On Monday, Cincinnati Art Museum announced the resignation of James Crump, its chief curator and photography curator. He arrived at the museum in 2008. A press release said he would "pursue independent projects." The press release also included high praise for Crump from Aaron Betsky, museum director:
"We are so grateful for the great work James has done here in Cincinnati. His exhibitions and acquisitions have made us a center for photography, and we look forward to building on his extraordinary achievements."
One of those achievements, the exhibition James Welling: Monograph, just opened Feb. 2. Crump was also a leader in the organization of last year's multi-venue FotoFocus photography festival, and Cincinnati Art Museum sponsored two of its biggest shows — Herb Ritts: L.A. Style and Doug and Mike Starn's Gravity of Light.
The museum said an interim chief curator will be named soon.
Recently, the Italian art-book publisher Damiani launched a new line of Damiani / Crump books. It begins in March with Empire Falling, photographer Elena Dorfman's study of Midwest rock quarries.
I spent 12 hours on Thursday absorbing events and
performances of the 2012 World Choir Games. My "day pass" gave me way
too much to write up in detail, but here are some highlights and random
Show Choirs: I spent several morning hours at the Aronoff Center (which was "sold-out" — no empty seats, before 10 a.m.!) watching groups perform in the manner popularized by the TV series Glee. Some followed the familiar model completely — glittering costumes, athletic dance numbers, lots of fist-pumping and high energy. They were fun to watch, but the international filter provided by groups from the Bahamas and Venezuela provided a whole new filter. The 26 members of the Bahama National Youth Choir dispensed with flashy costumes — young men and women wore khaki pants and skirts, topped with navy blue blazers and white shirts. But, boy, could they dance: From "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing" to Michael Jackson's "Beat It." And when they finished (to a standing ovation), the next group, Orfeón Universitario Rafael Montaño from Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, dazzled us with a salsa-inspired Spanish-language set with costume changes for every number — at one point including a dozen women with palm trees atop their heads! About half the numbers utilized wonderful soloists, mature women with incredible voices backed up by the choir in tributes to pop singers from the world of Hispanic music. The group's performance was a riot of color, dancing and joyous outbursts of energy.
Barbershop: This is a first-time category for WCG, a popular choir form in North America that's not practiced much elsewhere. But based on the big crowd for the competition at Music Hall, I'd say that singers of the world might be adopting this happy form of choral performance that involves close harmony, typically by groups that are all male or female. I smiled at a group of 32 from Minnesota, the North Star Boys Choir, and enjoyed the "mature" group of women, the Cincinnati Sound Chorus, who clearly enjoyed their set, opening with "As long as I'm singing my song." Three more choruses in colorful costumes — A Cappella Showcase (from Canada), Greater Harrisburg Sweet Adelines Chorus (from Pennsylvania) and Bay Area Showcase Chorus (from California) were all dazzlingly entertaining.
Friendship Concert: Departing from Music Hall late in the afternoon, I encountered a big crowd in Washington Park surrounding the bandstand. Patiently waiting for the moment to begin was a chorus of kids from Goteborg School in South Africa. The surrounding crowd was dotted with other performers, young African-American girls in maroon choir robes and pale girls from Russia in floaty pastel chiffon dresses with flowers in their hair, looking like escapees from a fantasy bridal party. I was tempted to pass by until the South African choir started to sing: They were elementary aged children who sang with lusty enthusiasm, and I couldn't tear myself away from listening to their rhythmic songs and high spirits. The crowd responded accordingly.
After dinner at Bakersfield on Vine Street, I went on to the day's real highlight, the Cultural Showcase at the Aronoff — another completely full house at the P&G Hall starting at 7:30 p.m. The Venezuelans I'd seen earlier in show choir mode were back doing a program of somewhat less flashy folk music numbers. There was still plenty of energy and costumes, as well as more work from the outstanding soloists. The next group was 65 boys from Kearsney College, a high school in Botha's Hill, South Africa. Half their program was sung in blue-and-white choir robes with a brilliant yellow icon of Africa on the front; this was a powerfully emotional set, full of the rhythms and zest that I've come to expect from South African ensembles. The second portion of their program focused on Zulu folklore and one of its heroes, King Shaka. For this portion the boys dressed in black shirts and pants with cardinal red belts and knee-high rubber boots, like those worn by miners. This set of music was non-stop athleticism, dancing, acrobatics and lusty singing. The audience responded warmly to this off-the-hook segment, and conductor Bernard Krüger told the audience that he loves Americans because they really know how to cheer. The final set of performers were from Istanbul, Turkey, the Bogaziçi Jazz Choir. This was a different kind of folk music from a country about which I don't know much, but watching their earnest, sometimes serious sometimes humorous delivery, I feel that I understand their character more fully. They concluded with several songs in English that warmed the audience even more — earning two standing ovations.
