Sunday, December 26, 1999

'99 Visual art: All eyes on Vontz Center

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The biggest event of the year was the September opening of the $46 million Vontz Center for Molecular Studies at the University of Cincinnati. All eyes were on the building because it was designed by Frank Gehry, the late-century architect who reinvented architecture.

        Mr. Gehry's bulbous brick building may not be as unconventional as his titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, but for Cincinnati, it is a thrilling addition to a community that is becoming a center for advanced architecture, despite its conservative image.

        Other reasons to remember 1999 in visual art:

        • Both the Chaim Soutine and the John Twachtman exhibits at the Cincinnati Art Museum were pleasant surprises.

        Mr. Soutine's visually and emotionally twisted paintings from early 20th-century Paris were greeted with enthusiasm by visitors to the Cincinnati Art Museum in February. It was proof that the museum need not stick with pretty art to attract visitors.

        As an added treat, the Sara Lee Corp., owner of some of the paintings in the exhibition, donated a Soutine landscape to the museum.

        Mr. Twachtman's art, shown at the CAM in June, certainly is pretty and unchallenging, but the exhibition showed the turn-of-the 20th century Cincinnati artist to be a more visually sophisticated painter than has been supposed.

        The paintings in the exhibition illustrated that he was not blindly following the French Impressionists in their quest to entertain the bourgeoise. His work had originality and, in the best cases, guts. A pity that the Cincinnati Art Museum had to get the show from the High Museum in Atlanta.

        • The CAM did not originate the exhibition of Cincinnati's most important contemporary artist, Jim Dine, either. That exhibition (continuing through Jan. 9) from the Guggenheim Museum in New York, covers the artist's first and most innovative decade, the 1960s. The harsh, edgy nature of this early work makes the show more a duty than a joy to visit, but visitors endure it politely.

        • The Taft Museum changed its name to the Taft Museum of Art and contributed a summer exhibition of the work of Cincinnati's most revered artist, Frank Duveneck.

        Everyone honors Mr. Duveneck and visits exhibitions of his art, and quietly feels that even for Cincinnati, his art was awfully dull. The Taft's wonderful exhibitions of the etchings of Rembrandt and Whistler compensated for it, though.

        • Leave it to the Contemporary Arts Center to keep us on our toes with unexpected and often inexplicable exhibitions. The American Lawn, shown in April. Not so much an art show as a visual essay on our obsession with grass, it was a fascinating look at both the American lawn and the latest techniques in exhibition installation.

        Best liked and most enjoyed was In the Kitchen With Liza Lou, an entire full scale kitchen created out of colored glass beads. There were two other, more serious exhibitions at the CAC at the same time, but Liza Lou drew the crowds.

        • Interstate 75 is more and more becoming a driveway between Cincinnati and the Dayton Art Institute as the DAI delivers not-to-be-missed exhibitions. Saints and Sinners: Darkness and Light introduced the Dutch followers of Michelangelo Caravaggio, one of the most original artists in history. Even though the show's major message was that originality is not easily imitated, the art was worth the trip.

        But even more, seeing the grand 20th-century still lifes from the Phillips Collection at the DAI let us get close to some of the greatest artists of the century, Pablo Picasso, Georgia O'Keeffe, Henri Matisse. The exhibition started the year off with some of the best painting seen all year.

        • The DAI ended the year with the finest exhibition of photography seen in this area in more than a decade. In Praise of Nature: Ansel Adams and the Photographers of the American West (closing Jan. 2) is a tour de force of great American photography that is a fitting tribute to wrap up the American century.


'99 Year in Review: Recalling the century's last gasp
'99 Sports: Color the year Red
'99 Local News: Prosperous year punctuated by hard times
'99 Business: Consumers hang on as economy and technology take rocket ride
'99 Nation/World: A fitting finale to the century
'99 Films: Embarrassment of riches
'99 Pop music: Cincy back on the charts
'99 Television: A million reasons to watch
'99 Classical music: Life imitates opera
'99 Dance: Comings and goings
'99 Theater: A year to remember
- '99 Visual art: All eyes on Vontz Center