Sunday, June 1, 2003

New art center opens to wows

By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Zaha Hadid arrived with an entourage. In a white silk coat, black miniskirt and high-heeled shoes with lime green Day-Glo straps, the architect of the new Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art entered into a sea of people.

Chinese performance artist Zhang Huan utilizes an American flag for a piece called "My Cincinnati" on Saturday night during the opening of the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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She was smiling, talking into her cell phone and laughing as she walked into the glass-enclosed lobby of her first American building and the first American museum designed by a woman.

It was hard to tell which had the most impact, the art or the building.

By 9:30 p.m. nearly 5,000 people mobbed Hadid's glass-and-concrete monument to contemporary art. Men with walkie-talkies regulated the crowd from behind burgundy velvet ropes while clowns dressed like Hopi Indian tricksters regaled the crowd.

"Everyone is so happy," said Tamara Harkavy of Clifton, the director of ArtWorks, who was attending the celebration with her family.

Festivities began at 5 p.m. with a private party for USBank employees. The last of the cocktail glasses were still being bused away when the doors opened to Contemporary Arts Center members.

• The Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art at Sixth and Walnut streets opened with a preview party Saturday night.
• Regular gallery hours begin Saturday.
• Our special online section examines what makes this building and museum such an asset for Cincinnati and tells how you can make a visit something extraordinary.

A table was lined with DJs playing an assortment of music while behind them a never-ending stream of people climbed the sleek black stairs that zigzag up the building's six floors. So even was their pacing they seemed to be moving on an escalator.

"I love the building, and I love what it means for Cincinnati," said Jeanne Golliher of North Avondale. "It means a new beginning for the city. I'm sick of people putting us down. We are so not dead."

The crowd enthusiastically participated with the interactive art on the upper floors, although they stood in line to mount the stairs to get to it. "Cultural Melting Bath: Project for the 20th Century" by Cai Guo-Qiang drew four college friends to its hot tub filled with medicinal Chinese herbs. "We reek of ginseng," said David Bever of Fort Thomas. "It's like if you were brewing yourself in green tea."

Performance artists Kapoot perform for JoAnn Roth Shumate (left) of Park Hills during a private party for USBank employees before the doors opened to members.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
Monica Bonvicini's "A violent, tropical, cyclonic piece of art having wind speeds of or in excess of 75 miles per hour" had groups of three or more entering the gallery to experience the full strength of a tropical storm. "There goes $80," said Katja Lundgren of Clifton, referring to her hair. With such a large crowd, the galleries were warm, and several people opted for the cyclone over the heat.

"It's an incredibly ambitious and successful show," said Cincinnati art dealer Carl Solway. "It's amazing that Thom Collins was able to put together an exhibition that works so well in the space without having experienced the space beforehand."

Collins, the center's senior curator, worked for more than a year arranging the inaugural show. Bringing together the leading names in contemporary art from around the world - 63 pieces of art by 35 people from 21 countries - he has created a unique experience. Six premieres were unveiled at the opening including a performance piece by Chinese artist Zhang Huan. An extraordinary symbolist, Huan in "My Cincinnati" utilized an American flag, a police dog and a flock of white doves during his lobby performance.

Patty Chang's premiere performance of eating cheese puffs and drinking Mountain Dew from the bathroom of the Metropole hotel next door stunned a number of visitors. In the piece Chang and a male counterpart work video cameras with their feet. The cameras are trained on their faces as they gorge themselves with food and drink. "This is art?" someone asked the crowd. But no one answered.

The crowd was striking in its diversity. There were board members and donors, students and artists, educators and fashionistas and just about everything in between. They were dressed up in gowns and dressed down in jeans.

"That this kind of audience is interested in contemporary art," said Solway, clearly awed.

The audience included children, most of whom gravitated to the sixth-floor Unmuseum. Kim Abeles's "Leaf Lounge: All The World's Leaves" was a big hit.

"It's soft and it smells good," said Hailey Hess, 9, as she sat atop the plush, leaf-shaped pillows and tossed a few around.

"It's cool and different than other museums like the Cincinnati Art Museum," said her friend Anna Viviani, 9.

French artist Marie-Ange Guilleminot strolled through the crowd with her "Oursin," or sea urchin. The Tyvek form, which was inspired by leaves from the gingko biloba tree, looks most like a mini-parachute and like an urchin when folded. Guilleminot, who would later perform before her "Paravant," an interactive wooden circle, swung the urchin like a purse as she made her way through the crowd inviting conversation.

"Everywhere you go you can build your house in five seconds," she said referring to the urchin. Guilleminot's urchin can also be transformed into a cloak, a satchel, a parachute and a video screen.

Nearby, Jason Owen of Covington wondered at the angles and shapes that make up the building. "Everything opens up and flows," he said. "The building is as much art as the art inside. I think it's gorgeous and provocative."

During the coming week, the center will be open to members only. On Saturday, it opens to all.


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