Saturday, October 9, 2010

A day of art appreciation in Cincinnati

The vibrant blue sky lays backdrop to the vibrant, translucent yellow and red leaves of fall.  The sun shone warm on it all and a gentle breeze cooled.  It is a good day to be alive.  I took this beautiful fall day to appreciate art in Cincinnati. 

First stop was Holy Cross church in Mount Adams for THE GLOBAL TREE PROJECT HANGING GARDEN by Shinji Turner Yamamoto Not to be confused with Holy Cross church of the immaculata also in Mount Adams, Holy Cross Church that holds this exhibit is “the old monastery” at 1055 St Paul Place.  This exhibit is striking and beautiful; a marvel of construction with a living tree suspended high above the ground.  A second dead tree’s roots are used for support but striking is the visual representation of this tree as roots.  What depth and girth of the roots for a tree so demure above ground.   I could not help but think, “such is the key for survival in an equally unstable everyday.”

Global Tree Project: HANGING GARDEN 2010 dead and live white birches 12 m (40 feet) tall 19th century Holy Cross Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA (National Register of Historic Places)  photo credit: Shinji Turner-Yamamoto

This exhibit is further heightened by the contrast of the sustained life of the brilliant white birch tree against the muted remains of the dilapidated monastery.  The curator shared the effort and work that went into finding and securing this location.  Deconsecrated in the 1970s as a church the now privately owned space has sat as storage space for much of the last 3 decades slowly crumbling.  For me seeing this was also a marvel.  Despite its rust, grit, and crumble the decommissioned church maintains a rustic majesty.  It is interesting to see the bones of such a structure and to be allowed to view a space long closed to the public.  Arches and remnants of gilded paint remain while stark scars stand where catholic frescos were cut from the walls.  Still there remains most visible a chalice, repeated cross and crucifix pattern, golden rays depicting holiness, and the saying, “the passion of our lord Jesus Chris be always in our hearts” as a backdrop for this triumphant marvel of artistry and life.  

The Global Tree Project exhibit remains open until October 18th when there will be a ceremony to remove the tree from its current perch and return it to the soil it so desperately needs.  You still have time to check it out.  A beautiful companion exhibit DISSAPEARANCES by Shinji Turner Yamamoto is also on display at the Contemporary Art Center.  I visited this exhibit a few weeks ago on a cold day when indoor viewing was preferred.  The artist removed some of the pieces of aged plaster from crumbling Holy Cross church, manipulated them, infused them with gold and silver and made beauty out of the forgotten.  This exhibit runs until January 30, 2011 Being able to see both pieces of this instillation was a treat as the two exhibits, gilded crumblings', and the living tree suspended and floating, are made more impactful by the other.

Next stop on my day of art appreciation was the Cincinnati Art Museum , also in Mount Adams, for WEDDED PERFECTION a collection of wedding dresses from the past two hundred years, and MODERN WOMAN an exhibit focusing on the works of Thomas Gainsborough.  These two exhibits are currently referred to in the advertisements as, “the Vow and the Wow,” and are overlapping in showing until January 2, 2011. 

I love fashion, I feel it is art, and there is nothing I love more than a celebration of stylish women and fashion as art in an exhibit.  That is what drew me to the museum today.  I must admit I do not think I have been to the art museum since elementary, maybe high, school but the experience was quite good.   I had few expectations but the visit exceeded what few expectations I had.  First off, did you know admission is free all the time?  Parking is $4 but if you buy anything in the gift shop then your parking is free!  Like I need encouragement to shop…  I wandered through the halls for a few hours, checked out both of my destination exhibits, but still did not get to see and explore every area… I did get a chance to explore the gift shop.  Cincinnati Art Museum may be my new go-to-spot for the next few rainy days.

Back to the exhibits:

THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH AND THE MODERN WOMAN was a little bit of a surprise for me.  You enter with a neon sign, “Modern woman,” and then find yourself among portraiture from Georgian England.  I didn’t know anything about Thomas Gainsborough (totally outing myself as an art novice) and was expecting something more along the lines of the American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity that I visited at the Met in NYC this September.  The Met exhibit was a combination of fashion and multimedia presentation depicting women from the last century and today; it followed a format that would have mirrored the Wedded Perfection exhibit.  So I was surprised when I walked into MODERN WOMAN but I was not disappointed.  I found I would have wanted to hang out with Thomas Gainsborough had I been a woman in Georgian England. 

Reading every piece of explanation available for the portraits in this exhibit, and having a thoughtful explanation of historical context and art dissection available, was really what made Thomas Gainsborough cool to me.  There was ample example of his skill as an artist, and the explanation of his beliefs and state of mind made me a fan.

