Art Matters
With Dan Tranberg

21st issue of annual ArtCrimes is biggest ever -- and also the last

Friday, July 14, 2006

Dan Tranberg
Special to The Plain Dealer

In the mid-1980s, Cleveland artist and poet Steven Smith was an activist with a cause. His art took its cue from Dada--the politically minded avant-garde art movement that emerged in response to World War I and never really went away.

Like the Dadaists, Smith made things that, on the surface, seemed absurd. Just as the Dadaists inverted accepted notions of civility and aesthetics, Smith made art that looked like junk and wrote poems that sounded like gibberish.

And he wasn't alone. For decades, dozens of other local artists have been making art from the ruins of Cleveland's industrial past, often with a punchy, irreverent flare.

Twenty years later, Smith and 170 other local artists and poets are featured in the 21st issue of ArtCrimes, the publication that Smith founded in the mid-1980s and has been producing annually ever since.

Titled "Duck and Cover," ArtCrimes 21 was released last week. Weighing in at 144 pages, it's the biggest issue ever. It's also the last.

In October, Smith announced that he and his wife, poet Lady, were selling off their worldly possessions and moving to Europe, where they plan to "write, read and have adventures," he said.

He quit his day job in December, spent six weeks undergoing radiation treatment for throat cancer and has spent the bulk of his time since then assembling the final issue of ArtCrimes, along with Ireland Smith and longtime ArtCrimes co-editor, artist Beth Wolfe.

It's available at local bookstores, including the Bookstore on West 25th Street in Cleveland and Borders in Strongsville, and at area galleries, including Spaces, Brandt Gallery and Gallery 324 in the Galleria.

The handsomely produced publication is expectedly uneven. Smith himself refers to the works of its contributors as "good, bad and indifferent."

That's all part of what it's about. Much as the new ArtCrimes includes some beautifully crafted poems and highly provocative images, it also has more than a few simple-minded one-liners, some of which go on for a whole page. And a number of the visual-art contributions are downright sophomoric.

Whether the individual contributors intended it or not, it could be argued that this is precisely in keeping with the spirit of Dada. If a critic says it's good, it's bad. And if one says it's bad, especially in a daily newspaper, it's great.

Either way, with the publication of 21 issues of ArtCrimes, Smith has made a vital and indelible mark on this city's history.

Some contributors to ArtCrimes 21 will be doing readings in the coming weeks. An "ArtCrimes 21 Reading" will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 22, at Gallery 324 in the Galleria, East Ninth Street and St. Clair Avenue., Cleveland; 216-780-1522. A "Grand Final ArtCrimes 21 Reading" takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 29, at Spaces, 2220 Superior Viaduct, Cleveland; 216-621-2314.

For more on ArtCrimes, go to

Tranberg is an artist and writer living in Cleveland. Art Matters is a column that runs weekly in Friday! covering the area art scene. To be considered for publication, items about shows or openings must be received three weeks in advance. Mail to Plain Dealer Art Critic, 1801 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114. Fax 216-999-6269.

To reach Dan Tranberg:    © 2006 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

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