The Flowering of the Cincinnati Art Museum

If you've been to Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) to view the current Long Time No See exhibition of objects usually in storage

If you've been to Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) to view the current Long Time No See exhibition of objects usually in storage (see Jane Durrell's review here) you've also seen the final gallery displaying a design concept for the museum's planned expansion/renovation.

It raises more questions than it answers, dominated as it is by a windowless tower with a gracefully curved "belly" and a roofline whose slightly pointed angles suggest a flower like a tulip. (That might be because the architectural firm, Neutelings Riedijk, is from the Netherlands.) It is situated on the campus' northwest edge, in what now is the main parking lot.

The art museum, in emphasizing the preliminary nature of the design, has said, "Nothing is final." As a result, the model comes off more enigmatic than illuminating — a mysterious monolith that came from Kubrick's 2001 onto the edge of Eden Park.

And yet, during a tour of the model that CAM Director Aaron Betsky gave me last week, it became clear the museum has some reasonably firm plans for that tower as it evolves architecturally, as well as for a new special-exhibitions gallery that would be underneath it. It also has fairly detailed plans for the entire three-phase project, which includes renovation of the existing building and an underground garage built into the hillside, with windows offering views and a sculpture garden on top.

That new changing-exhibition space, for instance, would have 20,000 square feet of space rather than the current 9,000. That would allow Cincinnati to book some of the bigger touring shows, both in size and prestige.

For instance, Betsky says he had to pass on the Royal Academy of Art's Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution 1760-1830 because he didn't have space for its tall paintings. The exhibit was shown in London and Paris; Cincinnati would have been the sole U.S. venue.

The tower is planned to be 160-170 feet high, with a top that could host a viewing deck and/or restaurant. He mentioned as an influence the 144-foot-tall observation tower that is part of San Francisco's new de Young museum and offers sweeping panoramic views of Golden Gate Park and the environs beyond.

And Betsky wants the view of the new tower to be as appealing as the one from it: "We want it to be a beautiful object, an icon of an art museum with an elegant shape appropriate for Eden Park."

As for what will be inside that tower, Betsky says it will have three-to-nine floors for galleries. The wide range is because contemporary art — a planned major growth area for the museum in the near future — requires big open spaces.

The museum also wants more space for works on paper, plus room to bring its design collection into the 20th and 21st century. Betsky mentions that Anita Ellis, deputy director for curatorial affairs, is interested in collecting automobiles as design objects.

The total bricks-and-mortar construction cost would be $84 million, which needs to be raised.

"We're talking to our very best friends to ascertain the level of support," Betsky says.

Contact Steven Rosen: [email protected]

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