My final observation on the evening: It was so satisfying to be in an audience that truly loved what they were witnessing and expressed their joy at the performances with honest reactions. These were some of the most genuine standing ovations I've ever witnessed. I was proud to be in this crowd, and I have to believe that it was a truly memorable experience for the performers.
A final observation: Every choir I've heard from South Africa has deeply moved me. Knowing that nation's history of apartheid and seeing choirs of mixed races reveling in music gave me hope that music can indeed heal the world. That's a great lesson to learn from the World Choir Games.
While many of Cincinnati’s theaters have announced their 2011-2012 seasons, a few more are putting the finishing touches on what they’ll stage for the coming year. Today I can share with you exciting news from The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center as well as an always popular series at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM).
Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues is a complicated noir-ish tale of marital deceit and cryptic crime that unfolds more clearly because of its accomplished four-actor cast, including local professionals Bruce Cromer (who’s played roles as varied as Ebenezer Scrooge for the Playhouse to King Lear for Cincinnati Shakespeare) and Amy Warner (a regular at Ensemble Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare). The show is a fascinating piece of theater that takes work to watch, follow and absorb. I suppose that some casual theatergoers will be put off by it, but if you like challenging drama and multi-layered acting, you’ll leave the theater with your gears spinning. I gave Speaking in Tongues a Critic’s Pick in this week's "Curtain Call" column. Onstage through March 4. Box office: 513-421-3888.
If you’re a fan of the Cincinnati Fringe, you should check out the Transmigration Festival at CCM on the University of Cincinnati campus. I was there last evening and saw three of the six performances, especially enjoying Booth, an interactive piece by nine actors based on John Wilkes Booth’s final days. I also was entertained by The Eddie Shanahan Show, closely inspired by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but with some very modern twists. Attendees choose between six brief productions (30 minutes or less) that are completely created, promoted, enacted and staged by drama students. It’s a February boost of creativity, staged throughout the CCM facility, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30, as well as a 2:30 matinee on Saturday. Admission is free, but you need to call the CCM box office to reserve your ticket: 513-556-4183.
Another university option can be found at NKU. It’s Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention, telling the story of Phil Farnsworth who invented television but spent much of his life in legal wrangles with David Sarnoff, RCA executive and the first “media mogul.” Sorkin's credits — from The West Wing to The Social Network — are a guarantee of a heady, exciting tale based on real events. Tickets ($14 is the maximum price): 859-572-5464.
Know Theater’s “comedy of anxiety” by Allison Moore, Collapse, opens with the collapse of a highway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. But it’s about all kinds of things falling down — the economy, relationships. This is the kind of edgy script Know Theatre is known for, funny but meaningful. I gave the production a Critic’s Pick because it combines heart and humor. Collapse is presented with comic finesse and fine acting, especially by local professional actress Annie Fitzpatrick. Know’s best work of the season. Through March 3. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
This weekend is your last chance to see the regional premiere of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man at Ensemble Theatre (through Saturday evening). The historical play, set in Richmond, Va., in April 1865, just days after the end of the Civil War, is a gripping drama that’s beautifully staged and convincingly acted. I gave it a Critic’s Pick. The production has been extended a week because of demand for tickets; you won’t be contending with subscribers this weekend, so if you haven’t seen it yet — call for a ticket: 513-421-3555.
Each week in Stage Door, Rick Pender offers theater tips for the weekend, often with a few pieces of theater news.
Listen up, fans of crafty, post-modern fiction: Local author/professor/all-around good guy Michael Griffith christens his freshly minted new book, Trophy, 7 p.m. tonight at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.
Having wrapped up a very busy first (extended) weekend of FotoFocus activities, I’m humbled by the fact that I only got to a portion of the exhibits and events occurring under the month-long, regional photography festival’s umbrella.
Before it’s over, more than 70 shows and related special events — like this Wednesday’s concert at the Emery Theatre by Bill Frisell/858 Quarter, featuring musical portraits inspired by photographer Mike Disfarmer’s work — will have taken place. I’m wondering if FotoFocus, like the National Park Service, should have a passport that can be stamped at each site of a sponsored activity. (Quite a few exhibits will continue past October – check here for schedules.)
“Umbrella,” by the way, is an apt word to use in one respect. Sideshow, the thoroughly charming outdoor kick-off party that took place Friday night, was bedeviled by rain and cold temperatures. As a result, attendance was small. That was disappointing because the alleys of downtown’s Backstage Theatre District had been turned into a colorful, imaginative, Fellini-esque carnival for the evening, with handmade booths, games of chance and photography opportunities.
