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Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna S. Collins, OAC Riffe Gallery Director Mary Gray, curators Ann Bremner and Matt Distel, and the 10 artists featured in Women to Watch Ohio - 2018

Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery Opens Women to Watch Ohio - 2018 through July 7

Women to Watch Ohio - 2018, on view at the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery, was organized in partnership with the Ohio Advisory Group of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This exhibition, curated by Ann Bremner and Matt Distel, features 10 Ohio women artists who work in metal: Mary Jo Bole (Columbus), Carol Boram-Hays (Columbus), Carmel Buckley (Cincinnati), Susan R. Ewing (Oxford), Tracy Featherstone (Hamilton), Llewelynn Fletcher (Cincinnati), Leila Khoury (Cleveland), Kelly Malec-Kosak (Columbus), Marissa Saneholtz (Bowling Green), and Olga Ziemska (Cleveland). The artworks in Women to Watch Ohio – 2018, while varied in scale and technique, present a collective look at an enduring material not often associated with women. In truth, despite being underrepresented in major exhibitions and auction houses, the era of postwar contemporary art is flush with women working with metal such as Lynda Benglis, Louise Nevelson, Louise Bourgeois, Mona Hatoum, and Ruth Asawa, to name only a few. Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016, organized in 2016 by Hauser, Wirth and Schimmel (Los Angeles), examines the massive impact that women had within the often male-dominated field of sculpture. It is a wonderful starting point to consider the larger context of contemporary sculpture that can provide greater appreciation for the artworks featured in Women to Watch Ohio – 2018. Additionally, further reading about women’s place in art history can be found in art historian Linda Nochlin’s comprehensive essays, compiled in her 2015 book, Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader.

Carmel Buckley, Untitled, 2017-18

The variety of material and processes on display in Women to Watch Ohio - 2018 is remarkably flexible, featuring exceptional examples of manipulating metal, ranging from decorative enameling to structural welding, from bronze casts to fine jewelry. Boundary-crossing material explorations, a hallmark strategy of contemporary practice, abound in this exhibition, most notably in Carmel Buckley’s installation. Buckley’s Untitled (2017-18) consists of a cast bronze reproduction of a human head supporting a teeter-totter-like wood board. A neat stack of drawings rest on top of the board with a carefully placed, playful arrangement of miniature aluminum heads. The board is balanced with a heavy sheet of steel, and additional groupings of heads are scattered across the floor. Mary Jo Bole also utilized casting to produce Good Bye (2008), a gnarled wall relief assemblage of a human head made from cast iron and copper. In both instances, the formal properties of cast metal (pouring molten metal into a fabricated mold) yield an enduring character that is both grotesque and somber, yet capricious.

Mary Jo Bole, Good Bye, 2008

In addition to a variety of material processes, size is an important factor in Women to Watch Ohio – 2018, which can be seen in the extreme jumps in scale of Susan R. Ewing and Olga Ziemska’s artwork. Both artists move seamlessly between private and public space, creating work as small as Ewing’s jewelry and Ziemska’s cast fingertips topped with tiny dollops of iron shavings—and as large as their monumental public sculptures. These jumps in scale are a compelling facet of the exhibition, which showcases the variety of ways metal can be worked.

Left: Olga Ziemska, LUNA (detail) 2017
Right: Susan R. Ewing, Lead Pearls (detail), 2014

In Lead Pearls (2014), Ewing creates a delicate composition from a cascade of small lead beads carefully dotting a single line of steel cable. The piece functions doubly as a wall sculpture that produces an equally beautiful shadow that could also be worn as a necklace were it not for the toxic lead “pearls.” In the free exhibition brochure, which was produced with support from the Ohio Advisory Group of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, curator Ann Bremner notes that Ewing creates jewelry as though it were another form of public art. Also on view in the gallery are a series of maquettes and small studies for StarSphere (2010), Ewing’s monumental sculpture. Permanently installed outside the journalism building on the campus of Kent State University, it is a sly nod in support of the First Amendment. 

Susan R. Ewing, StarSphere, 2010

Similarly, Ziemska has created a deep roster of large public works, many of which utilize reclaimed natural materials paired with industrial materials like metal, installed at numerous sites internationally in places such as South Korea, the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, Mexico, and regionally across the Midwest. Women to Watch Ohio – 2018 features photographic documentation of many of Ziemska’s public works, including Feather Point, her 2017 steel sculpture permanently installed at Thaddeus Kosciuszko Park in Dublin, Ohio. Ziemska’s material choices and subject matter underscore the driving force behind her work:, to examine the relationship between the natural and man-made world.

Olga Ziemska, Feather Point, 2017

Considering the fact that Women to Watch Ohio - 2018 features only women in a field that historically fails to adequately represent their work, many works on display pointedly address contemporary political issues of gender, sexuality, and political representation. Llewellyn Fletcher, a 2017 recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, is most notably represented in the exhibition with Shield for Queer Kin: Protection, a 2018 collaborative installation with Amanda Curreri made of a steel rectangular armature wrapped with soot-dyed cotton that is hand-stitched with colorful Japanese sashiko thread. The armature rests on the floor at an angle, a slant that Fletcher inserts into much of their work as a physical manifestation of queer politics. The blanket-like shield functions as a literal protection for an oversized carving of a fist clenched in iconic resistance.

Llewelynn Fletcher, Shield for Queer Kin (Protection), 2017
in collaboration with Amanda Curreri

Additionally, the work of Leila Khoury, who was chosen by the National Museum of Women in the Arts as the Ohio representative for their sister-exhibition, Heavy Metal – Women to Watch 2018 (on view at the NMWA, Washington, D.C., June 28 – Sept 16), functions as a memorial to her Syrian identity. Aleppo Bathhouse (Fragment) (2018) is made of 32 concrete tiles cast from architectural details from buildings in Aleppo, a site now mostly destroyed in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The rectangular structure made of welded steel stands just over 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide, like a building miniaturized to the scale of a child’s playhouse. Yet, there is no entrance and the façade, while pleasingly decorative, is entirely made of heavy, olorless concrete. It is a sobering totem of all that has been lost in the genocide.

Leila Khoury, Aleppo Bathhouse (Fragment), 2018

Women to Watch Ohio - 2018 asks viewers to consider the varied materiality, technical processes, and scale of metalwork. The exhibition presents viewers with an opportunity to pause, look, and learn from an impressive group of artists and to engage with contemporary issues filtered through the lens of an often-gendered material. Ultimately, the common presence throughout the exhibition is the enduring spirit of women, sculpture, and metal.

The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery showcases the work of Ohio's artists and the collections of the state's museums and galleries. The Riffe Gallery is located in the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, across from the Statehouse on High Street in Downtown Columbus. Like the Riffe Gallery on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Mary VanWassenhove, 2018 OAC Riffe Gallery Marketing and Exhibitions Fellow

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