CAC will take clowns seriously this year

Ugo Rondinone’s anticipated "Once Upon a Time" exhibit opens at the museum on May 5, featuring 47 life-size clown sculptures surrounded by florescent painted colors.

Jan 4, 2017 at 12:25 pm

click to enlarge Ugo Rondinone’s 2015 “vocabulary of solitude” - Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Barbara Gladstone Gallery
Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Barbara Gladstone Gallery
Ugo Rondinone’s 2015 “vocabulary of solitude”
For Cincinnati’s visual arts scene, 2017 is the year to send in the clowns. With great anticipation, the Contemporary Arts Center is preparing to open the Swiss-born, New York-based artist Ugo Rondinone’s Once Upon a Time exhibit on May 5. 

This is the show, much talked about since first announced last summer, that features 47 life-size contemplative clown sculptures dominating a space surrounded by vibrantly Technicolor-like, fluorescent painted colors. The installation is meant to make you feel like you’re stepping into a 3-D world.

Raphaela Platow, the CAC’s director and a devoted fan of Rondinone since first seeing his work in a Zurich gallery in the mid-1990s, described in an (excerpted by this writer) email why she believes his work has profundity. They have power even in time when “creepy clown sightings” have become a clichéd symbol of our anxiety and insecurity.

“Ugo’s work has always been contemplative and introspective, while at the same time asking questions about how expressions of genuine beauty that are turned into kitsch by pop culture can be reclaimed,” she wrote. 

“The clown vestments …  speak to the traditional definition of clowns as performers to genuinely amuse and entertain. The artist is interested in the tension between the inward poses of the sculptures and their outward appearance of comical entertainers. I would claim that we all experience that dichotomy of inward and outward in our lives,” she continued.

 “…We do hope, even if the scary clown images and stories prevail, that we can introduce a different perspective (a much more positive and thoughtful one) into the discourse.”

Meanwhile, the CAC’s Black Box Performances Series season has the Feb. 22-24 world premiere of Napoleon Maddox’s Twice the First TimeMaddox, the Cincinnati-based Hip-Hop/Jazz artist, will be performing a production based on the story of his great-grandaunts, conjoined twins born into slavery who became performers themselves. According to the CAC, Maddox will be using poetry, song and scenography to bring their story to life. The CAC commisioned the piece, with the French Banlieues Bleues festival as a development partner. (

The Cincinnati Art Museum continues the rediscovery of its Japanese collection that started with 2015’s Masterpieces of Japanese Art with Dressed to Kill: Japanese Arms and Armor, on view Feb. 11-May 7. This look at the Samurai culture that thrived in Japan from the 16th-19th centuries features more than 130 warrior-related objects from the museum’s collection, as well as pieces loaned by collector Gary Grose. It will have 11 full suits of armor, including one that was for a youth. Like the earlier Masterpieces show, this was curated by Hou-Mei Sung. (

 In what should be a sparkling exhibition, the Taft Museum of Art is presenting, from Feb. 11 to May 14, Bijoux Parisiens: French Jewelry from the Petit Palais, Paris. This features 75 pieces of jewelry from such fabled French names as Cartier, Lalique and Van Cleef & Arpels. With pieces from the 17th-20th centuries, it covers designs from the Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Deco periods. 

Keeping a European focus, the Taft from June 10-Oct. 1 (

In the galleries, the show I’m most eagerly awaiting is Distant Horizons: Pioneers of Psychedelic Art at the Carl Solway Gallery from June 16-Sept. 9. A project of Michael Solway’s, put together by New York curator Carlo McCormick, this aims to continue the legacy of the influential Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia exhibit that Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center put together last year. It will feature work by psychedelic painter Isaac Abrams, photographer and filmmaker Ira Cohen, multimedia artist Tony Martin and USCO, a collective for experimental multimedia artists that included Gerd Stern and Michael Callahan. (

Coming off a strong FotoFocus-related photography show featuring William Ropp, William Messer at Iris BookCafé and Gallery next plans to show color photographs by Cincinnati’s Bill Renschler paired with black-and-white work by New York’s Harvey Osterhoudt. The two artists met when studying at Indiana University in the 1970s. ( ©