Cover Story: A New Direction

The CAC alters its approach under Raphaela Platow

Jun 18, 2008 at 2:06 pm
Ace Gallery, Los Angeles, Courtesy Pacewildenstein, New York

Tara Donovan's Untitled (Styrofoam Cups, detail), 2003

Even as the Contemporary Arts Center is celebrating the opening of two new thematic shows — American Idyll: Contemporary Art and Karaoke and Uncoordinated: Mapping Cartography in Contemporary Art — it is temporarily suspending new ones.

Last week, Raphaela Platow, just finishing her first year as the CAC'S director and chief curator, announced the 2008-09 exhibition season — the first that she's completely shepherded — and it's immediately notable for exclusively featuring single-artist shows. It also is inclusive of international artists of all ages, not just emerging ones, and features several who are primarily painters. In many cases, the artists will be visiting Cincinnati to design and supervise installation of their exhibitions to fit the museum space and to interact with the community.

But the CAC won't have any thematic group shows, either traveling ones or those curated in-house, like American Idyll and Uncoordinated. In recent years, the exhibition schedule has featured many of them.

This seems at least partly driven by a staff realization that its celebrated five-year-old building, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, can be and has been brutal on traveling thematic shows like the recent Space Is the Place. With its quirky and unusual spaces, the CAC doesn't easily embrace any art show placed on its walls or floors. And shows that don't look good don't create buzz, and attendance suffers.

"If you take (thematic) shows from other institutions, you don't have the opportunity to really respond to the different architectural volumes Zaha has created," Platow says.

"By working directly with artists, you're bringing in an artistic set of eyes to see these spaces in different ways than we do."

CAC will again have thematic shows, Platow says, but they'll be different from many in the past.

"We are shifting toward a curatorial approach that is more about directly working with artists," she says. "We will be developing many more shows in-house that do just that."

Here is the upcoming exhibition season, summarized and excerpted (and sometimes interpreted) from the CAC's announcement:

· Maria Lassnig (Sept. 27-Jan. 11, 2009): An Austrian painter in her late eighties, Lassnig is getting her first solo show in the United States, although she has work in the current Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. She describes her artwork as body-awareness paintings and uses a lush, vibrant style and an astute use of color. This show features paintings made since 1999 as well as seven animated films created between 1971 and 1992.

· Carlos Amorales (Sept. 27-Jan. 11, 2009): CAC Director Raphaela Platow is working directly with Mexican artist Amorales, whose work explores horror-movie-inspired themes, on a multimedia exhibition that includes animated films, sculptural objects, performances and drawings. For this show, Amorales is creating spider webs from which Cincinnati Ballet members will be able to periodically climb and do movement-related performances.

· Donald Sultan: 1976-1983 (Feb. 7-May 11, 2009): A middle-aged American artist who reinterpreted figurative painting in the 1970s, Sultan will receive a retrospective of early work. His groundbreaking work of the time combined figurative imagery with conceptually challenging material — linoleum glued onto Masonite hardboard and covered with tar and rubber.

· Tara Donovan (Feb. 7-May 11, 2009): This is the first major museum survey for American sculptor Donovan, who creates large-scale sculpture from such mass-produced "unartful" material as toothpicks, adhesive tape, straws, buttons, pins and plastic cups. A monograph accompanies the exhibition.

· Ernesto Neto (April-October 2009): Brazilian sculptor Neto's installations feature colored and sewn nylon-textile forms filled with Styrofoam pellets, exotic spices or powders. Extended from ceiling to floor, the material leaves residue and scents. Neto is designing a built environment specifically for the CAC.

· Aya Uekawa (May 30-September 2009): Uekawa, who is a painter and draws, is an emerging New York-based Japanese artist who combines Flemish figuration with decorative and folk arts for a familiar yet new effect.

· Anri Sala (May 30-Sept. 6, 2009): Opening in Miami during Art Basel, this first major exhibition of Albanian artist Sala promises to "carefully calibrate" his videos, films and photographs with the CAC's architecture. In fact, CAC is saying the Miami and Cincinnati shows will essentially be different.