The Aggregator:

David Mack: Dream Logic                                                                  PAC Gallery
2540 Woodburn Ave.
Cincinnati, Ohio

Opening Reception:
Friday January 21, 2011.

Michael Wilson:  What Inbetween Sounds Like                                                    Harvey Osterhoudt: Just Photographs                                                                 Merrilee Luke-Ebbeler:  Kwik-n-Kold         Aisle
242 Findlay St.Third Floor    
Cincinnati, Ohio                                                                                          Opening Reception:
Friday January 21, 2011.

Ted Borman: The Ghost Could Paintings
The Miller Gallery
2715 Erie Ave.
Cincinnati, Ohio

Opening Reception:
Friday January 21, 2011.

Tapped: An exhibition of work by students and their professors.
Thomasin Dewhurst: The Emergent Body
Yun Jeong Hong: Epistime

Manifest Creative Research Gallery
2727 Woodburn Ave.
Cincinnati, Ohio
Opening Reception:
Friday January 21, 2011.


Carl Solway Gallery
424 Findlay Street
Cincinnati, OH  45214

Opening Reception:
Friday January 21, 2011.


Daniel Brown's 2010 Book List

 Although America is cracking at the seams, polarized to the extremes, and economically baleful, 2010 was still a good year for fiction, particularly for new and emerging writers and for some of literature's blue chips.  Let me add that I read actual books, not on a Kindle or Ipad or any other large plastic item which fits as uncomfortably in my lap as a laptop computer does.  I am not certain that it's possible to discuss books and “apps”, etc, in the same conversation and I note that for all friends who've, for the best of reasons, suggested that I “transition” to the techbook, I'll be one of the last hold-outs:  kudos to Patti Smith, who, when receiving the National Book Award in Non-Fiction for her splendid memoir of her early days living with Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids, urged us all to stick with the actual physical book.

      I've attempted, this year, to list the novels in the actual order of excellence, to the extent possible, which always involves subjectivity, so that number one is my choice of best novel of 2010 through number twelve.  This system is somewhat arbitrary, but forces an intense focus on each book, and clarified, for me, the truly excellent from the very or merely good.  Two large collections of short stories, however, could not be compared to one novel, so I've listed them both as number thirteen and number fourteen, simply to separate them, not to lower their ranking or excellence.

      At the end of the top twelve list, I've complied a short list of books I've missed in past years, for whatever reason, that I highly recommend as well.  I note with pleasure that The New York Review of Books is republishing novels mainly from the 20's – 50's in particular. Please note that all links go to our Associate account on Amazon.com; any purchase made there via the link allows the journal to earn a small percentage of the sale.

1)  David Grossman, To the End of the Land (Knopf).  This Israeli anti-war novel revolves around three central characters, a woman/mother/wife and the two men who love her, one her husband but each the father of one of her sons.  The triangulated relationship amongst these three goes back to childhood, and is elegantly, sophisticatedly, delineated.  When her younger son chooses a 28 day extension of his army service, she and her genius friend go camping, on the logical misassumption that being away and unfindable, if the military comes with bad news, she will not be home to receive it, and thus the possible tragedy cannot occur or will be held indefinitely in abeyance.  This magical thinking takes them on a journey through the Galilee; is played out against some of the most beautiful descriptions of landscape and of her children written in decades.  By describing the son in the army, she keeps him alive in her mind, while transferring his existence to her friend, his father who has never met him.  Her friendship with her Israeli Arab driver is complexly, yet sensitively, elucidated. She is both a specific mother and all mothers of sons gone to war, any war.  The writing is spectacular – astonishingly lovely – and the emotions that build through descriptions of the ordinary make this novel one of the first masterpieces of 21st Century literature.  

2) Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (Atlantic Monthly Press).  Marlantes served in Vietnam in the early 1970s and has been writing this superb novel ever since his return.  An officer/outsider/college graduate, the narrator (Marlantes himself) must learn to fit in amongst his troops, lead them, learn to trust and be trusted, to accept and be accepted.  The senseless taking and retaking of the same hill, the pleasing and stroking of officers' egos while troops senselessly die, and the bonding and trust amongst the men, form the backdrop of this superb novel whose central theme is the bonding of men under extreme duress which goes beyond friendships into loyalty and love.  The absurdity of the Vietnam War becomes the major source of the bonding.  The interweaving of individual friendships with the war itself is brilliantly evoked, as is a strong subtext dealing with racial tensions and disharmony.  Marlantes has written one of the most sensitively and powerfully rendered novels about the ties amongst men who normally would never have met.  Matterhorn is one of the two best novels ever written about the Vietnam War (the other is The Thirteenth Valley by John Del Vecchio).  

3) Nic Pizzolatto, Galveston: A Novel (Scribner's).  This astonishing debut novel is a morality play run through a noir sensibility, raising questions about the possibility of redemption in the face of a horrific crime: a man and woman accidentally meet as a murder takes place: both are meant to be killed there.  The two escape, but are bound to be doomed.  The “on the road” part of the book – whether to trust, to bolt, to divert – is flawlessly rendered.  Picking up the woman's child on route to Galveston adds drama, but also an element of hope.  The three land in a seedy Galveston motel, whose other tenants – those minor characters so brilliantly depicted – flush out the book and the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonists.  A little bit of normalcy and friendship – trust, hope, love even – develops, yet both revenge and redemption still lurk.  The writing, language, descriptions are as good as any published in 2010.  This is a novel which stays with you, as its ambiguities and ambivalences linger.  

4) Paul Murray, Skippy Dies: A Novel (Faber & Faber).  This second novel by Irish writer Paul Murray revolves around life in an upper-middle class Irish boarding school and circles around a group of fourteen-year-old boys, of whom the titular Skippy is one.  Attempts at friendships, expressions of affections, and the singling out of those to bully are familiar themes, as are early teenage fantasies about girls, but I cannot remember them portrayed as sensitively and astutely as Murray has here.  The long arm of teenaged drugs is well rendered, as is the once-a-year coeducational party and its attendant chaos.  Members of the faculty and staff, their personal lives and memories of some of their own days as students in the same school, are brilliantly threaded through the narrative; the acting headmaster's interactions with rich alumni play out against school traditions considered more important than student welfare, some involving homosexual coverups.  This precis may sound hackneyed, but Skippy Dies is anything but: it's a beautifully written, psychologically razor-sharp examination into the workings and doings of Establishment children at their most sensitive adolescent age.  

5) Jonathan Franzen, Freedom: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux).  Delighted as I was at the explosive interest in Franzen's second novel, I was equally appalled at the original reason for that interest: Franzen was, upon publishing his first novel, rude to Oprah, America's Philosopher Queen.  Freedom, is, again, much like a lengthy 19th Century novel – it's long and detailed – and also built around a triangulated relationship originating in college: a woman athlete is attracted to two male roommates, one of whom she marries, the other about whom she endlessly fantasizes and will inevitably have an affair.  Many of America's middle- to upper-middle class angsty values and concerns are brilliantly, and often wittily, woven into the plot: dream houses become nightmares; perfect parenting creates monstrous children; idealistic careers are coopted by corporate money, and the like.  We are never certain whether any of the characters achieves any real freedom, and/or whether freedom still rings in America.  

6) Philip Roth, Nemesis (Houghton, Mifflin, & Harcort).  Another late Roth novel rather ignored by the book world, in Nemesis, Roth recreates the polio scare/epidemic in Newark, NJ in 1944 through the summer days its children, its neighbors and neighborhoods, frightened/grieving/hysterical parents.  Baseball games occupy the boys of Newark; Roth's narrator/protagonist is their young recreation leader, a Jewish physical education teacher unable to go to war, but who is the hero of those softball-addled youths.  Roth's descriptions of the heat and humidity of Newark, the apartments, meals, clothing, expressions, and attitudes of these second-generation Jewish immigrants is, yet again, a huge part of his late-in-life genius.  The hero's been raised by his grandparents, and the strength of his values inculcated by his grandfather are part of his undoing as the polio epidemic spreads throughout the Jewish section of Newark.  The hero's nemesis is, in a sense, God, or the God in whom he semi-believes.  Roth's descriptions of the young teenagers watching their hero throw the javelin constitutes some of the finest writing about a sport ever written in the history of literature, and his elegiac tone, throughout Nemesis, is breathtaking.  

