Not in New York Celebrates the Legacy of Carl Solway
Nam June Paik (1932–2006), “Powel Crosley, Jr.,” 1992, mixed media with parts from various Crosley products, John J. Emery Endowment and The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial, 1992.140, © Carl Solway Gallery
Photo provided by the Cincinnati Art Museum
When one looks back at 50 years of contemporary art collecting in Cincinnati, it seems Carl Solway’s DNA is everywhere.
Since 1962 the rising artists of the modern art world have passed through his galleries, first on West Fourth Street, downtown, to the current Carl Solway Gallery on Findlay Street in the West End.
Solway has had a transforming impact introducing the area to the best of contemporary artists and, in turn, introducing the New York and international art worlds to often overlooked artists from the hinterlands.
Perhaps lesser known is Solway’s important relationship with the Cincinnati Art Museum. He has been responsible for bringing the museum’s attention to dozens of vital artists, playing a central role in the museum acquiring numerous works of modern art.
That legacy is on splendid display in the exhibition “Not in New York: Carl Solway and Cincinnati,” which runs through October 30. Some 50 works include paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and multi-media from such staples of contemporary art as John Cage, Ann Hamilton, Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Helen Frankenthaler and many others. The exhibit includes works from two native Cincinnatians, who became international art stars – the late Tom Wesselmann and Jim Dine, both of whom were close friends of Solway.
The common thread is that all these works have some connection to Solway and his gallery, either as direct purchases he arranged or donations from private collectors who had acquired the works through Solway.
“You can’t find a gallery in the Midwest like Carl’s that has existed for over five decades that has had such a long lasting relationship with an art institution,” says Matt Distel, co-curator of the exhibit and exhibitions director at The Carnegie in Covington.
“We have been very fortunate in this community to have Carl’s vision (to) bring world class art to our doorstep,” says Kristin Spangenberg, exhibit co-curator and CAM’s curator of prints. “It is very unusual for a gallery that’s not in New York to handle this caliber of art.”
The name of the exhibit was actually the name of a gallery Solway opened for a few years in the early 1970s. The Not in New York gallery showcased Midwest artists often over looked by East Coast critics and collectors.
Solway, 81, confesses he was a little reluctant to give his permission for the exhibit. But after seeing how Spangenberg and Distel have presented the works, he admits it was a sweet trip down memory lane since he has often had very close relationships with the artists and personal stories behind many of the works.
“It is a sentimental journey of seeing all my friends that gave me joy over the last 50 years,” Solway says. “It’s very gratifying to have the museum acknowledge my work.”
Spangenberg also has a special connection to many of the works. Arriving at the museum in 1971 as a young curator, she says it was Solway who helped educate her about promising modern artists. She worked with Solway to help the museum acquire many of the works. She found Solway had a unique nurturing relationship with artists and a civic commitment to visual art education.
“He was always interested in the artist as a person, rather than wondering how he could just market a piece,” says Spangenberg. “He always let artists come up with the idea and he supported them.”
As Solway puts it: “The best dealers fight for their own generation. And that’s pretty much what I did. I was interested in artists of my own time.”
Solway credits Cage, the late composer and visual artist, with changing the way he conducted his gallery business. The two became friends when Cage was a composer in residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 1968.
“He changed the direction of my gallery. I had been just selling the early 20th century masters. Cage reminded me all those people were dead. And I couldn’t have a relationship with any of them. Why wasn’t I showing the art of my own times?”
It might be more than coincidence – and says something about Solway’s ability to recognize unique talent – that he handled the works of four women who would later receive prestigious MacArthur Foundation awards – Ann Hamilton, Judy Pfaff, Nina Robertson and Joan Snyder.
“In all humility, I’m hard pressed to think of any other gallery in the country that represent four artists who became MacArthur winners,” Solway says.
Standing in the exhibit, surrounded by the likes of Warhol, Frankenthaler and Paik, Distel marvels that many of these works have been on display a long time in the museum’s permanent collection.
“I remember seeing them when I was a young student coming here. Then you realize there is a single source for the reason they are here. This can be enjoyed as just a solid exhibit of contemporary art. But it also shows the impact Carl Solway has had on our cultural memory and the visual literacy of the region.”
Divine Cats Rule at the Cincinnati Art Museum
It’s no surprise that the domesticated cat was elevated to goddess status in ancient Egypt. After all, cats kept humans safe and healthy by devouring rats that contaminated the grain supply and by killing venomous snakes and scorpions.
Egyptians deified the life-saving cat in various iconic images; House cats often received the same mummification as humans as offerings to the gods. You can experience art inspired by the admiration of felines with “Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt,” at the Cincinnati Art Museum through September 11, with an exhibition that features more than 80 representations from the Brooklyn Museum’s world-famous Egyptian collection. Depictions range from common domesticated cats to those turned into mythic symbols of divinity.
The museum will supplement the exhibit with “Modern Cat,” a look at 20 prints from its collection spanning 1890-1980, that ranges from art nouveau lithographs to abstract and mid-century modernist depictions. “Master Cats” (through November 14) shows how printmakers have incorporated cats onto their work and how felines have insinuated themselves into people’s lives.
The Cincinnati Art Museum is located 953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45202. You can reach them at 513.721.2787 or visit their website at
“Not in New York: Carl Solway and Cincinnati” is on display through October 30; “Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” runs through September 11. Admission is free. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.