It’s the 15th century, and remnants of the Middle Ages hang over Europe as it unknowingly waits for the Renaissance. In the dim candlelight somewhere in Spain shines an altarpiece painted to depict the lives of St. Peter and Jesus Christ along with images of the Virgin Mary and other saints. With its impressive strokes of paint and gold and silver leaf, Lorenzo Zaragoza’s “Retablo of St. Peter” is remarkable to behold.
More than 600 years later, the altarpiece rests under the skilled hands of Cincinnati Art Museum’s chief conservator Serena Urry. With only the clack of museum visitor’s shoes disturbing the quiet peace, the setting resembles the serenity of the piece’s original home.
Zaragoza’s piece has stood the test of time, more or less. While it has been admired by thousands of Cincinnati Art Museum visitors since the museum purchased the piece in1960, it was taken off exhibit in 2010 due to its poor condition. It is now back on exhibit through April 24, as visitors can watch Urry bring the retablo to life again through cleaning all 18 of its panels.
It’s a two-in-one exhibit, giving visitors an insider’s look at the work done
by the museum’s conservation department while they view and learn about the
piece. Established in 1935, the museum’s conservation department is one of the
oldest in the country. Since then it has grown from one part-time paintings
conservator to four professionally trained conservators, each of whom have their
own specialization in paintings, paper, textiles or objects. The department is
in charge of conserving the museum’s entire collection (with the exception of
works that are on loan to the museum).
Urry proposed the exhibit because the retablo needed to be treated before it
could go back on view in the galleries. However, this is no small task — the
retouching is not expected to be complete for another few years. On view in the
exhibit is only the first step of the process: cleaning and consolidating.
Urry says determining the full condition of a piece of art before beginning its conservation treatment is the hardest part of conserving art. The two most important tenants that guide painting conservation are reversibility, which ensures that nothing will be done to the work that cannot be removed later, and dissimilarity, which means suing conservation materials that are not found in the original painting.
Of course, Uri’s conservation efforts are not the first for the retablo. With a piece of art this old, it is common for there to be many years of retouching — the first effort to conserve the retablo may have occurred around the early 1500s. It is believed that the central sculpture of St. Peter was created to replace the original lost piece.
Urry’s work includes using a variety of solvents, hand tools and a hot air gun to remove the effects of older retouching campaigns, such as discolored varnish and wax. This includes a layer of wax added by the Art Museum in 1960 to contain flaking. Since then it has become clouded with dust and grime, and the wax tinted to match the gold leaf of the painting has discolored to a greenish metallic hue.
After cleaning, painting conservation also involves structural treatments, such as modifying or replacing the canvas, its lining and stretcher. There may also be surface treatments done to conserve paintings, such as filling losses of paint, toning the fillings and adding layers of varnish.
“All of the paintings in a multi-piece work like this should be worked on together to ensure consistency,” Urry says. “The gallery space gives me an opportunity to have all of them on view as they are conserved.”
It was in a rear area of the Brick 939 pop-up market in Walnut Hills. It’s already no longer on view and just waiting to be sent back to its artist. But I have a feeling we’ll be hearing much more from that artist — Ato Ribeiro — responsible for the monumental-sized portrait, “Edith Motte Young, Forever,” made through a charcoal-erasing process on brown paper.
It is a 13-by-9-foot drawing of the Detroit artist’s great-grandmother. At that size, you immediately wonder if the image deserves the space devoted to it.
It does, indeed — the woman’s eyes look upward, hopefully and compellingly. She seems, in her vaguely Modernist apparel, to be both of our relatively recent past and timeless. And the work seems both authoritative and fragile, given the use of (crumpled) paper.
Communicating by email from Detroit, where he is working on his M.F.A. at Cranbrook Academy of Art in suburban Bloomfield Hills, Ribeiro explains his process.
“(It) consists of applying a few flat layers of charcoal across each sheet of brown paper before crumpling each sheet into a little ball in order to work the creases into the paper,” Ribeiro says.
