Monday, March 14, 2011

Cincinnati Art Museum — Four Bucks Deal for Two Shows

Neil wasn't feeling particularly well, but Eric was wanting to get out of the house and do something.  So they left to get a quick lunch while I was outdoors enjoying the crisp sunny day.  Evidently, Neil started feeling better as they were away all afternoon.  I was waiting for them on the back doorsteps listening to Toby barking when they returned.  They seemed more than eager to tell be about their day of art.

      The Cincinnati Art Museum is one of the best deals in the region for a cheap, cool afternoon.  Thanks to the Rosenthals, admission is free to the museum.  Parking is $4 per car (though if you’re willing to hike it up the hill and look long enough, you can find a spot somewhere on Mount Adams or Eden Park) and patrons pay as they enter the museum.  In addition to revolving pieces from the permanent collection, there are three galleries devoted to special exhibitions.  The museum possesses an extraordinary fashion collection, which is finally being shown from time to time.  The history of the wedding dress exhibition, held a couple of months ago, was extraordinary.

The Amazing American Circus Poster
      Right now, The Amazing American Circus Poster is on display.  The Strobridge Lithographing Company, based in Cincinnati, created many of the posters for Barnum & Bailey as well as Ringling Bros and other companies and that’s the basis for the exhibition.  Lithography began in 1798 and had a connection historically to circuses, which came into their own as an international traveling entertainment medium in the mid-19th century.  The posters are from the 1850s – 1920s, though centered on the 1880s.  There are about fifty posters, representing various aspects — the parades through towns from the railroad stations, animal acts, sideshow exhibits, and specialty acts – but it is difficult to know if it’s been well curated because it’s a narrow (specifically because of a local company’s product) representation of what might have been a larger genre.  Of course, this type of popular art is ephemeral and many of the posters have probably been lost over the years.

      The circus industry serves as a metaphor for many other industries (and even shifts in the geopolitical landscapes and the shifting balance of empires).  A few small circuses expanded to a larger number traveling through Europe and North America because of the expansion of the railroad.  The industry relied heavily on self-promotion and hype, while constantly assuring patrons of its truth in advertising.  Over a forty-year period, four major circuses merged into one corporation.  Smaller circuses tried to fill in the gaps by playing in smaller cities and towns.  However, the expansion of zoological gardens in many cities, and the invention of new media through technological progress cooled the mass population’s consumption of this specific entertainment.  

The interior courtyard of the Cincinnati Art Museum
      The Way We Live Now (referencing Trollope’s novel concerned with the changing British Empire at the end of the 19th century), the secondary exhibition, housed across the interior courtyard, displays pieces from the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville.  The exhibit is in anticipation of the 2012 plans to open a 21c Museum Hotel in the Metropole building adjacent to the Center for Contemporary Art and across the street from the Aronoff Center for the Arts in downtown Cincinnati.  Artists from around the world created these works in the past decade.  They refer to various current cultural, political, and economic forces.  There is a strong sense of playfulness in many of the works and an open definition.  What I mean is that though we’re not the first viewers to experience these works, there isn’t a body of review or criticism to tell us they mean and what we should understand from them.  I hope 21c Museum Hotel founders Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson will consider purchasing works in the future from Art Prize, which was held for the second time this past fall in Grand Rapids, because there were some extremely adventurous sculptures in that show.

      The Cincinnati Art Museum is always worth a visit, regardless of the special exhibits, because the permanent collection is intriguing and the Cincinnati Wing is a revelation.  The exterior and interior architecture are excellent examples of Greek Revival and some elements of 19th century Gothic.  The Cincinnati Wing was built in the past decade and it’s a fine example of merging a new building with an existing one and somehow making it look as if it was always one whole.

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