Reclaiming the Snob

When I began blogging as the Cincinnati Art Snob in 2008, my motivation was to participate in Cincinnati’s local art conversation. I had taught art history for nearly 10 years, but teaching art’s history can be very different from engaging art today. It probably shouldn’t be. Contemporary art’s relevance to its time, I believe, rests on it’s relevance to history. Similarly, teaching art history works best if you can pull from contemporary cultural trends into which students can tap. Still, I struggled to manage focusing on both simultaneously. This may be more of a testament to my own weakness as an art historian or a teacher and/or proves my belief artists make better teachers.

I’m no artist.

For those who have followed this blog you know, as the Cincinnati Art Snob, I have been a pretty vocal participant in the local arts. I’ve reviewed shows, interviewed a few of my favorite local artists, and gotten into a number of debates about how the local arts is managed and money granted. Once I gained a local audience, my goal has continued to include a more national or even international perspective on the arts. Frustrated, I always felt Cincinnati’s art community was happily insular,playing in a vacuum. Other than a few artists who show outside of the city, much of the community seems content keeping to themselves. But most discouraging, too many arts organization professionals here in Cincinnati are pr professionals interested in the arts, whose tasks is promoting the city. As a result, art is a mere commodity.

Sadly, my writing and thinking about art has been consumed with fighting this local (national?) trend. Consumed by frustration and anger, I’ve found little inspiration in the local galleries and museums. This may not be reflective of the kind of art work happening here. But it does reflect the local art conversation. Nearly everything I see in the galleries is poisoned by the surrounding discourse of marketing and branding. This has effectively kept me from many galleries and from writing about the local arts.

So what does this mean the blog? I am currently working to reclaim it and my writing. Cincinnati Art Snob will still be a place for conversations about art. Though my focus will no longer be Cincinnati. While I maintain my love of the arts and support for local artists, I am no longer interested in advocating for the local arts organizations.

By leading with more interviews and less reviews, my hope is that the blog will continue to be a portal for artists and their conversations.

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A New Home for the Holidays

The impetus for moving the Duke Holiday Trains is the preservation of a local tradition. Finding qualified volunteers and hiring people to manage and maintain the trains became a challenge each year. Further, many model train enthusiasts would agree dismantling the trains annually makes them vulnerable to wear and tear. As a preserver of history or historical artifacts, not to mention the home of a grand rail station, the Cincinnati Museum Center is the best home for the holiday trains. Even if you’ve seen the Duke Energy Holiday Trains in the past, you must see them again this year in their new digs at the Cincinnati Museum Center. As fond as your memories may be of heading downtown and lining up at Duke Energy to snowy holiday on the rails, you will be awed by its presentation as a focus of three histories.

As part of a holiday tradition since 1946, the Duke Energy Holiday Trains are now and will remain displayed in the Cincinnati History Museum located on the lower level of the museum. Getting to the trains in a wonderful walk through Cincinnati’s history from Cincinnati in Motion through Cincinnati Goes to War, to the Early Settlement, with the fun Flatboat Gallery and the Public Landing with recreations of an old firehouse, machine shop, general store and more. This really is my favorite part of the Cincinnati Museum Center and as a parent, I am simply elated to be able to use the Duke Center Holiday Train display as an excuse to by-pass the Children’s Museum…this once.

As expected, the galleries housing the trains are decorated for the holidays. Though moving the trains to Union Terminal permits some wonderful exhibited surprises. “Toys Through Time” is a small and memory-filled exhibition of childhood toys, including the first edition Monopoly set, original Star Wars toys and historic dolls. This exhibition links itself to the Duke Energy trains with a display of Cincinnati’s own Carlisle and Finch trains, considered the first true electric model trains.

Historic paintings from the Pennsylvania Railroad Calendar Series dated between 1928 and 1958 hold a prominent place in the galleries. These paintings were commissioned to foster the railroad company’s image as one of the nation’s most powerful. Not only do they present the railroad industry as strong and fast, these paintings are truly a celebration of progress, technology, mechanics, and industry in general. The grand trains are depicted in beautiful American landscapes. The billowing smoke and exhaust upstage the green meadows and blue waters as if to celebrate our control over nature. At least once of the paintings includes the working smokestacks and hot furnaces of the steel mill. Some may not see these paintings as beautiful landscapes, and many may even be critical of such blatant posturing over Mother Nature. This is where art history, rather than aesthetics is a friend to the beholder of beauty. These paintings not only celebrate the Pennsylvania Railroad, but mark a time of pride and progress in America’s history. The steel mill, the train, and Cincinnati’s own Union Terminal are part of that history, part of the pride. In fact, rail is still seen as a symbol of progress as places throughout the states see the light rail as a sign for a promising future.