7) Per Petterson, I Curse the River of Time: A Novel (The Lannan Translation Series) (Graywolf).  The Norwegian novelist has yet again written a novel of extraordinary intensity and emotional rawness.  The heart of the book follows the college drop-out son of two factory workers; the son chooses factory work too to show his communist solidarity with the working classes in an increasingly affluent Norway, causing his mother to begin an emotional detachment from his perennial adolescence.  When his wife leaves him, he rushes to his mother for comfort, oblivious to her terminal cancer and her desire for solitude and to visit friends from her own youth.  We wonder how he will cope without her; he has none of her strength.  Her own behavior is realistic, uncorruptable, even noble: this is a surprisingly wrenching and powerful book.  

8) Tom McCarthy, C (Knopf).  C is an astonishingly complex novel differing in every way from the others under consideration this year.  A family of four lives nearly self-sufficiently in a small town in England, flourishing due to the multi-talented father's inventions in science, farming, and teaching the deaf (one of whom is his wife) to speak.  Their two children are reared in a kind of paradise; both show scientific genius, but neither possesses the emotional stability of the parents.  Descriptions of the daughter's discoveries are fascinating.  When the son goes to a spa for a cure, we realize that he's suffering from melancholia and are treated to the rudimentaries of psychosomatic medicine.  The son's sojourn in the British Army in Alexandria, in particular, will fascinate, as Egyptian mysticism and scientific rationalism play off each other in his mind.  The characters are fascinating, as are their attempts at independence and adulthood.  A mesmerizing read, and a very sad one. 

9) Bruce Machart, The Wake of Forgiveness (Houghton, Mifflin, & Harcourt).  Another debut novel presents the isolated southwest of the early years of the 20th Century as a backdrop for a family drama between and amongst an embittered and lonely father and the four sons whom he literally yokes to horses to plow his land; the mother has died in childbirth with the fourth of the four sons, who is the novel's protagonist.  Although the differences amongst the sons might have been more meticulously delineated, most of the novel revolves around the youngest, whose need for love and repeated fantasies about his dead mother are beautifully depicted within the tradition of the “maleness” of the place and era.  Land is often gambled or cheated away through horse races; the older three brothers marry the three daughters of a rich Spanish merchant because of these elaborate races.  Alone with his wife and children on his ranch, the youngest will, over time, find a way to reconcile with his brothers.  The writing about the land and differing male characters is particularly strong.  

10) Rosecrans Baldwin, You Lost Me There (Riverhead).  Yet another first novel of astonishing sensitivity and beautiful writing, You Lost Me There is a meditation on loss.  After the death of his wife of decades, a scientist within an organization outside of Bar Harbor, Maine, tries to shut down, look for love in the wrong places, distance himself from friends and colleagues.  A classic Maine upper-crust, feisty aunt on his wife’s side is a great boon to him – that she’s not a cliché is remarkable – but the young author’s subtle understanding of the nuances of mourning and grief within people in their 60’s and older is nothing less than brilliant, convincing, and harrowing.  Contemporary relationships between men and women are examined through secondary characters, and how appropriately chilling those “relationships” are.  Descriptions of Maine are flawless.

11)  James Hynes, Next: A Novel (Little, Brown).  An unexceptional middle-aged man takes a step out of character by flying from Ann Arbor Michigan to Austin, Texas to interview for a job.  His reveries on the plane waver between fear of terrorism/airplanes/airports and his lust for a young female fellow-passenger, whom he will follow all over Austin as a touchstone for memories of various women in his past.  His ramblings through the trendier parts of The University of Texas are both bittersweet and hilarious; the author has a keen eye for the trends of the young and affluent.  A trip through a grocery store called Gaia, loosely modeled on Whole Foods, still following the young woman, is truly hilarious, a terrific spoof on American health and food fads.  The interview, needless to say, goes differently, and the anxiety from the flight reemerges (without giving the plot away).  This is an astute and penetrating analysis of the mid-life crisis and of the very real fears of flying we’ve all developed quite reasonably.