“These creases create the sense of a discarded object. After unraveling the paper, I would use a kneaded eraser to erase out my image's details, one little section at a time. There were no drawing tools involved in my process.
“Over the last 5 years, my work has gravitated towards the use of discarded natural and found objects as my preferred choice in materials. The reason the brown paper feels the way it does is because this was paper that I collected (close to the beach) while in Ghana a few months ago, where the tropical weather tends to get pretty humid. This easily accessible paper (in Ghana) is commonly used by students to cover their academic textbooks, protecting them from damage.
“Through the reductive process of charcoal erasing to create my subjects, I attempt to highlight several members of my African-American history (whom I use as role models in my life) while addressing the struggles that African-Americans face relating to the preservation of much of our culture. Also the work is intentionally not fixed so that viewers who do decide to touch the piece would become aware of the how easy it is to erase/remove part of our 'history.' ’’
Exactly how this piece came to be shown here — where it was on display Nov. 27-Jan. 3 — is an interesting story. A fellow Cranbrook artist from Cincinnati, Ingrid Alexandra Schmidt, heard of the opportunity and arranged for Ribeiro to present his work.
“Though I have never spent an extended amount of time in Ohio, Edith Motte Young ended up moving her family to Oberlin, Ohio in 1929 (where my grandfather went to Oberlin High School and Oberlin College before becoming a pilot),” Ribeiro says. “So I thought it would be a little poetic to send the piece of her back in that direction. Thus I applied and was later accepted.”
Ribeiro is at work on a Forever Young series of family portraits — Young is his mother's maiden name. When it is finished, one hopes to be able to see it in Cincinnati. From the work shown here, his series is a remarkable and inspirational display of love and respect (and artistic ability) from a young man to his family.
Meanwhile, the Brick pop-up shop and the organization behind it — MORTAR, which is out to empower residents of Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hills through entrepreneurship — should be proud of giving Cincinnati a chance to see this fine artist. For more information about him, visit atoribeiroart.com.
As a perfect accompaniment for its current High Style: Twentieth-Century Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection exhibition, the Cincinnati Art Museum is offering a free screening of the new documentary Dior and I this Sunday at 2 p.m.
The film, by director Frederic Tcheng, shows the high-pressure process by which new designer/creative director Raf Simons prepares to debut a line of clothing at Fashion Week.
Tcheng’s previous fashion documentaries include 2008’s Valentino: The Last Emperor and 2011’s Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel.
The screening is part of the monthly Moving Pictures series. It occurs in Fath Auditorium and no reservations are needed. There is a parking fee for non-members.
After a successful symposium here last month, FotoFocus is taking its Robert Mapplethorpe presentation, The Perfect Moment: 25 Years Later, on the road. (The Cincinnati symposium was called Mapplethorpe +25.)
In observance of the 25th anniversary of the unsuccessful obscenity trial in Cincinnati of the Contemporary Arts Center following the exhibition of The Perfect Moment there in 1990, FotoFocus will sponsor a panel discussion at 7 p.m. at New York’s cutting-edge New Museum, 235 Bowery.
It will be moderated by Kevin Moore, FotoFocus’ New York-based artistic director, and feature Amy Adler, law professor at New York University School of Law; Jennifer Blessing, senior photography curator at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Paul Martineau, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles; and Britt Salvesen, curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at Los Angeles County Museum. The latter three were on a panel in Cincinnati.
If you’re looking for a way to honor Cincinnati-native Pop artist Tom Wesselmann in your front yard or in your home or office, you might be interested in one of these 30-by-89-inch museum street banners from the popular Wesselmann retrospective, Beyond Pop Art, that came to Cincinnati Art Museum last year. They have just been offered for sale at betterwall.com for $499 each; there are 74 available.
Alas, the banners are not actually from the Cincinnati stop on the traveling show. They are from the previous one at the Denver Art Museum. Our art museum did not use street banners to promote the show.
