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Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati Art Museum and More...

By Laura James · March 21st, 2007 · The Big Picture
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  Not so off limits: patrons take in a recent CAC exhibition.
Andy Houston

Not so off limits: patrons take in a recent CAC exhibition.



Recently I sat amongst a group of young professionals, all of whom fancy a vibrant art-laden downtown complete with parties and music and anything quirky and cool that might put Cincinnati on the art world map. And yet the majority of my cohorts voiced their wants by imagining us somewhere else -- specifically, in New York City.

New York has all the art and all the money to buy the art. It has the booming fund-raisers, catalogues of hedge- and trust-funders. It's true. Check style.com for the latest Whitney, Met or MoMA party pictures -- celebrities chat up art stars, everyone is couture-clad with champagne in hand. They're in all the movies and all the songs. Art is glamorous in the big city.

But listen: Cincinnati is not New York, and I for one don't want it to be. We won't have Angelina Jolie showing up at a Contemporary Arts Center exhibition. We don't need Elizabeth Payton's million-dollar paintings to prove that we've got something significant going on here.

Our city has a handful of well-intentioned institutions, but those aren't the places I'm talking about. The Cincinnati Art Museum, despite its jaw-dropping new exhibition of Anthony Luensman's work, has glitches. The dismissal of the much-admired curator Dennis Kiel caused an uproar of speculation -- did new director Aaron Betsky know whom he was dropping? Does Kiel's lack of a Ph.D. matter after 24 years of experience? Is that why Linda Shearer left the CAC -- lack of a Ph.D.? I doubt it.

And while I care about the individuals -- Shearer and Kiel, in particular, but also recently resigned Carnegie Visual + Performing Arts Center Director Nancy Henry Chadwick -- I am tired of the sweet excuses these institutions pitch at us when we know it's really all about money. (As the philosopher/novelist Alain de Botton says, "At the end of a relationship, it is the one who is not in love who makes the tender speeches.")

Of course, it takes a lot of cash to get institutions like the CAM and the CAC running, and Cincinnati isn't going to get it from celebrity donors, not even expatriate Sarah Jessica Parker. It must come from us, and it's not going to be millions of dollars. It's as simple as an afternoon visit.

So what's the problem? The shows that the CAC brings in -- despite (or maybe because of) a budget that can't afford many traveling museum exhibitions reviewed in glossies like Art Forum -- are intelligent, interesting and, above all, accessible.

Yet so many young professionals are genuinely afraid to enter the CAC. They don't want to feel mocked or stupid or bored -- all feelings I've heard spoken about the CAC.

I think I've finally come to realize what it is that makes these people feel that way: autophobia.

No, these people that the CAC should have as its target audience aren't afraid of themselves. Rather, they sense the fear and want for company that seeps through the CAC: Why can't we be in the glossies? Why don't we have million-dollar paintings in all our local galleries?

The answer is simple: We try too hard.

It's precisely that overcompensation that makes the CAC and Cincinnati galleries in general seem "off-limits" to those who might not know so much about art. The thing is, it's not that daunting. You're allowed to ask questions, to form your own opinions, to laugh (with us or at us, it really doesn't matter).

Throughout history, art has served as a communicative tool -- everyone could "read" pictures, so illiteracy rates in, say, Medieval Europe didn't matter. The message came through the picture.

Now that "art" has passed through abstraction and back again, it has become the arcane text. Words are easy. Images are hard. Or at least that's the perception.

We all want to know more about the culture in which we live and the cultures that surround us -- that's the reason we read the newspapers and watch reality TV. It's the same with visual art.

You get a little eye candy; you get a treat of facts. What you do with the information is up to you. But before you judge it, you have to look.



CONTACT LAURA JAMES: ljames(at)
  Not so off limits: patrons take in a recent CAC exhibition.
Andy Houston

Not so off limits: patrons take in a recent CAC exhibition.



Recently I sat amongst a group of young professionals, all of whom fancy a vibrant art-laden downtown complete with parties and music and anything quirky and cool that might put Cincinnati on the art world map. And yet the majority of my cohorts voiced their wants by imagining us somewhere else -- specifically, in New York City.

New York has all the art and all the money to buy the art. It has the booming fund-raisers, catalogues of hedge- and trust-funders. It's true. Check style.com for the latest Whitney, Met or MoMA party pictures -- celebrities chat up art stars, everyone is couture-clad with champagne in hand. They're in all the movies and all the songs. Art is glamorous in the big city.

But listen: Cincinnati is not New York, and I for one don't want it to be. We won't have Angelina Jolie showing up at a Contemporary Arts Center exhibition. We don't need Elizabeth Payton's million-dollar paintings to prove that we've got something significant going on here.

Our city has a handful of well-intentioned institutions, but those aren't the places I'm talking about. The Cincinnati Art Museum, despite its jaw-dropping new exhibition of Anthony Luensman's work, has glitches. The dismissal of the much-admired curator Dennis Kiel caused an uproar of speculation -- did new director Aaron Betsky know whom he was dropping? Does Kiel's lack of a Ph.D. matter after 24 years of experience? Is that why Linda Shearer left the CAC -- lack of a Ph.D.? I doubt it.

And while I care about the individuals -- Shearer and Kiel, in particular, but also recently resigned Carnegie Visual + Performing Arts Center Director Nancy Henry Chadwick -- I am tired of the sweet excuses these institutions pitch at us when we know it's really all about money. (As the philosopher/novelist Alain de Botton says, "At the end of a relationship, it is the one who is not in love who makes the tender speeches.")

Of course, it takes a lot of cash to get institutions like the CAM and the CAC running, and Cincinnati isn't going to get it from celebrity donors, not even expatriate Sarah Jessica Parker. It must come from us, and it's not going to be millions of dollars. It's as simple as an afternoon visit.

So what's the problem? The shows that the CAC brings in -- despite (or maybe because of) a budget that can't afford many traveling museum exhibitions reviewed in glossies like Art Forum -- are intelligent, interesting and, above all, accessible.

Yet so many young professionals are genuinely afraid to enter the CAC. They don't want to feel mocked or stupid or bored -- all feelings I've heard spoken about the CAC. I think I've finally come to realize what it is that makes these people feel that way: autophobia.

No, these people that the CAC should have as its target audience aren't afraid of themselves. Rather, they sense the fear and want for company that seeps through the CAC: Why can't we be in the glossies? Why don't we have million-dollar paintings in all our local galleries?

The answer is simple: We try too hard.

It's precisely that overcompensation that makes the CAC and Cincinnati galleries in general seem "off-limits" to those who might not know so much about art. The thing is, it's not that daunting. You're allowed to ask questions, to form your own opinions, to laugh (with us or at us, it really doesn't matter).

Throughout history, art has served as a communicative tool -- everyone could "read" pictures, so illiteracy rates in, say, Medieval Europe didn't matter. The message came through the picture.

Now that "art" has passed through abstraction and back again, it has become the arcane text. Words are easy. Images are hard. Or at least that's the perception.

We all want to know more about the culture in which we live and the cultures that surround us -- that's the reason we read the newspapers and watch reality TV. It's the same with visual art.

You get a little eye candy; you get a treat of facts. What you do with the information is up to you. But before you judge it, you have to look.



CONTACT LAURA JAMES: ljames(at)citybeat.com
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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