China Design Now, which just opened at Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) and will be there until Jan. 11, 2009, stands poised to be a high-profile exhibition for the museum. It debuted at Londonâ€™s Victoria & Albert Museum before the Olympics, and Cincinnati is the first museum to subsequently display it. (Portland gets it next year.)
Capitalizing on the interest in Chinese modernism created by this summerâ€™s successful Beijing Olympics, it is certainly of the moment. It even features prominent images of the Olympicsâ€™ biggest success story (after swimmer Michael Phelps), Birds Nest Stadium by the Swiss architectural firm of Herzog & de Meuron.
But beyond the big architectural projects made for China by major Western firms (Rem Koolhausâ€™ CCTV headquarters also is featured), the draw should be the showâ€™s introduction to a Cincinnati audience of the hip design objects and consumer products coming out of China. The show features the urban centers of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen and their art and design breakthroughs â€” clothing, music videos and CD covers, posters, cell phones, even skateboards and running shoes
It has the potential to be a sort of Chinese Beautiful Losers, recalling the successful show of youth-culture art at Contemporary Arts Center a few years back. Design Now also has an unusual gallery design by Yung Ho Chang, head of MITâ€™s architecture department.
Aaron Betsky, the museumâ€™s director for the past two years, has a background in architecture â€” he previously was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute. So he went after this show.
â€śI think the audience weâ€™re trying to reach is perhaps somewhat younger and more engaged, and also consists of more professional people,â€ť Betsky says. â€śItâ€™s not just people who come here to see the great Masters, but also people engaged on a day-to-day basis with looking around at popular culture and wondering where it is coming from.â€ť
With that in mind, and also because this has been a costly exhibit to import from London even with a grant from sponsor Procter & Gamble, the normally free museum has made this a ticketed show. It costs $8 to view. Yet the museum doesnâ€™t see this as a national or even regional show. Betsky says the attendance goal is 12,000 â€” about the same as the last ticketed exhibition, springâ€™s Rembrandt: Three Faces of a Master.
Most of its efforts will be directed toward Cincinnati â€” traditional print and Internet advertising plus a few novel twists. For instance, there will be a short teaser ad on the Fountain Square Jumbotron. The museum also is distributing 10,000 fortune cookies with messages promoting the show to Chinese restaurants.
It will be interesting to see if the museum â€” whose recent â€śbig showsâ€ť have been on the more traditional side â€” can find a sizeable local audience with the exhibitionâ€™s contemporary and internationalist focus. It will also be interesting if China Design Now winds up broadening the museumâ€™s audience, both locally and by drawing people from outside Cincinnati.
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