Breathtaking Views

CityBeat’s visual arts writers pick their favorite 2011 exhibitions

Dec 28, 2011 at 8:36 am


his past year had its ups and downs for the visual arts. The major museums had good shows, but nothing that captured the public imagination on the order of 2010’s Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand at Contemporary Arts Center or Wedded Perfection at the Cincinnati Art Museum. (Wedded Perfection set an attendance record of 63,176 visitors; this year’s Amazing American Circus Poster attracted 35,766 while the first two months of the current — and smaller — Art Deco fashion and design show brought in 17,430.) We lost Country Club — at least temporarily — as a gallery for high-profile, high-quality curated contemporary art exhibitions. Also, the city’s best (and best-managed) alt-gallery space, U-turn, closed. (Others have moved in to take its place in Brighton, however.)

But rather than dwell on those issues, we’ve asked five contributors to CityBeat’s visual arts coverage (including myself) to choose favorite 2011 shows. They found the task easy (or maybe hard) because the choices were plentiful.

Meaningful Fashion

Art Deco: Fashion and Design in the Jazz Age, still at the

Cincinnati Art Museum

through New Year’s Day, places the elegant couture of a particular time in the context of the world that produced it, thus going beyond the pretty dresses (and are they ever pretty!) to suggest the social implications of clothing that freed women from their previously corseted, swaddled way of dress. Curator Cynthia Amneus understands perfectly that fashion is a bellwether of how we think and what we value. The show was created to welcome to the museum a gift of 1920s-era French fashions from Cincinnati native Betty Colker, now a resident of West Virginia. In Amneus’ hands, the show also became a heady transport back to that era, a time when everything was changing fast, something we can relate to today.

(Jane Durrell)

A Concrete Concept

As part of the

Factory Square Fine Arts Festival

in Northside,

Ledelle Moe’s monumental concrete sculptures

constituted one of the most significant art displays of 2011. I thought they brought a serious, almost sacred quality to an otherwise playful event. Moe’s sculptures seemed to draw power from an imagined history. These were contemporary works traveling in the guise of something ancient. I felt privy to a major archeological discovery as I made my way around the massive supine figures, resting as they were, in open defiance of gravity. It was a shame that they were not more publicly accessible. Works of this level of ambition and quality are a rare occurrence both here and elsewhere.

(Alan Pocaro)

Frayed Utopia

A charred, war-torn depiction of Utopia came in distress to the

Weston Art Gallery

last winter. The exhibit of Todd Reynolds’ oil paintings and watercolors arrived at the gallery on a 16-foot U-Haul. Some were painted on Masonite or thin plywood and were coming unglued from their scrap-material supports. They had been hiding, stacked against the walls of Reynolds’ home in Portsmouth, and they emerged on the clean walls of the gallery, like unruly children. Utopia was a dark satire for the modern day. It criticized corruption, frivolity and religious extremism with the same sharp wit as Francisco Goya’s work did. In one image, the gluttonous baker withholds his cake. In another, the porcine rube reclines like Venus or Bacchus. His paintings expose our excesses and grief, which is intensely personal for the artist but no stranger to all of us. At a time this year when a dreary winter blanket covered the city, and the Taft Museum exhibited Goya’s Los Caprichos bleak etchings, Cincinnati also needed to see Todd Reynolds. And it did.

(Selena Reder)

A Different City View

Victory City, a show presented by

UC’s DAAP Galleries

during October and November, meticulously and artfully presented a major discovery — the beautifully intricate, mesmerizing architectural drawings, models and related archival/documentation materials of Cincinnati’s Orville Simpson II. Simpson was a self-taught visionary who imagined that our future would best be served by a new, self-sufficient city — built between Cincinnati and Dayton — that would house 262,000 residents in large towers. People would eat in communal “circle-serve” cafeterias, with food delivered via Ferris-wheel-like contraptions, and there would be dental-hygiene stations to reduce cavities. Simpson, now 89, has been working on his plans since the 1930s. UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning recently took possession of his archives and it’s a major acquisition for the school. One looks forward to its preservation of Simpson’s work and further sharing of it. And maybe it will get built yet. It sure beats the exurban ugliness of so much of Butler County now.

(Steven Rosen)

Bold Moves 

It wasn’t apparent then, but the summer exhibition Not Just Pretty Pictures: The Carl M. Jacobs III Collection was the introduction to a new

Cincinnati Art Museum

. While redoing its antiquities gallery to showcase all its collections, the museum hinted at what lay ahead by presenting an eclectic range of prints and photos bequeathed by the former Cincinnatian. There was something for everyone, from Eugene Delacroix and Francisco Goya to Robert Mapplethorpe and William Wegman. The art was hung salon-style, without undue regard to period or medium, and it worked. Two months later, the Schmidlapp Gallery reopened, showcasing 18 iconic pieces ranging from a mummy to a Matisse. The open-storage exhibit The Collections: 6,000 Years of Art followed. Hundreds of pieces — art-carved furniture, paintings, prints, Asian ceramics, antiquities, contemporary crafts — are in one room. These are bold moves, but Jacobs was a risk-taker, too — and look at how that benefited the museum.

(Kathy Schwartz)