Finally, the Duke Energy Holiday Trains seem more easily accessible is this larger space. Viewers will still have the opportunity to get up close to see the details of the trains and the snowy villages and towns through which they pass. The challenge to see the trains downtown included the great crowds and the slow lines (or perhaps being pushed too fast through to view the trains. Like any museum faced with controlling and engaging crowds, the Museum Center has was appears to be a wonderful solution. The final stop is Holiday Junction. This Museum Center annual tradition includes examples of popular “N” and “L” scale layouts, a collection of Lionel trains and an exact reproduction of the Lionel dealer display layout of the Super “O” track with interactive buttons. Kids can also play on Brio trains, tracks and houses to create their own train display. Along with seeing Santa Clause, children will be able to ride through a wonderland scene on a kid-size train.

The popularity of the Duke Energy Holiday Trains is seeped local holiday traditions and in these histories of toys, rail, progress, and industry. Duke Energy has provided vouchers for all of its customers to visit the Cincinnati Museum Center during this holiday season and to continue the tradition and become part of these histories of Cincinnati.

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Looking Different

Last night I got a chance to see the new photo exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center, Positive Exposure: The Spirit of Difference. The show presents the wonderfully compassionate and endearing work by former fashion photographer Rick Guidotti. Through photographs and video, Guidotti works to promote human dignity of individuals, particularly children, with genetic conditions. I was familiar with Guidotti’s photographs though a slide show or a link that came my way, so was prepared to see beautiful photographs of individuals. I looked forward to seeing Guidotti’s success in capturing the joyful personalities of his subjects and encourage the viewer to resist defining them by their condition. While I knew what to expect to see, I was most taken by surprise by my response to each and every single one of these photographs.

Guidotti does not try to hide or in any way work to camouflage his subject’s conditions. This is no doubt part of the success of his photographs. He presents his subjects honestly. That’s not to say he catches them as they wake up in the morning. That’s not an honest portrayal of anyone. But the bright personalities easily upstage the symptoms visually associated with many of the genetic conditions.

Yet as I looked at each photograph I wanted to know from what these individuals suffered. I don’t know if it was genuine curiosity or a natural tendency to contextualize them according to their condition. Perhaps a lot like looking at a person of color and asking, “what are you?” (sic!) While looking at the photos, I quickly glanced at the labels hoping to discover the “disability.” The labels offered simply the individuals’s names, a sentence or two about their hobbies and accomplishments and the name of the genetic disorder. Seemingly, all of the information I needed to know. But I found myself frustrated when I wasn’t familiar with the disorder. Grumbling to myself (to Guidotti?), “how the hell am I supposed to know what that is!” then moving on to the next photograph. About halfway through the exhibit, it occurred to me this show was not going to teach me about these disorders. Why would it? In fact, it shouldn’t. If I want to know more about genetic conditions, I can look them up somewhere else. The exhibition is intended to present these individuals, people who love and are loved.

Since leaving the exhibit, I’ve forgotten nearly all of the names of the genetic disorders I sought, but cannot stop thinking of the beautiful personalities filling the gallery at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Trading Spaces (Part 2)

The little black dress, wine and cheese, and art can be effective lures to working and playing in museums. Admittedly, my initial attraction to a museum and gallery profession was the celebrated opening. I loved the idea of hanging out with others who also loved art. But mostly, I loved seeing there was a formal event to celebrate art. Since the moment at LACMA in a gallery unable to share my thoughts with others about Gordon Parks, I’ve looked forward to art openings where I could participate in the art conversation.

Perhaps I’ve not been in the art world long enough to know or I’m simply naive, but these days I seldom overhear conversations about art at gallery openings. More and more, art seems to function as party favors or decorations to amuse gallery visitors. Promos for the openings, promising food, drink, and a dj spinning dance music read more and more like party invitations my 13 year old gets….school events I am invited to chaperone.