12)  Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) (Dial Press).  In yet another superb debut novel, we follow a group of writers at an international newspaper based in Rome.  The plot, if conventional in its way, gives us some superb character studies in both competence at writing and (in)competence at living.  Expatriate narratives fascinate, and in a world of immigration and emigration, the newspaper feels grounded in an old-fashioned way, its characters’ interactions and outside lives compelling and wrenching.  Why the newspaper was founded in 1950 and its future existence represent two superb examples of the values of two eras (1950 and the present).

A)  Ann Beattie, The New Yorker Stories (Scribner).  I cannot compare a decade of short stories with individual novels, so am listing two compilations separately, yet with as much enthusiasm as any book in the aforementioned top five.  I began reading Beattie’s short stories in The New Yorker in around 1974, as I recall, with a sense of epiphany: here is/was the writer who’d got the post-collegiate 60’s Boomers down pat, with the sparest of language and astute, acute sense of character and place. Beattie was the first writer to catch the drifting of the generation, its uncertainties as well as its self-absorption.  Even her dogs and t-shirt logos were perfect: she pokes a little fun, but her fondness for her lost souls is profound, even fierce.  I wrote her a letter in ’75 or so, wondering what had happened to her New Yorker stories: they’d stopped, it seemed: she wrote me a postcard, stating that the magazine had rejected 22 of them in a row…so I wish that Mr. Angell of The New Yorker wasn’t given so much praise for “discovering” this new talent and style.  Short fiction is her absolute métier, and the 70s her best decade, but when she picked up the Boomers in Park City (1980s), she still has them nailed to a T.

B)  William Trevor, William Trevor: The Collected Stories (Viking).  The gifts Trevor had imparted in his stories are differingly magnificent from Beatties’, yet equally as acute. Trevor’s abilities at character delineation are some of the best in short fiction, anywhere.  He’s able to describe both dignity and a native intelligence – kindness and inferiorities, depths of thought and love – within the mostly small-town Irish men and women about whom he writes with such clear affection.  By refusing to patronize or victimize his people, they are very much of Ireland, but never clichés or typecasts.  Trevor’s writing combines melancholy and celebration into a hybrid beauty that is uniquely his.  This collection combines stories from a number of books.

Books I missed in the past, but highly recommend:

      1)  A.S. Byatt, The Children’s Book, 2009

      2)  Olivia Manning, Fortunes of War (The Balkan Trilogy), 1960 on

      3)  Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time (4 volumes) 1951 on

      4)  Michael Thomas, Man Gone Down, (2007)

      5)  Josh Weil, The New Valley (2009)

If you read one non-fiction book from 2010, let it be Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

The Aggregator:

parProjects is now accepting proposals for  Movement: A Kinetic Exhibition to be held at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center this June. Details here.

New Pavilion

The closing reception for George Schmidt: Paintings and Drawings at PAC Gallery is tonight from 5-8pm. Details Here.


Shinji Turner-Yamamoto: Disappearances.

CAC - Shinji Turner-Yamamoto: Disappearances from cincyCAC on Vimeo.


The Stories We Tell: Aaron Cowan at Aisle

On January 7, Aaron Cowan wrapped up a respectable exhibition of new paintings at Aisle Gallery. The works on display –some exquisite, some ordinary- were predicated on an elaborate mapping mechanism developed by Cowan. Daily activity was collated, categorized, and compressed into a system of color codes deployed across the surface of his supports in amounts corresponding to said activity; or so I’m told.

Artists have a funny way of tricking themselves. They’re story tellers, and sometimes they need these stories to get to work. But occasionally, these yarns take on a life of their own. Twisting like serpents, they become strange tails that ultimately have nothing to do with the actual work. If we place our faith in these concepts, we put ourselves in danger of committing a grievous error. Devotion to stories over objects transforms art from being a self-defining physical presence in our world to little more than a bland illustration of an equally bland story.

If we believe Cowan’s story then F 3 .1200 / .2400- X is not a beautiful evocation of color and form, with its threads of green permeating a lush red ground, but a dull record of a daily activity. The surface, no longer a sensuous manifestation of the hand of the artist, is devolved into mere artifact, incidental to an elaborate system. E 8- X, streaming as it is with densely interwoven color is just pale testimony to some long completed act; that is, if you believe the story.

