Arts preview: “To What Red Hell”

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
Masumi Hayashi's "Ohio Penitentiary, Death Row, Columbus, Ohio", photo courtesy of Angela Meleca Gallery

For 150 years, the Ohio Penitentiary was a dominant presence on the landscape of Columbus. Gone now for 20 years, demolished to make way for development around then-new Nationwide Arena, its specter remains a nagging presence.

“To What Red Hell: 20 Years Past the Demolition of the Ohio Pen,” curated by Jason Simon and on exhibit in September and October at Angela Meleca Gallery, explores both the presence and its ghosts.

“What we have are stories of encounters between artists and the site,” Simon said. “[The exhibition] functions not to document, but as this idea that sites like the Ohio Pen, even though they are long gone, remain totally compelling to artists. There was terrible human tragedy and suffering. Artists have a role to keep that in the public consciousness.”

Columbus artist Leni D. Anderson works from a general interest in archival work and history, but drawing him to the Pen were also his experiences with law enforcement, both as an MP in the U.S. Army and following his brother's murder (the perpetrator was never found).

“I remember driving past the Pen when I was a kid,” Anderson said. “I think there's still more it can help us say about the criminal justice system. Its memory can be used by artists and others to talk about those issues.”

The exhibit borrows its title from a 1934 essay by ex-inmate and author Chester B. Himes. Simon will have work featured, as will Columbus artist Mary Jo Bole and others.

Angela Meleca Gallery

Reception 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8

144 E. State St., Downtown

“To What Red Hell: 20 Years Past the Demolition of the Ohio Pen”