The banner features a reproduction of a very lovely large painting — oil on shaped canvas — that Wesselmann created in 1967, “Seascape #22.” It is based on his observations of women sunbathing in Cape Cod. He concentrated on the foot kicking up from the beach.
Wesselmann, who died in 2004 at age 73, studied at both University of Cincinnati and the Art Academy of Cincinnati before going to the Cooper Union in New York City. He began showing his work in New York in the early 1960s and became most famous for his Great American Nude series.
Better Wall specializes in selling surplus street banners from art institutions, such as Denver, Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum and more.
I must confess, driving by a library and seeing a silhouette of a rhino
through a window is pretty cool. But that was nothing compared to the large
giraffe that nodded its head at me just a few feet inside the entrance of the main
branch of the Boone County Public Library, in Burlington, Kentucky. Both are part
of the 18-station Robot Zoo that moved into the library just six weeks ago, and
will be staying for the next five months.
The Robot Zoo, a 5,000-square-foot traveling exhibit, displays a variety of huge
robot animals including a giant squid, bat, platypus, rhino, chameleon,
grasshopper and giraffe. Finding all the stations takes a bit of exploring
since they’re scattered around the library, but after watching the large
creatures move, I have to say it’s pretty cool. As I walked around I marveled
at how each exhibit showed the unique traits of the animal, highlighting fun
facts about their anatomy. “You kind of watch and see everything going on and
then read how that ties in,” says Shawn Fry, assistant director of the Boone
County Public Library. “That’s where the kind of learning is snuck in.”
Becky Kempf, Public Relations Coordinator, says the exhibit provides a lot of
fun for kids. “It’s not going to be quiet here for the next few months,” she
jokes after handing me the list of stations. Fry says the library is always
trying new ways to engage the community. “[We’re] always looking for new ways
to use our space, to bring people in, to excite people,” he says. “Right now
STEM programming — the science, technologies, engineering [and math] — is the
thing, a very exciting thing. This is a way to incorporate that.”
According to Kempf, the Robot Zoo exceeds the library’s wish list for a new
program. “Our mission is to provide life-long learning opportunities for all
ages,” she says, “so whether it’s through books or the research help that we
provide or bringing something like this in…it’s right down our alley. It fits
perfectly with what we’re trying to do.” Fry says the branch is lucky it’s big
enough to house the exhibit, and describes the challenges of moving the parts
inside. “The giraffe, I think, was the hardest,” he laughs, “and it’s kind of
the entrance for the whole thing.”
“It’s been really interesting… seeing, in all kinds of ages, the enthusiasm in
watching them build it,” adds Fry. “There were kids that came in today [Monday]
that were all excited; they’d been waiting…and they were excited.” I don’t
blame them; it was almost like walking through a quiet, indoor zoo, without
having to dodge wayward geese or worry about sunburn. I observed the
grasshopper twitching its antennae and peeked in its open side at the glowing
innards, revealing the 10 sections of the abdomen. The rhino, a declared
work-in-progress, pursed its large lips, emphasized to show how their texture
helps trim its grassy food while the bat creaks from its upside-down perch in
Fry may say the exhibit is geared toward kids, but he and I both saw adults
exploring too. “We kind of didn’t know it would be this cool,” Fry says,
laughing. “Regardless of age, we’ve gotten lots of positive feedback.”
The Robot Zoo will be at the Burlington branch through Feb. 28, 2016. Admission
is free, thanks to community sponsors, and the exhibit is open during library
Other Boone County Public Library Events:
Ghosts of Rabbit Hash: Oct. 10 – Get a tour through the tiny town and hear about its haunts.
Herbs and Supplements: What’s right for you?: Oct. 13 – Learn about what natural healers and supplements are healthy or harmful.
Concert at the Library: Oct. 23 – Whiskeybent Valley performs at the Main branch.
The Contemporary Art Center today announced that founding member Peggy Crawford died on April 18 in Santa Fe, N.M., where she had been living. She was one of three women who founded the CAC's precursor, the Modern Art Society, in 1939. She was able to come to the CAC last September to celebrate its 75th anniversary — an exhibition of her photography was part of the observance.