Each year for the past three, I’ve attended less and less art openings. You will seldom see me anywhere near a gallery during “Final Friday,” “First Friday,” “Second Saturday,” or whatever the local gallery hops will be called this season. I’ve done this scene before when it was called a bar hop. Fortunately as an art blogger, I can often get into the galleries well before the the party starts. Just before the show opens, with most artwork hung or placed, but not always labeled permits me that moment with the art (and oftentimes with the artist!) I so crave ever since my LACMA visit.

Seems like I spend much of my time carving out art spaces for myself.

I do think it is interesting a community wrestling with obscure notions of accessibility and creating all sorts of programming to attract large numbers of people who like to party with art, seems to have lessened its accessibility to an art historian like me. In truth, the museum and the gallery are now my art spaces. While today’s “average museum or gallery visitor” must wait for the next party, scavenger hunt, or family fun day with make and take programs to appreciate (sic) art, I can spend time with the art and the artists with no calendar of events.

Yes, my art snobbery suit fits comfortably snug these days. You’ll see me wearing it in the galleries in the space between the openings.

Trading Spaces (Part 1)

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Trading Spaces (Part 1)

I’ll never forget my first campus visit as a prospective grad student of art history to the University of Chicago. With all of the gargoyles looking down on me, I wondered what in my life did I do to bring me to this place.

I grew up during a time not too long ago when visiting an art museum as a child or even young adult was unusual. Getting to the museum was not really the problem, but then (and perhaps still) the Cleveland Museum of Art competed with it’s neighbor, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. But more unsettling, I grew up in a world that had no plans for me to go to college. During my junior and senior years of high school I earn pretty good grades so was invited to opt out of study hall to be a student helper for my guidance counselor. Not once during those 2 years, while I pulled and alphabetized files for my college-bound classmates, was I advised about attending college.

My decision to to go to college to study art history stemmed from my very first visit to an art museum while living in Los Angeles years later. As these life-changing things usually go, this was a random visit. After weeks and perhaps months passing the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on my bus route to and from work, I decided to stop. I wish I could say I remember the moment I walked in, but I don’t. For me it was the photography of Gordon Parks. I fell in love with his work, but I didn’t understand why I was drawn to it. I didn’t know if it was his subjects or his composition. Then I heard a couple in the gallery speak about light, space, contrasts between white and black, and something about cropping the image. We were looking at the same photos and still had no idea what they were saying.

I wasn’t so much embarrassed as frustrated. I wanted to be able to recognize and then articulate those moments in front of works of art that inspire.

This was easy enough to learn as an undergrad at the University of Kansas. I can honestly say each art history course provided many moments of inspiration and calls to articulate an understanding of the works of art. Sure, it wasn’t always easy to sit in a dark lecture hall (especially after lunch), but I loved that my classes were located at the Spencer Museum of Art. I not only had access, but had to spend time in a museum everyday.

My acceptance into grad school in Chicago allowed me to explore art theories, specifically racial and Latino identity theories. Borderlands, spaces in-between and those that divide became my focus. As with many students of color, the humanities offered me an opportunity to learn about me. Looking back now, something more than merely admiring the work of Gordon Parks happened at LACMA years ago. Theories of space and contrasts between white and black are much more evocative and perhaps even more personal than I would have thought then. What I saw in those photographs and heard in that gallery was the borderland, the space that divides.

What brought me under the gaze (protection?) of the University of Chicago gargoyles was my ability to renegotiate the spaces in-between and to claim a place in front of the art.

Trading Spaces (Part 2) Now that I’m here.

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Summerfair Cincinnati Looking for Judges

Summerfair Cincinnati is preparing to start the process of reading their 2011 AIA awards applications and need some HELP! They’re looking for 3 Judges to assist in the reviews of the applications. The potential judges must have:
1. art degree and/or active art background (can be art ed., gallery, museum)
2. Live 40 Miles outside of the Greater Cincinnati Area

If you know of anyone who fits this description and might be interested in helping Summerfair Cincinnati out, please send an email to Executive Director, Sharon K. Strubbe, sstrubbe@summerfair.org

More Shifting at the Dayton Art Institute

More administrative movement at the Dayton Art Institute seems to reflect what I feared is a shift in its mission. The DAI chief curator, Dr. Will South has been named chief curator at the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina.

