one or two pieces that stand out for their wit or irony or joy.
Not here. Not this year.
Step across the wide bridge into the special exhibitions gallery, and you're greeted by a wizened blind beggar straight out of a Kung Fu rerun. There's a monkey on his back. Both are made of plastic, and both are horrifically realistic, cinematic black magic from Thomas Kuebler of Bowling Green, a prizewinner in past TAA shows. Around the corner is another creepy Kuebler called Mortimer and Eli, a clown marionette and puppeteer from Circus of the Damned.
The urge to be utterly realistic spreads out from there, with Toledoan Leslie Adams' ubiquitous portrait Athena, a pair of portrait heads by Andrew Stevens of Huron, and a striking Dead Barn, Dead Car, Delta Ohio, a dun-colored landscape by Edmond S. Oliveros of Toledo. It's tempera paint, but it could be a photograph. And David Mack does the same thing with a technical whiz-bang watercolor of Rosary Cathedral in the rain.
The photographs are mostly black-and-whites. Several pencil drawings and prints are of monumental size and detail, but the show suffers from the same palettes of black, gray, white.
Blue skies are few. Joanne Grossman painted Sunlit Rooms with Wild Fire, capturing a feeling of depth as an autumn landscape unfolds beyond a series of open doors. Look a little closer, and those golden treetops are, my goodness ... flames! It's good to see some yellow.
Brown, gray, and black are not all bad. Mary Harman of Montreal has two big, acrylic paintings in the show, urban landscapes of grain elevators and seedy buildings at dusk, with tiny people down below. These pictures glow with Edward Hopper Midwestern light, lonely, lovely, and hard.
There's plenty of jewelry and small metalwork here, fitting for a jury that includes Betty Talbott, a potter who directs Ohio Designer Craftsmen. Standouts include Phoebe S. Sloan's Tea Infuser, an exquisite silver flower form straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch garden, and Tom Muir's silver and gold Labyrinth.
But the big bang hangs in the corner, apart from all the smaller, flatter, darker art. Pi Benio is no stranger to the Toledo Area Artists show, but back then her fiber figures were smaller and more introspective. But Riven, a family of nine larger-than-life-size humanoids, is a summary of all the isolation and grayness in the gallery. It's brown, it's cold, but it's utterly dramatic, too. And if this year's judges are on their toes, it will score at least one of the 18 prizes.
Toledo Area Artists 2002 opens Friday at 8 p.m., and will remain on display through Aug. 25 at the Toledo Museum of Art's Canaday Gallery. There is no admission charge.