Here are excerpts from the CAC press release:
Contemporary Arts Center Director Raphaela Platow fondly recalled the impact that Peggy Crawford made on so many: "Mrs. Crawford’s life is an inspiration to me. As a young woman she was one of the three women founders of the Contemporary Arts Center (called Modern Art Society at the time), an institution she initiated, against all odds, in a moment in time when the Great Depression was still shaking the world and the second World War was about to erupt. It is so easy not to do something, to shy away from a great idea because of the many obstacles and hurdles in the way, a lack of resources, or fear of failure. But Peggy Crawford and her two companion co-founders created the Modern Art Society in 1939 because their lives urged them to do it. Mrs. Crawford applied the same passion, tenacity, and energy to her different life pursuits and I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to meet her and to spend time in her presence."
Born in 1917, Peggy Frank graduated from Smith College. In 1939, along with Betty Rauh and Rita Rentschler, she founded the Modern Art Society in Cincinnati, Ohio, which would become the Contemporary Arts Center.
The three founders had little or no formal museum experience. For a year, their "office" consisted of a portable typewriter set up in a living room. At the start, the society had staunch backers and hard workers, but they had very little money and had only a borrowed gallery space in the basement of the Cincinnati Art Museum.
During the first year, the founders raised $5,000 to produce six exhibitions, each with a catalogue. Their first exhibition, Modern Paintings from Cincinnati (Nov.-Dec. 1939) showed their early commitment to showcasing up-and-coming local artists.
The fledgling Modern Art Society mounted new and often controversial exhibitions, published catalogues, encouraged local artists and helped promote contemporary art collections and education. Between 1940 and 1951, the Modern Art Society exhibited such artists as Pablo Picasso (1940), George Grosz, Paul Klee and Alexander Calder (1942), Fernand Leger (1944), Rufino Tamayo (1947), Jean Arp (1949) and other new artists in abstraction, Surrealism, modern architecture and contemporary design. One of the highlights of this time was the Cincinnati showing of Picasso’s "Guernica" in 1940 because it represented the first and only time the important work was shown in the Midwest.
Peggy Frank married Ralston Crawford, a painter and photographer, who preceded her in death.
She is survived by two sons, Neelon (Susan Hill), and John, along with a stepson, Robert (Eldrid Crawford).
A memorial service was held at Kingston Retirement Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. April 30, 2015.
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will make a $50,000 grant to Contemporary Arts Center to help mount a survey exhibition of Korean-American artist Do Ho Suh in 2016. The CAC will also produce a catalog on the artist.
In a press release, CAC Director Raphaela Platow said, “We are delighted to have received this recognition from the NEA, it is a true vote of confidence to the quality of our curatorial program and the continued strength of this institution, as one of the oldest non-collecting contemporary art institutions in the country.”
Do Ho Suh: Passage, curated by the CAC's Steven Matijcio, is set for Feb. 12 to Sept. 11 of next year. Suh, who moved to the U.S. in 1993, makes life-size fabric replicas of his homes. The CAC expects that, in Passage, his work will imaginatively complement Zaha Hadid's bold architecture.
Last night before photographer Roe Ethridge's FotoFocus Lecture at Cincinnati Art Museum, FotoFocus' Artistic Director Kevin Moore announced the organization is co-presenting a two-day symposium on photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's work with the Contemporary Arts Center on Oct. 23-24.
It will mark the 25th anniversary of CAC's presentation of The Perfect Moment, the retrospective of Mapplethorpe's work that prompted conservative elements — led by then-Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. — to pursue criminal charges for alleged obscenity. (Some of Maplethorpe's work in the show was sexually graphic.) A Hamilton County jury cleared the museum of all charges.
Specifics for the symposium have yet to be announced, although indications are speakers from around the country will be invited. Also not yet announced is what, if any, works by Mapplethorpe will be shown and in what context.
Information should go on on the FotoFocus site when firm.