“It is exciting to join the Columbia Museum of Art where innovation and outreach are welcome, but also where traditional scholarship is respected. I look forward to being part of the team that continues the great work the Museum is known for, and to helping shape the CMA’s future under Karen’s leadership,” South said.

If you ever want to know where art and research lie in a museum’s mission, simply follow the curator.

South is set to begin at the Columbia Museum of Art in mid-October.

Theater Development Officer Named Director of Dayton Art Institute

Michael R. Roediger, currently vice president of development at Victoria Theatre Association, will assume the role of executive director, and Jane A. Black, executive director of the Dayton Art InstituteDayton Visual Arts Center (DVAC), will become the museum’s associate director, a newly created position.

“We assessed our greatest needs and anticipate that our new leadership team will bring great energy and new ideas to the Art Institute,” says Board Chairman Rob Connelly. “We intend to fully execute our strategic plan by improving our outreach and expanding our audiences.”

Roediger, a 13-year veteran of Victoria Theatre Association, will begin his new duties as The Dayton Art Institute’s executive director on October 1. He comes to the museum knowing there are challenges.

“I spent wonderful years with my Victoria family, but I am eager to move on and welcome new opportunities to introduce the wonders of the DAI to many more people,” says Roediger.

Black, who has been the Dayton Visual Arts Center’s leader for eight years, will shift from her current position near the end of the year. The DVAC board of trustees has formed a search committee to ensure a smooth transition for the director role.

DAI Interim Director Linda Lombard says, “This team approach represents a different business model. Michael brings extensive fundraising skills and community awareness to the table, and he is complemented by Jane’s top-notch organizational skills and knowledge of the regional visual arts community. This will be true team management in every sense of the word.”

If it’s about creating a fundraising machine, why not name Roediger in the newly created position of associate director? To have a development officer direct an art museum states pretty clearly that art does not lead the institute’s mission.

Unless of course the new director names the museum’s first task as finding a new logo. Please, no logo competitions.

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Art Submission for Commissioned Project Deadline: August 26, 2011

The First Annual Celebration of Service, an event to commemorate student service in Greater Cincinnati, will take place at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center on September 27, 2011 and is presented by Vision2015 and Agenda360. Children Inc., UGive, United Way, and the Northern Kentucky Fund of Greater Cincinnati are also partners in this event.

The purpose of this event is to give regional recognition to schools, businesses and non-profit agencies that embrace student service as part of their organizational culture. ‘Student Service’ can be defined as student-led initiatives that identify challenges and create solutions within their community. Examples might include: a high school class understanding environmental pollutants in our area and organizing a recycling program at school; a first grade class learning to read a book and creating an audio tape of that book for children who are blind; business partners who not only fund these opportunities but contribute a substantial amount of time to student-led initiatives; non-profit agencies are recognized for organizing and opening their doors to these student initiatives.

The Event Committee is looking to commission a Professional Artist(s) to create 17 individual award sculptures that will be given to those who are recognized for their efforts at this event. These sculptures must represent the ethics and values that are being celebrated, as well as achieve a high quality of aesthetic and workmanship. All mediums will be considered, however, there is a preference for a high professional finish to the pieces. Mixed media collages are not discouraged provided they consider the audience and environment in which they will be displayed. The same medium should be used in the entire collection and all pieces should reflect a collection.

The individual awards that will be given on this evening include:

1. Category One: Four-Five Year Schools of Contribution: to award those elementary, middle and high schools that have integrated student service learning into their curriculum since the beginning of the program. There are a total of 11 individual awards in this category. These awards must be between approximately 9-10 inches high, in vertical rectangular shape, and will be displayed in school trophy cases. These awards can be exact replicas of each other, and are considered to be the least costly of the awards.

2. Category Two: Best College Project: to award a student-led project that is considered to be the Best in it’s class. There are a total of 2 individual awards in this category. These awards must be be between approximately 9-10 inches high, in vertical rectangular shape, and will be displayed in an administrative office. These awards can be exact replicas of each other, and are considered to be the second least costly of the awards.

3. Category Three: Best High School Project: to award a student-led project that is considered to be the Best in it’s class. There are a total of 2 individual awards in this category. These awards must be be between approximately 9-10 inches high, in vertical rectangular shape, and will be displayed in a school trophy case. These awards can be exact replicas of each other, and are considered to be the third least costly of the awards.

