Before discussing the Cincinnati Art Museum’s recently announced plans for its 2009-2010 exhibition season, it’s worth noting that the museum is coming off a high point. The just-concluded Surrealism and Beyond show of work from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem drew more than 40,000 visitors — the most for a CAM exhibition since 2004’s Petra: Lost City of Stone. While one contributing factor was certainly the lifting of admission fees for special shows (replaced by a parking charge), another was the stimulating, provocative nature of the art.
The coming season does not have any shows as high profile as that one. A result of the recession is that museums have had to slow down organizing big traveling exhibitions, so one that was supposed to come here in 2009-10 — circus posters from Sarasota’s Ringling Museum of Art — has been delayed at the Ringling’s request.
There is a traveling show coming here that was well received last year at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Imperishable Beauty: Art Nouveau Jewelry, features about 120 works from turn-of-the-20th-century designers and fabricators, including the masterful Rene Lalique. That show arrives Oct. 24 and stays through Jan. 25.
Also, there is a show that promises groundbreaking art scholarship as well as beauty. Hou-mei Sung, CAM’s curator of Asian art, has worked 15 years studying and assembling Roaring Tigers and Leaping Carp: Decoding the Symbolic Language of Chinese Animal Painting. Debuting Oct. 9 and up through Jan. 3, it will bring together more than 100 paintings from around the world, including national museums in both Taipei and Peking.
The show’s gist is that animals have symbolic as well as literal meaning in Chinese painting, going back to the Middle Ages. So a roaring tiger can mean a threat to the empire, for instance. “And a leaping carp is not just carp, but can represent scholars trying to leap over the hurdles of imperial exams to be admitted to the court,” says CAM Director Aaron Betsky.
Beyond that, CAM is relying on new Curator of Photography James Crump to put together shows. He has three for 2010 so far: Starburst: Color Photography in America, 1979-1980 (Feb. 13-May 9); Thomas Schiff: Las Vegas 360 (April 3-July 18); and Walker Evans: Decade by Decade (June 12-Sept. 5). The latter is not a full retrospective but rather little-seen work that Crump found in a private collection.
Betsky said it will show that Evans, famed for chronicling Depression-era Southern poverty, did other work as well.
“He had a keen eye for all aspects of American culture — portraits of friends, portraits of anonymous people and pieces of architecture, including wonderful images of Southern mansions as well as sharecropper shacks,” Betsky says.
Other scheduled shows are an exhibition of work by Don Lambert, the first winner of the museum’s new 4th Floor Award (Sept. 5-Nov. 29); Martin Puryear: Prints (Dec. 12-March 14); and, way off in August of 2010, a humorous installation by E.V. Day called Bride Fights.
CAM will cease Wednesday night hours to save money. However, it will increase exhibition-related programming, including a film series.
Meanwhile, Betsky has announced that CAM is working on a retrospective of the Cincinnati-born and -educated pop artist Tom Wesselmann, who died in 2004. A contemporary of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, his colorful Great American Nude paintings have become 1960s icons. The estate and Wesselmann’s widow are helping.
“It’s currently scheduled for 2013,” Betsky says. “In the museum world, that’s (the time) it takes. We’re planning a major retrospective that we will organize and then it will travel to other places in the world.”
CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: [email protected]