Thursday, May 30, 2013

Patti Smith and the Contemporary Arts Center

Inside the CAC
     Ten years ago the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) opened across from the Aronoff Center with a national splash.  It was one of Zaha Hadid’s first major constructed buildings.  Before that, she’d been more a theorist than a practitioner.  It was
immediately important because it was on the corner of a block and it was a smaller, tighter example of deconstructionist architecture.  It was a helluva party.

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe
     Three years ago, before we started this blog, I read and loved Patti Smith’s Just Kids.  It’s the memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and it’s a poignant and deeply searching account.  It’s also an intriguing look at the downtown New York arts scene of the late ‘60s through mid ‘70s.  Although an artist and poet, she became famous as a rock singer while he became the most celebrated and controversial photographer of his generation.

Patti Smith Performing
     The CAC is currently showing The Coral Sea, Patti Smith’s remembrance of Mapplethorpe in photographs, found objects, and video with audio.  It’s ironic since former CAC Director Dennis Barrie was indicted for obscenity for showing Robert Mapplethorpe’s The Perfect Moment in 1990, but a jury acquitted him.  I didn’t really understand The Coral Sea.  Maybe it would have been different if Neil and I had forked over $500 to watch Patti Smith perform it live, but most museum viewers won’t have that experience either.  The found objects, especially the iron bed stand, are evocative, though I didn’t see the connection to Mapplethorpe.  The handwritten poems and notes are visually elegant, but sometimes hard to read since everything is so under-lit.  Then there is the curtained chamber for listening to Patti roar in what becomes almost white noise with images of water and clouds that also seems monotonous.  I greatly respect Smith as an artist, singer, and visionary, but this specific piece left me cold.

The Living Room
     There was another smaller exhibition, The Living Room, which featured a lovely Rookwood fireplace and otherwise was a living room with a video screen and what looked to be a tree house.  The statement by the artist or curator or whoever wrote it was a hoot.  We know – you wanted to bring together some cool stuff and then you were stuck making sense of it and trying to pass it off as something that can be confused as art.  It’s not art, but the items are cool.  The other exhibition,
ON! Handcrafted Digital Playgrounds
ON! Handcrafted Digital Playgrounds, seemed to be aimed at children or families because it was playful and looked like a nice third grade teacher had worked way overtime to finish off some arts and crafts projects for back to school night.

CAC Lobby

     The best art in the museum is inside and outside the lobby.  These are the various huge posters by Shepard Fairey.  One of them is

Eat the Rich by Shepard Fairey with Downtown Images
a beautiful image of Patti Smith with ‘Eat The Rich’ on it.  This is a mixed message since there wouldn’t be a CAC without the rich.  Plus, Patti Smith may not be extraordinarily wealthy, but she has more resources than most of us will see.  It’s still an arresting and original building, but it’s not holding up in terms of its walls and staircases as well as some older, more conventional spaces.  


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