4. Category Four: Best Business Partner in Student Service: United Way will be presenting this award to the business they feel have partnered with student organizations in an exceptional way. There is only one individual award in this category. This award must be approximately 12 inches high, in vertical rectangular shape, and will be most likely displayed in an administrative office or business lobby/reception area. As this award is presented by a most valuable partner in the event, it is important that this particular award be unique and we anticipate this to be considered amongst the most costly and sophisticated of the awards.

5. Category Five: Best Non-Profit Partner in Student Service: UGive will be presenting this award to the non-profit agency they feel have partnered with student organizations in an exceptional way. There is only one individual award in this category. This award must be approximately 12 inches high, in vertical rectangular shape, and will be most likely displayed in an administrative office or business lobby/reception area. As this award is presented by a most valuable partner in the event, it is important that this particular award be unique and we anticipate this to be considered amongst the most costly and sophisticated of the awards.

Artists are expected to take care of the engraving requirements for each piece and this aspect should be reflected in the cost submission.

Deadline/Notification: All submissions must be received by no later than Friday, August 26th 2011 at 5pm. Qualifying artists must be available for interviews Saturday August 27 through Monday, August 29. Final Notifications will be given by Tuesday, August 30th. Completed work is due by September 20, 2011; there are no exceptions to these dates.

Timeline for Project: It is important to note that there is a short time allotted for this project between now and its deadline; below is the proposed work plan:
• August 30 – Notification and Agreement of Terms
• September 6 – Approval of final designs and budget
• September 13 – Studio visit to see work in progress
• September 20 – Final delivery of work to Children Inc., 333 Madison Avenue, Covington, KY 41011

How to Submit:
Please send 3 images of your existing work, in jpeg format, each file no less than 300 kb in an email to: brooke.fugate@gmail.com. Please put as the subject of the email: ‘COS Submission’.
In addition to the images, please provide:
1. Your name
2. Address
3. Phone number where you can be reached
4. Email address
5. Artist Statement and Bio.
6. One page description of your initial idea for fulfilling the requirements of this project – we encourage illustrations and rough sketches of your ideas as this enables us to visualize your idea.
7. Cost submission, broken down by each of the five award categories.

If you have any further questions regarding this request, please call Brooke Fugate at 859 431 2075 ext 126.

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Miami University declares 2011-2012 the “Year of the Arts”

On August 19th President David Hodge will officially declare this academic year the “Year of the Arts” at Miami University. This will be an opportunity for the arts to take center stage on the Ohio campuses, and to have not only artists, performers, and designers in the spotlight throughout the year, but also to have the leaders of the university announcing and expressing the importance of the arts in education and in society. There will be banners all over campus announcing the Year of the Arts, and definition posters have been created that ask the question: “How do the Arts Change You?” The posters have a link to a new Year of the Arts website, and they hope to collect and post responses on the site.

As for special Year of the Arts events, Friday, September 23, from 1-2 p.m. for the Gala Opening of the $2 million Phillips Art Center. President Hodge and Provost Gempesaw will be on hand to talk about the Year of the Arts and to help us celebrate the opening, followed by a reception.

Some key points for the “Year of the Arts;”
1. The Presidential declaration of the Year of the Arts is intended to spotlight the University’s numerous performances, exhibits, and scholarship in the arts at Miami, but to also channel expanded awareness of the arts and its importance to education and to society.
2. The Year of the Arts is a celebration highlighting and honoring the long history, present dynamism and exciting future for the arts at Miami University and surrounding communities.
3. The Year of the Arts will communicate the immense diversity of arts on and around the Oxford, Hamilton, and Middletown, Ohio campuses and invite participation and reflection intended to increase support for the arts.
4. Special events in 2011-2012 that spotlight the arts at Miami include: The grand opening of the Phillips Arts Center, the nationally televised performance by the Miami University Marching Band in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (the MUMB is the ONLY college band performing), and a new Distinguished Artist Award event that will honor a distinguished member of the alumni from each department in the School of Fine Arts for a residency and to receive a citation and award from the SFA and Miami. A complete list of events has been prepared for release, and new events will be added as needed.

One of the first special events happening in the Year of the Arts is a Collage Concert on August 27 at 7.p.m. in Gates-Abbeglen, featuring a collaboration of music, art, and theatre, and dance, organized by Harvey Thurmer.