A stage with a theatrical backdrop served to host A Hawk and a Hacksaw, a New Mexico duo — Jeremy Barnes on accordion and Heather Trost on violin — whose music had an East European/Middle Eastern flavor and whose musicianship was impeccable. They would have fit well at MidPoint. In fact, the Backstage Theatre District would make a great outdoor venue next year for MidPoint, which, as Mike Breen pointed out, needs a stronger downtown presence.
On Wednesday, I attended the preview opening of Doug and Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light in Holy Cross Church at the Mount Adams Monastery. I had gone a couple weeks earlier for a test, which I described in last week’s Big Picture column, where the noise and flying sparks from the giant carbon arc lamp’s scared me even as the magnitude and, well, gravity of the monumental photographs that its light illuminated astonished me.
On my second visit, with maybe two dozen other guests present, Gravity of Light wasn’t quite as scary — not when you see people using the carbon arc lamp’s brilliant white light to read their smart phone email. Ah, technology! But it’s still a profound exhibit — a major installation that uses photography as an intrinsic part of a created environment – and I can’t imagine that anyone interested in contemporary art or FotoFocus would want to miss it. And afterward, you’ll want to discuss what it means.
Two other exhibits I attended over the weekend were Anthony Luensman’s TAINT at the Weston Art Gallery and Let's Face It: Photographic Portraits by Melvin Grier, Michael Kearns and Michael Wilson at Kennedy Heights Art Center. Luensman is one of our most talented local artists, especially ingenious with installations involving sound and light, but I didn’t get a clear indication of how or why the presence of photography (and video) is supposed to crucially matter in this mixed-media show.
The Kennedy Heights exhibit had some remarkable large-scale black-and-white portraits by all three accomplished local photographers. Grier and Wilson, in their Giclee prints made from film negatives, got remarkable expressiveness their subjects like “Robert” and “Tony” (Grier) and “Thomas” and “Lamayah” (Wilson). Those Wilson photos, and some others, frame the pupils of their subjects’ eyes with a tiny white square, a stunning effect. In several of his large Giclee prints from digital photographs, Kearns achieves clarity of detail so rich (on “Chuck,” which is Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver, and “Andre”) that you could stand there and count every strand of the subjects’ hair. I don’t know who Andre is, but the way he is posed with head slightly upward and a triumphant smile emerging from a mouth that appears to be missing some teeth makes him heroically human. It’s a meaningful show.
On Thursday, I attended the Cincinnati Art Museum’s reception for Herb Ritts: L.A. Style, the Getty Center-organized show of the late photographer’s black-and-white prints. Beautifully installed, this exhibit features Ritts’ fashion and celebrity work, as well as his stylized, erotically charged studies of the nude male and female torso. The show doesn’t so much chart his “progression” from high fashion to high art as it spotlights the connection between fashion and art. It also underscores that the eternal human quest for perfection is about the body as much as the mind. (Kathy Schwartz will have more on this show soon.)
For opening weekend, the art museum’s Chief Curator James Crump — also FotoFocus’ co-chair — brought to town Paul Martineau, the Getty’s curator for the Ritts exhibit, and Charles Churchward, a magazine design and art director who knew Ritts and has written Herb Ritts: The Golden Hour.
Martineau, it turns out, is at work on a major Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit to be presented by the Getty and Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2016. (Getty Research Institute and LACMA recently acquired some 2,000 of his photographs, and the Getty already had acquired the archives of Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe’s collector/lover.)
Martineau told me it might travel. Cincinnati would be a perfect venue for it — Crump has made a documentary about Mapplethorpe and Wagstaff, the authoritative Black White + Gray. Is it too early to start a Facebook campaign to bring that Mapplethorpe exhibit to Cincinnati? Any volunteers?
Aisle Gallery, 424 Findlay St., 3rd Floor in the West End, is presenting a gallery talk with artist, curator and Citybeat contributor Matt Morris this Saturday from 1-3 p.m.
Audience response can be a good indicator of which holiday shows are hitting the mark. While I found the humor in Know Theatre's Sideways Stories from Wayside School to be a tad forced (you can read my full review here), the theater’s box office phone (513-300-5669) has been ringing steadily, so they've added a performance this weekend on Saturday at 3 p.m., and also on Dec. 27, the final day end of the run.
I spent two-and-a-half hours watching the Acclaim Awards last night — 150 minutes with no intermission. Thanks to affable hosts Charlie Clarke and Mark Hardy (the well-dressed “scoundrels” of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels last September at The Carnegie), there was a lot of humor, but I put an emphasis on “a lot” as in “maybe too much.”
As I’ve written previously, the Acclaims offer some solid recognition of many of the things that constitute our local theater scene. But the awards program itself lacks discipline: If this had been a stage production at one of our local theaters, I wouldn't be the only critic saying, “Nice work, but it needs a lot of trimming.” And some thoughtfulness.