Gainsborough was a famous portraiture of his time but his style was known as the contemporary in this area.  The strong brush strokes I would have noticed without explanation but knowing that this made him the modern artist of his day spoke to me as a novice lover of modern art.  The strength of the brush strokes blending the subject into the background and creating a less detailed background had the effect of a photograph that leaves the background out of focus.  I love that he focused detail on the subject faces, and that he showed movement with a combination of detail and broad strokes so that trees appeared to dance in the breeze.  He also paid attention to dress.  Portrait information pointed out the message each style of dress sent, from traditional for the time, to barely detailed and so looking undressed, to the highest fashion of the time.  The painting of Mrs. Siddons, an actress of the day, depicted a blue on blue-stripped dress that in person appeared to have been a light blue burned out velvet or perhaps satin ribbon stripes on silk chiffon.  I love this.  I want to make a dress out of this fabric even though I only know it from the painting!  Another painting had what appeared to be gilded fabric pressed into pleats on the hem of a dress.  Upon close examination it was a smushing of gold paint that appeared to be scrapped off with a comb.   Without knowing the historical context I noticed the focus on texture. I love his beautiful attention to detail, and thoughtfully placed lack of detail.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), England
Ann Ford (later Mrs. Philip Thicknesse)
oil on canvas
Bequest of Mary M. Emery, 1927.396

I also loved Gainsborough’s use of light and highlighting of strong women.  Each of his subjects detailed faces’ were illuminated in contrast to the blurred darker backgrounds, almost jumping off of the canvas.  You really only get the full effect of this skill by viewing the painting in person and I feel like the use of lighting is the mark of good art.  If you can make this jump off the canvas and smack me in the face, you must be good.  So he clearly had that going for him.  There was one painting of Ann Ford where the light focus was not so much on her face.  I wasn’t sure if maybe the painting was dirty or if it was intentional.  At first I thought the focus was more on her chest.  I looked closely and thought I might have seen what was supposed to be a hint of nipple! I was confused; Thomas was a supporter of strong and talented women in a time when this made them somewhat scandalous.  He educated his daughters and did not think of them as property to be married off as so many attitudes of the day.  Why would he focus attention on the chest?  But then I read the accompanying description of Ann Ford, a talented musician in her day when there were few women musicians.  Then my attention focused on the Edwardian guitar with its neck across her chest, the cello in the background was further confirmation.  I could almost hear her tell Thomas, “Make it not about me but about the music.” I was quickly restored to Gainsborough fan status.   The exhibit may not have depicted modern day women but it did a great job of conveying the artists support of the strength and so many of the characteristics present in women of today.  I loved THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH AND THE MODERN WOMAN.

WEDDED PERFECTION: TWO CENTURIES OF WEDDING GOWNS was pretty much just what its name states, a showcase of dresses through the ages.  It was beautiful to see the artistry of so many varieties of gowns, great to see changing trends and familiar traditions, and refreshing to hear the origins and statements behind many of the designs. 

Wedding Dress (detail) 1887,
silk, beads, faux pearls,
Gift of Mrs. Frances
Lamson Eaton, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred W. Lamson, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin
Whitney Lamson, Jr., 1971.320

Items that made me take note in the exhibit:
A.     The repeated reference to Vera Wang’s influence on the modern day bridal gown.  Known for her simplicity and modern form she is credited with being the influence of the day much like House of Worth influenced the gowns a few hundred years ago.  I had not thought much about it but looking back to the 80s with poof sleeves, ball skirts, beads, fake flowers, lace, and ample clouds of polyester all in one culmination of two hundred years of dress accoutrements placed together on a top heavy bride… THANK YOU Vera Wang for being the first to bring it back down a notch. 
B.     I must tell my friend Mega about one of the best done wedding dresses with feathers as embellishment I have seen on display in this exhibit…also Vera Wang
C.     Orange blossoms and branches were often attached to dresses as a symbol of fertility in the past as it is the only tree to flower and bear fruit at the same time.  And it would be a kick ass greenery option for wedding decor.  Why don’t people use that now to decorate for weddings?
D.    Wedding dress = statement of personal style for brides be it 1820 or 2010.  From honoring tradition and sharing gowns; to avant garde and re-wearing gowns to parties I loved that the exhibit acknowledged so many details and statements that have been lost over the years
E.     These dresses are sexy.  Exposed cleavage and shoulders today are the corseted waists, hourglass figures, and exposed ankles of yesterday.
F.     Lace yellows and changes color with age.  It is helpful to have accompanying pictures to get an idea of what the dress looked like in its prime.
G.     Corseting your waist to 12 inches is ridiculous.  While the exhibit didn’t speak of it the women walking through the exhibit did.  Did you know the corseting actually moved the placement of organs in our tethered ancestors?  One onlooker also credited such body morphology as a contributing factor to death in childbirth.  Very glad that the freakishly small waist is no longer a measure of coolness today.
H.    The details of embroidery, beading, lace work, etc is without contention art.

This exhibit found the perfect ending for me as I was leaving and seeing the setup for a wedding at the art museum.  The marble staircase, the cool quiet of emptying halls, and strategic lighting were oh so romantic as the bridal party bustled through for pre wedding pictures on the courtyard lawn.

A beautiful day spent admiring inspiration that has been right there but I never took the time to see.  I drove home with the windows opened and admired the art of the day. 

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