The 2007 reopening of West Baden Springs Hotel in southern Indiana ranks as one of America’s finest architectural renovations in recent memory. With its magnificent dome standing 130 feet high above a grand atrium, spanning 208 feet across that atrium’s floor and above five circular floors of hotel rooms that look into the space, it (almost) is like a built-environment equivalent of looking at the Grand Canyon.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has many active supporters in the Cincinnati area, including the local Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education. As a result, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs, Scott Miller, came last week to Amberley’s Adath Israel Congregation to discuss a sensitive ongoing oral history project. Implicit in the visit was a call for donations, despite the ongoing recession, because time is of the essence.
Even though the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Schmidlapp Gallery holds important Egyptian, Roman and Greek antiquities, it seems more a conduit than a destination. The display cases are no match for the determination of visitors to get where they’re going. As a result, the whole area itself has seemed antiquated. But a big change is coming.
Many people don’t realize that — as Raphaela Platow, Contemporary Arts Center’s director and chief curator, says — her institution has an “s” in its name. It’s “Arts,” not “Art.” That means the center is about more than just visual art.
On a recent Saturday night, three galleries along Central and Harrison avenues were open — Synthetica-m and the collectively run U-turn Art Space and Semantics. The exhibits at U-turn and Semantics were amazingly good. Their shows are still up through May 28. And yet word comes U-turn will be closing after one more show. So yet another Cincinnati alternative space that has made a mark will be gone before it can really galvanize growth in the larger arts community.
Let it not be said (as you might have heard or read) that the Cincinnati subway never hosted a paying customer. In fact, visits to the abandoned tunnels under Central Parkway intended for the never-completed system have become a nice, if underground, funding source for Cincinnati Museum Center’s education programs. Who said mass transit can’t pay dividends for Cincinnati?
Jackie Brookner, a New York-based artist who creates “biospheres” by using storm runoff and other polluted waters as part of her outdoor, environmental earthworks, spoke at Xavier University this month about the ethical and spiritual dimensions to her work. One of her pieces, “Laughing Brook,” is in Cincinnati, along the struggling Mill Creek.
While I’ve waxed positively about Cincinnati Art Museum’s recent exhibitions and programming, I’d be guilty of hometown parochialism if I failed to mention activities at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It seems on a fast track, under director Maxwell Anderson, to becoming a museum of consistent national significance.
I run into people who don’t like museums because they say they prefer nature’s beauty to art. That comment is wrong-headed and shortsighted on so many levels — and I say that as someone who likes nature. First of all, nature can operate so mysteriously that it needs an artist to express to us the poetic depths of both its complexity and simplicity. But art isn’t an alternative to nature. They’re not separate.
In recent weeks, there have been some thought-provoking guests at our art museums. I’ve attended talks by the French superstar street artist/photographer JR at Contemporary Arts Center and renowned architect Billie Tsien, who is designing the new Barnes Collection building in Philadelphia, at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Both offered ideas and comments worthy of further discussion.
Most people would say there’s a clear distinction between a library and a museum. A library circulates books and audio/visual materials to people who want to use them; a museum collects valuable objects in order to protect and preserve them. But, as it happens, major libraries have a museum-like function — they have special collections of all sorts of unusual and offbeat material, often of a local nature.
What I like best about the art that is often called “minimalist” is that when it’s done with commitment and devotion, intellect and compassion, there’s nothing simple about it. A painting that — to paraphrase Seinfeld — is about nothing becomes about so much more.
This week through Sunday, Carl Solway Gallery is one of just 139 prestigious galleries from 30 countries (and the only local representative) involved in an international experiment to see if virtual, online-only art fairs can sell contemporary work. Based on technical problems early this week, that experiment has some room for improvement.
The first part of this year is going to be a dynamic one for museum exhibits — so dynamic that you have to wonder if there will be enough patrons for all the high-profile shows. The biggest show (probably) is primarily a history exhibit, but one with incredibly good timing. Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt, which comes to Cincinnati Museum Center on Feb. 17.