On the eastern edge of downtown, The Taft Museum of Art continues construction on a new wing to the former home of Charles and Anna Taft. The extension will provide additional gallery space and an improved viewing environment. Listening to Taft patrons' requests for better parking, the addition will rest above a parking garage.
In Eden Park, the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) continues renovating its former decorative arts galleries, period rooms and costume galleries into The Cincinnati Wing, its new home for local art, is set for a May 2003 opening. (See related story )
Most of the Cincinnati Wing's 15 galleries will focus on the past, displaying a larger amount of CAM's permanent collection of Cincinnati paintings, decorative art and sculpture.
The intent is for the wing to form an artistic timeline, telling Cincinnati's visual arts story from its 18th-Century beginnings to the present day.
Like its peer construction projects, the Cincinnati Wing boasts impressive brick-and-mortar details. On a recent walkthrough, CAM Director Timothy Rub pointed out the floor-to-ceiling windows, viewing areas and detailed woodwork.
There's no doubt the space will dazzle visitors at its opening next spring. But my personal interest is in what visitors will find on gallery walls and inside display cases. Actually, my interest revolves around the Cincinnati Wing's temporary exhibition gallery, a space Rub describes as a home for rotating shows of contemporary Cincinnati artists.
There's no official word yet from CAM staff on which working Cincinnati artist will inaugurate the wing's new gallery. My announcement revolves around hope, informed hearsay and advocacy. I also like to make mountains out of small moments.
For example, during Rub's guided tour of the construction site, I asked him if artist Mark Fox would be the gallery's debut artist. I knew that Fox had attended many meetings at CAM recently. More importantly, he would be a brilliant, noteworthy choice.
If a good deal of the Cincinnati Wing is about celebrating CAM's past, hosting a Mark Fox exhibition would connect CAM with Cincinnati's energetic working artists and cast a knowing glance towards the future. This is what I told Rub after repeating my core question: Is Mark Fox going to be the debut artist for the Cincinnati Wing?
Rub smiled and answered like a United Nations diplomat: "Mark Fox is an excellent artist."
In my opinion, that's a definitive yes.
My opinion about Fox is well-known. I'm a huge fan of the work he does with Tony Luensman, his co-director of the avant-garde performance troupe, Saw Theater. His solo exhibitions at the Linda Schwartz and Semantics galleries were brilliant, bringing additional attention to Fox's visual artwork. At the Weston Art Gallery's November 2001 group show, Surface Active, Fox's paintings dazzled.
I consider Fox to be our city's greatest living artist (see my cover story, Almost Famous, issue of Oct. 25-30, 2001). Being chosen as the inaugural artist for The Cincinnati Wing's new gallery would be the highlight of his Cincinnati-based career.
All three large construction projects underway at Cincinnati's major art museums are noteworthy. But when it comes to offering local artists a sizable shot in the front window, only the Cincinnati Wing promises to fully engage Cincinnati's contemporary artists community.
It's an impressive commitment from a project with a $6.8 million price tag, and it's money well spent. If an arts institution wants local support, then locals need a sense of involvement with the space. They need to feel they belong. They need to feel they're worthy.
Rub confirmed that Mark Fox is worthy of a show in CAM's Cincinnati Wing. Next spring, the entire community will see why.
At least that's my prediction.