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Ladies Room

Convivium 33 celebrates the art of local women

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In her 1949 classic The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir wrote, "For a long time I have hesitated to write a book on woman. The subject is irritating, especially to women ... after all, is there a problem? And if so, what is it? Are there women, really?"

And yet, indeed there are women, and no shortage of artists who happen to be women. Female art professionals are involved in every phase of art production and management, and Convivium 33's exhibit of diverse works by 15 area women, titled Ms. Miss Mrs.: 21st Century Expressions of the Second Sex, isn't really about any inequality between the sexes. Rather, it boils down to the strength and fascination inherent in personal experience, and the way that an image or a story can sum up hardships, insights, and triumphs.

In other words, it's simply a really good show about life.

Convivium 33 is located in the main part of a former Catholic church on Cleveland's near east side. High overhead, plaster angels spread their wings; whatever your feelings may be about religion, the room is haunted by spiritual aspirations, making it a great place to float the often ephemeral-seeming concerns of contemporary art in deeper waters.

Fiber artist Brittany Campbell, a 2009 graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art, is also the show's youngest artist. Her sculptural installation "Record of Every Nice Thing Said" takes on a special range of confessional associations here. It consists of a shower enclosure kit, mounted under a soaring window and surrounded by a curtain decorated with tiny heart shapes. But the kicker is this: Campbell whispered every sweet nothing that came her way during a four-month period last year — like "you look cute today," or "I like your hat" — into a microcassette recorder strapped to her wrist, then replayed these soothing phrases on an MP3 player hidden in the shower head. Stand right under it and you can barely hear the words — a warm stream of half-audible reassurance mixed with a colder, creepy trickle, like the touch of a stranger's hand, fond or infectious, and profoundly ambivalent.

More grandly, there are Oberlin cinema studies instructor Rian Brown's billowing white sheets, slung high above the stage that marks the site of the former church's altar. These are part of a treasured collection of fine linens, now entrusted to the "little American," as Brown wryly remarks. Her husband, Claudio Orzo, is a printmaker originally from Turin, Italy, and his family's lovingly preserved linens represent the continuity and preciousness of human intimacy. Here, Brown the filmmaker has projected fleeting images of herself on these pure cloths; she is pregnant, flickering through sacred moments of her own life like a flame. The effect is pure magic.

There are many surprises in this show, as well as celebrations of decades-long artistic achievements. The nationally renowned abstract sculptor Barbara Stanzcak is well represented by many pedestal-mounted works in various media, and the musically poetic paintings and drawings of last year's Cleveland Arts prize winner, Audra Skuodas, are scattered throughout the installation, as are a number of strong black and white photographs by Garie Walzer.

Unexpected pleasures include a series of small collages by Trudi Weisenberger, probably better known as founder of the University Hospitals Art Collection, who here shows very real achievements as an artist in her own right. Zygote Press co-founders Bellamy Printz and Liz Maugans contribute drawings and wax-infused prints, while vibrant works by long-time Cleveland-based celebrities like painter Anna Arnold, and ceramicists Angelica Pozo and Kristen Cliffel, grab attention through strong color, modeling, and concepts.

"There are women here representing every stage of life," says Convivium's Alenka Banco. "That's really the point." That, and the fact that so much very good work by artists who happen to be women, and who are able to talk compellingly about women's experiences, is available to Cleveland audiences.

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In Memoriam: Artist Craig Lucas died in his sleep at his home in Kent, Ohio, on April 1. He was 69.

As an artist and educator, Lucas profoundly influenced several generations of students and contributed greatly to the quality of art and art education in Ohio. He began teaching at Kent State University in 1969, and during the succeeding four decades his vibrant, layered abstractions came to represent a type of vision and manner of working that in one way or another affected nearly every student he came in contact with. He was also, quite simply, beloved. His unflagging devotion to the ideas and energies of art, his passion, and his discernment were gifts to all who had the privilege of studying with him, as well as to his friends and family. He was a remarkable man and a great artist who will be missed immeasurably.

For information about memorial services for Craig Lucas, call Bissler and Sons Funeral Home, at 330-673-5857.

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