The Contemporary Arts Center in downtown Cincinnati is free, diverse and beautiful. The museum doesn’t purchase pieces so its resident exhibitions are always rotating. The center was first founded in 1939 as the Modern Art Society by three notable women whom all called the Queen City their home and it continues to be a staple of Cincinnati culture.
The museum is non-collecting, meaning it doesn’t purchase works, so there is always a fresh rotation of pieces within it’s four gorgeous floors of gallery space, and plenty of room for multiple exhibitions at a time. Out of this variety there stood out a few things in particular.
Currently, there is a whole floor dedicated to the “Creatures” exhibition which features work from an assortment of artists with the common thread being that each piece in the collection was a collaboration with a living thing that was not human.
The will of the human mind and spirit making conscious decisions, and the will of an animal that has little capacity for the contemplation of its decisions, combining to form something altogether new and unpredictable is truly something to behold. You can go experience “Creatures” until August 18th.
A short and mysterious ride on a very large and strange sounding elevator takes you to another floor. A floor where a true artistic gem awaits. The strangely beautiful, ethereal, and somewhat unsettling paintings of Julien Nguyen.
Using a style reminiscent of renaissance religious art, but combined with iconography and archetypes of our modern creative and global society, Nguyen manages to connect the high drama or religious paintings with the psyche and collective unconscious of the modern human.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, these paintings also have an eerie quality to them similar to the style they are emploring, truly capturing the distilled essence of our tenuous, if not uncomfortable relationship with the divine.
Unfortunately, Nguyen’s work moved on to another town on June 16th, but Cincinnati’s own Kelsey Linder brings a message of self love, and a celebration of the feminine form starting Wednesday, June 19th.
If you happen to have kids, or just simply cannot abide the sociobehavioral expectations of adulthood (and in this you are not alone), the third floor features an all hands-on exhibition for humans of all ages who never forgot the crippling feeling of those three words of command from their childhoods; “Don’t touch that!” Run around. Touch literally everything. Sit in the impossibly-shaped furniture. Build a block castle. Go nuts.
So how did such a marvel find its home in the city of seven hills? The three founders decided that, rather than compete with the booming art world of New York, they could be the founders of the very first contemporary arts-focused organization in a town that had a rich arts culture preexisting. In fact, it was one of the first contemporary arts organizations in the whole United States.
The building itself is also a treasure of architectural expression. The late Zaha Hadid designed it as her first American project and it was hailed as “the best new building since the cold war” in the New York Times upon its completion in 2003. It is, truly, beautiful.
Did I mention it’s free? Go have a peek for yourself and enjoy the gifts civilization has to offer.