Best Of 2021

"Identity" at the CAC's exhibit Haze
Photo: Kaitlyn Handel
"Identity" at the CAC's exhibit Haze

Portuguese street artist Alexandre Farto, aka Vhils, is best known for his pioneering bas-relief carving technique, in which he literally scratches the surface of urban environments by carving large-scale portraits of everyday people directly into outdoor walls. He does so through industrial means — drilling, controlled explosions, ripping away debris, etc. And in February 2020, Cincinnatians could see the artist’s work rendered on gallery walls at the Contemporary Arts Center. Titled Haze, the exhibition marked Vhils’ first large-scale solo show in a United States art institution. It was also the first time Farto and his team used explosives inside a museum. They detonated more than 100 “air burst” charges embedded in a wall to create “Identity,” the show’s centerpiece artwork. Although COVID interrupted the original run, the CAC extended Haze through February 2021 so more viewers could visit. contemporaryartscenter.org.

Best Of Cincinnati Arts & Culture (Reader Picks): Cincinnati's best arts and culture as selected by CityBeat readers

Best Of Cincinnati Arts & Culture pig

Best Of Cincinnati Arts & Culture (Staff Picks): Cincinnati's best arts and culture as selected by CityBeat staff

Best Of Cincinnati Arts & Culture pig


Staff Picks

Best Way to Work Your Quads While Making Your Way to the Cincinnati Art Museum

Best News for Broadway Stans Who Don't Want to Throw Away Their Shot

Best Amusement Park Accolades

Best Enclosed Encounter in Which to Meander with Marsupials

Best Animated Skyline Chili Cameo

Best Star-Studded Stand-Up Sets in Rural Ohio

Best Artistic Celebrity Troll

Best Goodbye to Thunder-Sky

Best Economic Lifeline for Local Artists and Performers

Best Way to Name (But Not Claim) a Theater Seat

Best Job Pivoting Arts Programming

Best Literary Instagram Live

Best Local Tech Innovation for Luddites

Best Socially Distanced Swimming Experience

Best Open-Air Art Displays

Best Reason to Continue Collecting Shoes

Best Dog Park Comeback

Best One-Night (Theater) Stand

Best Retrospective Art Exhibits

Best Adorable Pup-litical News of 2020

Best Mouse King on TV

Best Neighborhood to Find Tiny Fairies

Best Addition to the Fountain Square Ice Rink

Best Virtual Gallery for Soon-to-Be Art Grads

Best Showing by a Cincinnati Artist During the Presidential Inauguration Luncheon

Best Place to Live (or at Least One of the Best) If You Want to Work on a Feature Film

Best Drive-In Musical Theater

Best Print Museum with a Purpose

Best Inclusive, Free Boxing Classes

Best Locally Produced Public Television Documentary of 2020

Best Dads Doing Good for Little Skaters

Best First Exhibit at Bunk Spot’s New Location

Best Streaming Silent Movies with Organ Accompaniment

Best Literal Street Art

Best Fireplaces to Watch on YouTube

Best New Collaborative Drive-Thru Holiday Light Show

Best Pivot from a Film Fest to a Pop-Up

Best Flower Field Trend

Best Pride Party Pack

Best Dance Team Anniversary

Best Drive-In Movie Theater Pop-Up

Best Digital Events Celebrating Cincinnati’s Jewish Community

Best Exhibit to Bring Awareness to Human Trafficking

Best One-Woman FEAST.

Best Retro Way to Enjoy Local Theater

Best Explosive Street Art Exhibit

Best Mural Commemorating the Rich History of Lincoln Heights

Best Mural Milestone

Best Art Replay

Best Take-Out Popcorn for a Movie Night at Home

Best Stephen Sondheim Publication by a CityBeat Theater Critic

Socially-distant bumper cars on ice. Here’s hoping they become an annual attraction. myfountainsquare.com.

Since 1998, Rabbit Hash, Kentucky has been electing dogs as mayors of the unincorporated hamlet instead of humans. And on Nov. 3, 2020, a six-month-old French bulldog named Wilbur caused a national stir when he was declared the new ruler, unseating the former mayor: a pitbull named Brynneth Pawltro. Adding to the attraction, Rabbit Hash’s election system is openly corrupt — voters can cast their ballot more than once, and each vote equals a monetary donation to help with the town’s historical upkeep. And while previous elections have attracted news coverage (and even a one-hour TV special on Animal Planet), the 2020 election seemed to be just what people wanted to read while the country tore its collective hair out waiting for the presidential election results. Thankfully, Mayor Wilbur is anything but divisive. And he’s ready to take charge of Rabbit Hash. “The duties of the mayor,” says his owner Amy Noland, “are to show up in town and gnaw on a bone.” rabbithash.com.

Best Amusement Park Accolades
Photo: Provided by Kings Island

Kings Island’s Orion giga coaster — one of only seven giga coasters in the world — won USA Today’s Best New Amusement Park Attraction in this year’s 10Best.com readers poll, beating out rides at Disney, Six Flags and Universal Studios. To be specified as a “giga coaster,” a ride must have a height or drop of 300 to 399 feet. To put that into perspective, Kings Island’s Eiffel Tower is 315 feet; Orion’s first drop is 300. visitkingsisland.com.

The Simpsons’ episode “The Road to Cincinnati” follows Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers on an “800-mile” voyage to the Queen City for an administrators’ convention. As it’s set in Cincinnati, the episode features some iconic local spots including the Roebling Suspension Bridge, Duke Energy Convention Center and a flying pig wearing a Reds uniform — holding a sign which reads, “Welcome to Cincinnati: Birthplace of Pete Rose’s Gambling Problem.” There was even a cameo by the Clifton Skyline (although the 3-ways were served in bowls and not on plates). Apparently, while researching the episode, The Simpsons’ crew scored some “sweet mail-order Skyline chili,” and when the pandemic hit, Executive Producer Matt Selman happily took it home to ride out “the end of times.”

1. Contemporary Arts Center

2. 21c Museum Hotel

3. Pendleton Art Center

See all winners from Best Of Cincinnati 2021

1. Cincinnati Art Museum

2. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

3. Contemporary Arts Center

Anila Quayyum Agha (b. 1965), All the Flowers Are for Me (Red), laser-cut lacquered steel and lightbulb, 60x60x60 in, Alice Bimel Endowment for Asian Art, 2017.7
Photo: Courtesy Cincinnati Art Museum
Anila Quayyum Agha (b. 1965), All the Flowers Are for Me (Red), laser-cut lacquered steel and lightbulb, 60x60x60 in, Alice Bimel Endowment for Asian Art, 2017.7

Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha’s super popular sculptural installation All the Flowers Are for Me (Red) returned to the Cincinnati Art Museum (on view until May 30, 2021). First on view at the CAM in 2017, this immersive artwork features a decorative 5-foot laser-cut cube, which illuminates and splays geometric and floral shadows across the floor, walls and ceiling of the gallery. cincinnatiartmuseum.org.

Hundreds of celebrities have received strange drawings from local comedian Alex Leeds of Dumb Celebrity Drawings, who has the uncanny ability to convey simple-yet-esoterically contrived irreverent jokes and jabs at their intended recipient. And celebrities tend to autograph and return the drawings with a shocking frequency. Some recent items of mail? Alec Baldwin signed a drawing of Tina Fey dressed up as Sarah Palin for SNL; Willem Dafoe signed a picture of his face on the Dafoe Code; and ’90s Hip Hop star Coolio autographed and sent back an illustration of a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Just another reason to support the USPS. instagram.com/dumbcelebdrawings.