Artful Resilience

The local visual arts scene remains vital despite tough times

Dec 30, 2008 at 2:06 pm

In what was a tough year all around, the visual arts scene in Greater Cincinnati managed to stay its ground in 2008, even making some progress along the way.

The primary presences are our museums, and they all had good years art-wise, although the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) was forced to make some staff layoffs late in the year as the national economy tanked. The CAC also has trimmed one of its announced upcoming shows devoted to Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto and extended Carlos Amorales’ current Spiders to October.

The Cincinnati Art Museum formalized its growing commitment to 21st-century art by naming Jessica Flores as associate curator of contemporary art, where she will champion attempts to grow that collection and find more gallery space to display it. Her tenure’s first show, still up through Feb. 15, was fantastic: Ryan McGinness: Aesthetic Comfort.

And although he’s yet to make his impact felt, the museum named a new curator of photography, James Crump. Presumably, he’ll ratchet up activity in that area and maybe even in film, since he directed the documentary Black, White Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe.

As an adjunct to the summertime exhibition Long Time No See, for which the museum brought out objects in storage to make a case for an addition, Director Aaron Betsky introduced the first design concept for such a new building.

The Dutch firm Neutelings Reidijk had proposed a windowless tower with a shape ever so subtly suggestive of a tulip to be situated on what is now the museum’s main parking lot. It would have a commanding view of the city and be connected to the main building through an underground concourse that would include a much-needed large space for major special exhibitions.

Further design plans are underway, and it will be interesting to see how actively the museum pursues this in 2009 amid all the economic turmoil. The price tag was estimated at $84 million.

Meanwhile, such special exhibitions as China Design Now (up through Jan. 11), Masterpiece Quilts From the Shelburne Museum and Three Faces of the Master drew good notices and appealed to a variety of tastes.

At the CAC, Raphaela Platow — since 2007 the director and chief curator — was able to plan her first season, basing it around single-artist exhibitions. It started this fall with two excellent shows: a retrospective of the Austrian artist Maria Lassnig’s paintings (up through Jan. 11) and Mexican artist Amorales’ Spiders.

Incidentally, the 2007-08 season concluded with a fun interactive group show curated by Maiza Hixson, American Idyll: Contemporary Art and Karaoke, as well as Clare Norwood’s Uncoordinated: Mapping Cartography in Contemporary Art, which provided a showcase for some interesting artists.

Looking to liven up the first-floor lobby — the critical entry point to the “urban carpet” that is the five-year-old Zaha Hadid-designed Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art — 2008 brought some new ideas, such as the “44” lunchtime events on Mondays, but no clear answers.

Meanwhile, the Taft Museum of Art delivered some high-quality, substantial special exhibitions. From Winslow Homer to Edward Hopper: American Watercolor Masterpieces from the Brooklyn Museum had depth and quality, while Views from the Uffizi: Painting the Italian Landscape turned out to be a learned primer on the history of landscape painting.

Probably the city’s chief non-museum nonprofit space, the Weston Art Gallery at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, had another busy year, often presenting three shows at a time. Some I liked very much. But it had a major success in fall turning its entire space over to Since You’ve Been Gone: A Collection of New Works and Documentation Celebrating Five Years of Publico. Nevermind that the Over-the-Rhine alternative space had barely been closed; this show gave it a mainstream (for contemporary art) salute that included all sorts of interesting supplemental programming.

Elsewhere worth noting: Continued first-rate and ambitious shows at Carl Solway and Country Club galleries in the West End; the success of Cincinnati Arts Association’s Shine a Light on Brighton studio tour, which made a case for the old industrial neighborhood as a developing art district; the beautiful speaker-like hanging artworks Karl Jensen designed for the Music Now Festival at Memorial Hall; Clifton Cultural Arts Center’s opening in the old Clifton School with Floodwall, New Orleans artist Jani Napoli’s sobering remembrance of Hurricane Katrina’s impact; and the site-specific sculptural installations by Cincinnati’s Thin Air Studio at The Carnegie and Iris BookCafe.

Also, a big thanks to the visual-art writers who contributed to CityBeat’s 2008 coverage: Jane Durrell, Angela Kilduff, Laura Leffler, Tamera Lenz Muente, Matt Morris, Selena Reder, Sarah Stephens and Elizabeth Wu. Be assured they’ll be working just as diligently in 2009.