Personal Histories Influencing Art – June 2013

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I was in Ohio this past week for a family emergency and while I spent most of my time with family, I did take a few breaks to clear my head. I wound up driving to nowhere in particular, I spent a couple of hours rolling through green landscapes of elms, maples and sycamores; seeing horses and cows and hay bales dotting the hillsides. It all reminded me of my childhood – that time before life really sped up…back when my cousin, who is long-since passed, and I would catch crawfish in the stream and make lanterns out of lightning bugs; when we would see how many of us could pile into the back of a car to go to the drive-in and we’d watch the nightly amusement-park fireworks from the back yard. I remember sitting on the porch to watch the tornadoes go by and going to my brothers’ Friday night football games. I thought of my old tree house and of eating the pork chops, green beans and mashed potatoes that sustained me 40 years back.

During the week I saw two exhibits that reminded me that we are all influenced, not by one artist or one experience, but by the cumulative layers that build to create our personal histories. The first one was Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs, A Fifteen Year Survey at 21c down in Louisville and the second one was  Patti Smith: The Coral Sea at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

I guess it was because I was in an area that I once called home that I was feeling especially nostalgic, but I really enjoyed Michael Combs’ show. Combs’ exploration of societal norms connects with viewers because it examines those personal memories that we each carry. His story might be exactly the same as yours or mine, but he confronts us to recall those rites of passage that shape our ideas of gender, race and class. 

At the CAC, I checked out Patti Smith’s The Coral Sea. The museum provides a somber setting for this site-specific installation which showcases her reflections on art, on death and rebirth. The centerpiece is a veiled room-within-a-room, resembling the Kaaba; inside the trance-like recording of poetry read by Smith and Kevin Shields set a spiritual tone for the exhibit. The museum’s concrete walls stand as stark backdrops for the hospital beds and silverprints that pay tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe.

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21C is an exciting hotel concept that displays art, not only throughout the hotel and restaurant spaces, but also incorporates gallery space to make each hotel a contemporary art museum. I’ve been to the ones in Louisville and Cincinnati; there is also one in Bentonville, AK that I know I will see eventually. I understand ones in Lexington, KY and Durham, NC are now in the works.

The Contemporary Arts Center is one of the nation’s oldest contemporary art institutions. It is a non-collecting museum devoted to presenting contemporary art from around the world. Coincidentally, 21c (Cincinnati) is located just next door.

Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs

Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs

Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs

Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs

Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs

21c Louisville

21c Louisville

21c Louisville

21c Louisville

21c Louisville

21c Louisville

Patti Smith at CAC

Patti Smith at CAC

CAC staircase, building by Zaha Hadid

CAC staircase, building by Zaha Hadid

Chuck Close, Kara 2008 at 21c Cincinnati

Chuck Close, Kara(Walker) 2008 at 21c Cincinnati

Vee Speers, From the Birthday Party Series 2007

Vee Speers, From the Birthday Party Series 2007

Vic Muniz, Marlene Dietrich 2005

Vic Muniz, Marlene Dietrich 2005

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Three Museums in Cincinnati

Sunday I explored 3 museums in Cincinnati:

The Cincinnati Art Museum – is a wonderful collection of art, on par with state art museums around the country. It does a terrific job of bringing art to the city (it’s actually one of the oldest in the country) – like many art museums using a sort of checklist  approach to showing work: a cycladic statue, check; an Egyptian sarcophogus, check; a Monet, check; a Picasso, check; a Rodin, a Calder, a Roman this, a Greek that – check, check, check & check.

It does what it sets out to do and so I find no fault – I do especially like that it places emphasis on the rich history of art from the region with it’s Cincinnati Wing. This addition, opened in 2003 and includes the “Cincinnati Painters” and also Rookwood pottery, along with glass, metalworks and furniture.  There are beautiful examples of work by John H. Twachtman, Joseph H. Sharp, Frank Duveneck, and Henry Farny and many others – Cincinnati was one of the foremost art centers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

During this trip, I was happy to get to see a new statue installed this past Spring out front: Jim Dine’s Pinocchio (Emotional) – a 12 foot bronze greeting visitors upon the approach to the museum. His work was also featured prominently in an exhibit, In Celebration of Pinocchio with hometown artists including Jim Dine, Casey Rioden Millard, Mark Fox, Jay Bolotin and Will Hutchinson.

The Taft Museum of Art – This 1820’s house on a hill was donated to the city by the Tafts. Charles Taft and his wife Anna Sinton Taft were brother and sister-in-law to President WIlliam Howard Taft. Their collection of art, bequeathed to the city, includes Eurpoean and American master paintings, Chinese porcelains and European decorative arts – there are works by Rembrandt, Hals, Goya, Gainsborough, Turner, Ingres, Whistler and Sargent.

While I was there I enjoyed the collection and also 2 special exhibits. The first was Mathew Albritton’s photography in Ohio to the White House  – a look at the brithplaces and childhood homes of seven presidents.  The second, al look at the collection of French paintings on loan from the Wadsworth Atheneum in the exhibit Old Masters to Impressionists. Additionally, the city was celebrating it’s 80th anniversary of the museum with an exhibit of 80 reproductions from the collection placed throughout the Cincinnati Valley. http://www.taftmuseum.org/?page_id=2031

The Contemporary Arts Center – This striking 6-story jig-saw puzzle of a building designed by Zaha Hadid opened in 2003. It is a non-collecting museum dedicated to presenting contemporary ideas from around the world. – this time around I saw Jannis Varelas’ Sleep My Little Sheep Sleep, Francis Upritchard’s A Long Wait, and Spectacle: The Music Video.

Art for All, Taft Museum
Taft Museum

The Captive, by Henry F Farny 1885 at Cincinnati Art Museum