After almost two years of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, local arts, cultural and educational organizations are cautiously hoping they can finally emerge from nightmare times with new ideas. A number are at least considering — and, in some cases, already constructing — new buildings or redesigning existing ones. That list includes the Cincinnati Art Museum, which has launched a $65 million fundraising campaign to create a sweeping “New View” of the institution’s main entrance, as well as the main branch of the Cincinnati Public Library, the Playhouse in the Park, the Taft Museum of Art, the Vent Haven Museum, the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, Lloyd Library & Museum, Cincinnati Type & Print Museum and others.
As part of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Simply Brilliant: Artist-Jewelers of the 1960s and 1970s exhibit — which derived from a private collection — the institution added some splendiferous clothing from its own holdings, perhaps to offer ideas as to what one could wear with all the gold and silver on display. Or, maybe, for a change of pace. One showstopper was the positively hypnotizing Poster Dress by the late Harry Gordon that depicts a large eye in black and white on its front. It’s a product of the rebellious ’60s, when ideas about everything, including fashion, were radically changing the culture. Made from screen-printed tissue, wood pulp and rayon mesh, the eye was part of a 1968 series of five shift dresses (the museum also has a cat, a rocket and a hand held in a Buddhist peace gesture and overprinted with the Allen Ginsberg poem “Uptown”). The museum is still seeking the rose-depicting dress to have a complete set. Gordon started his Poster Dresses in 1967 with one depicting Bob Dylan. cincinnatiartmuseum.org.
As part of its CSO Proof new music initiative, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra co-commissioned an avant-garde and super-hip video production called The Meta Simulacrum Vol. 1, a look at the dangers and disorientations awaiting us in the future. The creation of composer/producer William Brittelle, filmmaker Isaac Gale and editor/computer coder Patrick Marschke and based on the environmental writing of William deBuys, it streamed for a short period last spring on the CSO website (and then moved on to the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis). If you were lucky enough to see it, it may still be messing with your head. With a musical score flitting between experimentalism and easy-listening New Age plus images that sometimes had the psychedelic deadpan of the Teletubbies and sometimes the look of a schlocky 1970s cop show, it was hypnotically disorienting. An unseen narrator revealed a secret history of our times that connected German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, cyberpunk sci-fi writer William Gibson and, repeatedly, television producer Steven Bochco. At the conclusion, singer Holland Andrews had a short song, performed as an ensemble played while wearing scary metal-like masks. It was breathtakingly beautiful. You can still find Meta Simulacrum on YouTube. cincinnatisymphony.org.
If you tell someone that the Taft Museum of Art won the 2021 American Alliance of Museums’ Excellence in Exhibition Label Writing Competition, you might get a laugh back. Outside the world of museum exhibition label writing, it wouldn’t seem to be of interest. Well, you should care a lot and be very proud of the commitment to inclusion shown by the Taft that resulted in the award. Spurred by Museum President/CEO Deborah Emont Scott’s urging to have the museum address the inequities of American history, part of a national effort that became urgent following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, curator Tamera Lenz Muente added “More to the Story” text to 16 labels for artwork in the Taft’s 2020-2021exhibit A Splendid Century: Cincinnati Art 1820-1920. The Taft said of the exhibit that “no century is ‘splendid’ for all people.” In particular, to accompany an 1840 self-portrait by18-year-old artist Lilly Martin Spencer, Muente explained how just 10% of women at the time were able to work outside the home, and then mostly in such jobs as teacher, nurse or domestic servant. Spencer, indeed, was a lucky exception to American norms for women. Of the 11 award winners from over 100 submissions, the Taft was the only art museum to be honored. That is a big deal. Watch for further “More to the Story” labels in future shows. taftmuseum.org.
In December, the Playhouse in the Park presented the final performances of its beloved, spellbinding production of A Christmas Carol. Between 1991 and 2021, it had more than 1,115 performances attended by 659,000 people. Actor Bruce Cromer played the miserly skinflint Scrooge for 17 years after spending eight seasons before that as Bob Cratchit. With its new mainstage Rouse Theatre under construction, the Playhouse plans to assemble a new production for the December holidays in 2023. No word on whether Cromer will return, but for generations of Cincinnatians, him hoisting Tiny Tim on his shoulder for one more round of “God bless us, everyone” has been a fond holiday memory. cincyplay.com.
Cincinnatian Jerald Cooper is a self-defined creative director who is best known for running the popular Instagram account Hood Century (@HoodMidCenturyModern). Hood Century is dedicated to revealing the architectural history and importance behind otherwise unassuming locations — libraries, dry cleaners, apartment complexes, abandoned buildings and more — in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Mexico, Paris and beyond. Billed as the “streets’ preservation society” in its bio (and with the tagline “Yes!! There is mid-century modern design in the hood!”), Cooper launched the Instagram account in late 2019. What started with him wanting to show his friends the architecture of his hometown became a community of more than 50,000 followers, garnering national recognition in outlets such as Vogue, Dwell and Architectural Digest. Today, Hood Century functions as more than just a slideshow — it’s an art gallery, blog, educational tool and cultural archive all rolled into a single vertical scroll. Other local architectural Instagrams that deserve honorable mention are Cincinnati Revealed (@cincinnati_revealed), which features images and stories of historic buildings to promote preservation; Covington Uncovered (@covington_uncovered), which shares images and tales of historic Northern Kentucky spaces; and Hamilton Architecture (@hamiltonarchitecture), which functions as a love letter to Hamilton and the unique buildings that populate it. instagram.com/hoodmidcenturymodern.
1. Cincinnati Art Museum
2. 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati
3. Taft Museum of Art
1. Cincinnati Art Museum
2. Contemporary Arts Center
3. Taft Museum of Art
1. “Fiona and Bibi at the Cincinnati Zoo”
2. “Cincinnati Toy Heritage”
3. “Charley Harper’s Beguiled by the Wild”
4. “Ezzard Charles: The Cincinnati Cobra”
5. “Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon”
7. “Dream Big and Fly High”
8. “Homecoming (Blue Birds)”
9. “Swing Around Rosie”
10. “Mr. Dynamite”
1. Cincinnati Pride
2. Flying Pig Marathon
3. Cincy Beerfest