Ohio artists seek to get works in hands of public
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - When he visited the tony Art Basel Miami Beach gathering in 2009, Matt Barnes didn't just observe the burgeoning avant-garde scene to which culture buffs and the ultra-rich swarm each winter.
The central Ohio resident - toting 4-by-4-inch collages of his own - stashed 50 of the miniature works in unseen urban nooks outside the swank Florida fetes, hoping that well-heeled aficionados would notice them.
Seventeen finders ultimately reached Barnes - "pretty large numbers," he said, even though the exchanges were offered free. (More vital, he said, were the potential business relationships.)
Such a reception persuaded Barnes, of Grandview Heights, to continue the scavenger-style idea, which he has dubbed "Tweet and Go Seek."
As he did a year ago, he'll employ the tactic Friday through Sunday during the Columbus Arts Festival - near which he'll hide 150 pieces.
Beyond the photographic clues posted on Twitter under the (at) tweetandgoseek handle, his collage-style creations feature discounts (including a one-night stay at the Westin Columbus hotel) on the back - an added incentive that has attracted foragers to a site minutes after the location is announced.
"I get the satisfaction of knowing people are physically chasing after my work," said the 32-year-old, who has a fine-arts degree from Ohio State University.
"It's an open market where you're not judged by the authority of a museum or gallery."
In a sense, he is right: Art is cropping up in unlikely places - absent traditional settings, spectators and stereotypes.
The goal: not only to get an artistic pursuit in the eyes (and, often, hands) of wider audiences but also to put a casual spin on a craft often viewed as stuffy or inaccessible.
In May, Kate Dowell launched the inaugural Papergirl Columbus ride - in which a dozen cyclists dispensed tubes containing rolled-up paintings, photos and prints to folks on the streets of the Short North neighborhood in Columbus.
Her call for participation yielded 150 donated pieces, with some sent from Florida, New York and Germany. The collection was shown at Junctionview Studios the evening before the Saturday distribution to unsuspecting passers-by.
"It's that guerrilla approach - ... more fun and a little rowdy," said Dowell, 27, of Grandview, who drew inspiration from a similar outing in Albany, N.Y. (The concept is traced to Berlin in 2006.)
Like the others, the Short North event wasn't about chasing profits.
"We're really doing it to make Columbus a place where businesses and people want to come live," said Dowell, who plans to have another ride next year.
"And someone might receive a piece for free, and they might contact that artist directly."
According to Rochelle Steiner, dean of the Roski School of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, outdoor public art has moved beyond statues, monuments and faux-modern offerings showcased in sterile corporate plazas.
After all, the street art created by Shepard Fairey (who is credited with designing the "Hope" poster featuring Barack Obama) and the satirical graffiti applied undercover by the shadowy British figure known as Banksy (who also chronicled the legitimacy and legality of such works in his Oscar-nominated film, Exit Through the Gift Shop) have inspired plenty of buzz.
"Artists have thought about how to intervene into a situation. At the same time, it's increasingly interactive," said Steiner, who, as a former director of the Public Art Fund in New York, oversaw large-scale installations such as four man-made waterfalls by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson that cascaded from the Brooklyn Bridge and other sites in 2008.
"Cities are realizing that culture matters."
The potential prompted the Greater Columbus Arts Council last spring to pursue (and pay) Barnes to stash his art at the Columbus Arts Festival - an element that marketing director Jami Goldstein called "one of the best investments I make" and a key to attracting new and technology-savvy visitors.
Other such additions are planned this year - including an art-filled 6-foot "vending machine" that blinks lights and spits smoke after a purchase.
An item costing $5 to $20 might be obtained just as a candy bar is bought from a regular vending machine, said Cap City Creatives founder Whitney Works, who conceived the idea with the council.
"You're having an experience," said the 25-year-old, who added that a carnival-style "barker" will entice would-be buyers.
Catching viewers off guard was central to the one-day installation Infestation, for which sculptor Walter Hermann in March put 150 magnet-backed clay insects inside the Cultural Arts Center, where he teaches.
Announced via Facebook only hours before its debut, the show had a limited run that represented an incentive for the quick and curious - and a reaction to what Hermann views as a shortage of gallery space.
"I don't have the time to wait two years to get booked for a show," said the 35-year-old from the Merion Village neighborhood in Columbus, who sold a few bugs - and is considering a public park for his next project.
"If I make the venue myself, I can keep things going faster. It's off-the-cuff."
For the same reason, Matt Logsdon has continued his Bus Project - an exhaustive dispersing of 1,200 "buses" screen-printed on wooden blocks in unusual spots throughout central Ohio, with their locations provided at www.thebus project.com.
His aim: to promote places unique to the Columbus area, advocate a pedestrian lifestyle and unite residents. (Users are urged to register their finds online and add comments.)
In turn, they're encouraged to create and submit homemade maps solely from memory - a component that Logsdon, 28, calls "psycho-geography."
Once he reaches 2,000 buses and receives enough maps, he intends to have a collective showing.
"I feel like maybe it's a steppingstone, trying to get people out there," Logsdon said. "As far as art goes, it is really tame."
He also doesn't mind the thought of someone simply keeping a bus - its purpose served in another way.
"I'm sure my project has come across people who don't regularly visit galleries in Columbus."