Artists might need these stories, but we do not. We need only trust in the object and its ability to articulate its own voice. In J 17 .500 / .700 X, the scorching red streak that cuts through the green surface projects an after image of imaginary green lines that play across the breadth of the picture plane. We don’t need concepts to appreciate the thrill of this perceptual event, we need eyes, and J17 .500 / .700 X can take care of the rest.

This is not to suggest that we approach art as a bunch of know-nothings, but we need to keep in mind that art is a physical manifestation, and should be approached on physical terms.
And as physical entities, Aaron Cowan’s Paintings at Aisle delight the senses and establish their own independent existence, regardless of the stories.

- Alan D Pocaro

Aaron Cowan: Paintings. On view December 3 through January 7 at Aisle. Aisle Gallery 424 Findlay St. Third Floor. Cincinnati, Ohio 45214. Hours M-F 1-4pm, or by appointment.

Pictured Top: F 3 .1200 / .2400- X. 2010. House paint on panel. Courtesy of Aisle gallery.

Pictured Middle: E 8- X. 2010. House paint on panel. Courtesy of Aisle gallery.
Pictured Bottom: J17 .500 / .700 X. 2010. House paint on panel. Courtesy of Aisle gallery


Sheida Soleimani at Semantics

Semantics opened Namaz Khaneh (house of prayer in Farsi) on Saturday, January 8; the first solo show by promising young Cincinnati artist Sheida Soleimani. The permanently semi-finished gallery space at Semantics serves as a good venue for this work which consists of a series of images showing the artist's own roughly completed small-scale constructions. The greenish yellow tone of the walls of these small tableaux almost perfectly match the weathered yellow tone of the galley walls, providing a clear path for the visual allegories constructed by the artist to unfold effortlessly before the viewer. The stories which take place in these images are at first glance abstract or fantastic. Arms stretch out from the middle of a wall, chairs are strung to the ceiling and preserved animal specimens including snakes and scorpions are pinned in crude fashion within each space.

Without further clues, these images could be nothing more than the remains of particularly abject child’s play. However, there is just enough further information provided by the title and accompanying artist statement to lead the work in an entirely different direction. These are stories from the childhood of Soleimani’s mother – a political refugee from the Iranian Revolution in which the country became the theocracy it remains today. These stories have been transformed, some more literally than others into crude three dimensional forms and converted again into two dimensions by the camera. The rough edges of these tableaux – marks left with scissors around cut paper, unfinished pencil drawings on floors and back walls – reads like the gap between generations – we are literally made of the stories and experiences of our parents, but can only grasp them crudely, remotely.

These vestiges of a treasured national identity, which exist here in the form of innocent childhood memories and anecdotes of cultural tradition are not just idle recreations in the hands of the artist, but feel like an act of conciliation with a complex family history by the youngest of its generation. How refreshing to see something so concerned with issues other than the immediate self by a young artist. In plumbing the world around her, Soleimani bravely faces a dark past which underlies her national origin and touches on an idea of interest to all Americans: how do we, all of us refugees (or descendants thereof) together, start anew on equal, albeit shaky footing?

While the tools of her craft are wielded a bit unevenly throughout this exhibit (intention and accident seem to cross paths somewhat incidentally in a few of the works), Soleimani’s work refreshes in its neutral and insightful confrontation with human nature in its most brutal form.

Namaz Khaneh, on view through January 29, 2010 at Semantics Gallery. 1107 Harrison Avenue Cincinnati, OH, 45214

Pictured Above: Jadeh. 2011 Digital Print. Courtesy of the Artist.
Pictured Below: Yech Sahl. 2011 Digital Print. Courtesy of the Artist.


Happy New Year!

The staff here at AEQAI would like to wish all of our readers a wonderful New Year! 2010 has been a great year for art in Cincinnati and we're happy to have been a part of it. We've grown quite a bit in the past year and our reviews, features, and profiles are now being read not only all across Cincinnati, but from Boston to San Francisco, England, France, and points in-between. Look for more great things as we move full tilt into the new year. Wishing you all the best for a happy, healthy 2011.

Warm Regards,

The AEQAI staff.