For art museums, one effect of the Great Recession has been to reexamine priorities — try to do more with the collections you already have, saving money on importing prestigious but costly traveling shows.
For the 2010-2011 exhibition season, Cincinnati Art Museum’s three major shows will be in-house-curated and highlight its own collection — borrowing to fill out a show, but not define it.
The art museum goes into the next season with a balanced budget and intends to keep it that way. It has also, according to Director Aaron Betsky, been underfunded for at least two decades in relation to the area’s regional growth.
“We have to think of new ways we can do great things with little money,” he says. “Now that I have been in Cincinnati for more than three and a half years and realize the wealth of our collection and the passions people have for it, it’s very germane we concentrate on that.”
So the three biggest shows on the museum’s upcoming calendar, announced Monday, are locally originated. One, The Amazing American Circus Poster, scheduled for Feb. 29-July 11 in 2011, was originally planned for this season and then delayed. It features large, vividly colorful and detailed circus posters printed by Cincinnati’s Strobridge Lithographic Co., which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries did 90 percent of all circus posters.
Another of the major shows, scheduled to run from Sept. 18-Jan. 2, highlights the year-long restoration of a major Thomas Gainsborough portrait in the collection, that of “Ann Ford: Later Mrs. Philip Thicknesse.” Painted in 1760 by the British master of portraiture, it is noteworthy for being a full portrait showing a young woman with a guitar and a larger viol di Gamba in the background.
“She was a musician of good birth and had herself portrayed playing an instrument and cross-legged, both of which were scandalous,” Betsky says.
The art museum will pair it with nine other Gainsborough portraits of women, borrowed from such collections as the Huntington Library, National Gallery of Art and the Metropolitan Museum.
European Painting and Sculpture Curator Benedict Leca maintains the museum’s Gainsborough portrait is historically important.
“(He) sees this a transformation of portraiture from the affirmation of power and the aggrandizement of grandees to the portraiture of social mobility, middle-class women and using arts as a way of establishing one’s self in the world,” Betsky says. “He makes an analogy between her playing an instrument and Gainsborough as a painter establishing himself in society.”
Additionally, the museum has commissioned African-American painter Kehinde Wiley to paint singer/fashion icon Grace Jones in the manner of classic British portraiture.
The third major show of the 2010-2011 season will be Wedded Perfection: Two Centuries of Wedding Gowns, scheduled for Oct. 9-Jan. 30. It’s the result of a scholarship by Cynthia Amneus, associate curator of costume and textiles, and will be drawn largely (but not exclusively) from the museum’s collection of 19th and 20th Century European and U.S. wedding dresses.
Other scheduled shows highlighting gifts from collectors are: Virginia Dick (Sept. 4-Jan. 2); McCrindle Collection of Pre-Columbian Art (Sept. 4-Dec. 4); and Carl Jacobs (May 21, 2011-Aug. 14).
CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: [email protected]