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Modern Living (with Designs by Local Artists) is Subject of New Carnegie Exhibit

Is Grainwell’s “Walnut Pipe Dream” a planter, or is it a small sculpture made of walnut (from Ohio), copper pipe, and tufts of live greenery? 

Or is it simply modern living?

Matt Distel, The Carnegie’s gallery director, pondered the question and he was curious enough to make the theme an exhibit in the 2015-2016 schedule.

Modern Living: Objects and Context, in The Carnegie galleries from Dec. 4-Feb. 6, ponders the intersection of art and commercial design here and now.

Curated by Distel and design firm BLDG, the two-part exhibition explores the intersection and the mixing together of design and art objects. The first floor of The Carnegie galleries present art and design objects in a traditional “gallery” context. Upstairs, similar – and even identical -- objects by the same artists are probably going to be shown in simulated live/work environments created by designers: a studio apartment, a dining room, a patio party.

(The above “probably” is because planning was still underway for the December show when Distel and BLDG’s Cate Becker and Lesley Amann sat down with RCN to preview their plans.)

"Tower" by Keith Benjamin

“I was going to things, not necessarily art things – restaurants, breweries, other kinds of spaces and seeing innovative design work. There was function, (but in another context) it looked like art.” 

The influx of design firms to Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky as the region’s urban landscapes made this the right time for the project.

(A partial list of the designers’ clients: Anchor OTR, Boca Restaurant Group, Braxton Brewing Company, Duke Energy Convention Center, Incline Public House, Neon’s Unplugged, New Riff Distillery, People's Liberty, Salazar, Sotto…)

Yup, definitely looks like art.

Distel decided he wanted to explore the idea and got together with his Covington neighbors BLDG, who define themselves as a “creative refuge that fosters the inspirational, the visionary and the uncommon.”

“We want to re-define the role of fine art in the design world,” Becker added. “The major distinction between the two disciplines involves the use of functionality – the designer creates objects to be used and the sculptor creates objects that have aesthetic value.”

For the exhibit they approached artists “who play around with functionality” and designers who they thought would be intrigued to play with the show’s thesis.

The central question Distel put to the artists: Will you be comfortable when a designer takes your work (and redefines it). When what you see as sculpture becomes a stool?”

Participating artists are Keith Benjamin, Chris Vorhees, Colin Klimesh, Matthew Metzger, Matt Lynch and Taryn Casella all said ‘yes” and design firms are Ampersand, Brush Factory, Such + Such, and Grainwell liked the idea of this kind of collaboration.

Grainwell are three sisters – Melyssa, Michele and Christine Kirn – raised in Fort Wright and open for business in Covington. Melyssa Kirn is the head of design and says Grainwell loved the idea of Modern Living when it was presented to them.  “It’s always fun to bounce ideas off of other designers and artists,” she said, and added, “We’ve been in business just over a year and this gives us a chance to geta a little more involved with the local artist community.”

Look for art transformed into furnishings including a bed, sculptural shelves, a fireplace mantel, planters, a chair. Walnut Pipe Dream planters will be decorating the shelves (the planter is part of Grainwell’s product line, $36 plants included). Get more information at the website. Kirn doesn’t have to think twice whether it’s art or design. “I see them as one.”

Distel acknowledges, “It sounds a little high concept when we describe it,” and promises, “When you see it, it’s cool objects in a gallery or a room.”

Visitors, says Becker, will see that “Boundaries are disappearing.”

Modern Living: Objects and Context, Dec. 4-Feb. 6. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington. Free opening reception 5:30-9 p.m. Dec. 4 with an artists’ discussion at 5:30 p.m. Gallery hours: 12-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. 859-491-2030 and

There’s more: Coinciding with Modern Living: Objects and Context, The Carnegie's Youth Gallery will host A Silent Harangue, a solo exhibition by Eriko Whittaker. Whittaker, a senior at John Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, Ky., is the Kentucky Center Governor’s School for the Arts Carnegie Scholarship recipient.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

Images provided (top photo: Walnut Pipe Air Planter by Grainwell)

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