For the most fun you'll have at an exhibition all summer, don't miss Long Time No See, the grand grabbag of more than 100 objects the Cincinnati Art Museum pulled from storage to hammer home its need for more gallery space. (See Steven Rosen's related column on the proposed CAM expansion.)
Aaron Betsky, museum director, is the exhibition's curator. But, he says, curators, docents and others who work closely with the collection chose the works for the exhibition and with him they "pared down the choice to something manageable." He designed the show, however, so is responsible for the marvelous juxtapositions that give it so much punch.
Immediately into the show, you see a steel-gray suit of armor (Italian, 16th century, exquisitely detailed) paired with a steel-gray Issey Miyake jacket (Japanese, 20th century, exquisitely detailed), and realize that the one is quirkily related to the other. Part of the fun of the show is to look for other nifty pairings.
"I thought it was important to show the links across our collections, and also to emphasize some themes or stories," Betsky says. Individual thematic arrangements are found throughout.
"I'm happy, for instance, with the grouping of the images of Taos (John Marin), Yosemite (Ansel Adams) and Gloucester (John Singer Sargent) -- America goes on vacation in this great land!" he says.
"I also tried to show such things as the traces of Chinese influences through objects of daily use and to show women working as models (Robert Frederick Blum's "Studio of Robert Blum"), dancers (Edgar Degas' "Dancer in Her Dressing Room") and other roles."
Betsky is also responsible for the no-frills installation that suggests storage area rather than gallery, and enhances some works. A Gauguin, hung on a framework of studs, is both improbable and delightful, the simplicity emphasizing the natural setting the artist portrayed. This particular Gauguin, "Mahana Ma'a," is also one of the works singled out for curatorial comment via cell phone. By dialing the given number and pushing the proper digit, you will hear Betsky describe his fondness for this work.
I particularly liked "April Factory Painting" (1978) by Donald Sultan, whose work will be shown at the Contemporary Arts Center early next year. Sultan does wonders with prosaic materials: linoleum and tar on Masonite/wood, plus paint. Here he produces a strong, somewhat mysterious, brooding image in black and a flat blue. Ralston Crawford's "Boiler Synthesis" (1941), to the right of it, and David Smith's "Untitled" (1956) to the left, set Sultan's painting off in interesting ways, as all use abstraction to different degrees.
At an epilogue-like gallery at the end, a model of Neutelings Riedijk's initial concept design for expanding and renovating the museum is shown. Creative thinking appears to be a hallmark of this Netherlands-based architectural firm, as is revealed by the dozens of small study models of other projects, exploring one idea after another, on display in this gallery near the model.
Betsky said in an interview with CityBeat shortly after his appointment that the vast collection was one of his reasons for coming here. He and his staff have clearly had a fine time putting together this exhibition. You will have a fine time looking at it.
If you want to know more about the museum's collection and expansion plans, come to an "Evenings with Aaron" for a special tour and discussion at 8 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 pm. Aug. 20 or 7 p.m. Aug. 27. No charge, but reservations (513-721-ARTS) are required.