“The Modern Art Society is formally founded by Betty Pollak Rauh, Peggy Frank Crawford and Rita Rentschler Cushman. The three were encouraged by M.W. Warburg and Alfred H. Barr of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Each had very little museum experience and operated out of a makeshift office that consisted of “a letter file and a portable typewriter” and whichever living room was available. That moving office soon transitioned to a gallery space in the basement of the Cincinnati Art Museum.
“In 1939 . . . one could not truthfully say that Cincinnati was marching in the vanguard of modern art movements . . . the attitude of the general public of Cincinnati roughly approximated that of New York at the time of the Armory show . . . the worlds of Klee or even Picasso were pretty far away . . . So, actually, 1939 was as good a time as any to break a leg . . . because that’s the way the Cincinnati Modern Art Society began . . . with a broken leg” - Betty Pollak Rauh
By the fall of the same year the founders were able to raise enough money for six shows per year that would be brought to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Rita Rentschler mentions that this fund, which covered “freight charges, insurance costs . . . publication of a catalogue for each show, invitations to previews, announcements and mailing costs,” was about $5,000.
The very first exhibition held by the Modern Art Society ran from November through December. It featured works from Jacob Epstein, Georg Kolbe, Fernand Léger, John Marin and others. Cards were distributed at this first show which listed the goals of the newly founded MAS: “ ‘1. To invite general membership; 2. To bring fine exhibitions of modern art to Cincinnati; 3. To sponsor lectures on modern art to Cincinnati.’ ”
The Society also created the country’s second Lending Gallery where visitors could pay to take art home with them (some art was available for purchase). The Lending Gallery expanded to include international art in 1956. The program was eventually ended because the escalating insurance prices made it difficult to ship important pieces.
MoMA's exhibition on Picasso is shown in Cincinnati
Two shows, Three Modern Masterpieces and Three Modern Sculptors, were designed to encourage discussion between Cincinnatians and modern art. To do this, each show featured a voting system. The first show featured three paintings: Renoir’s Le Moulin de la Galette (left), Hills at St. Remy by Van Gogh (right), and Calvary by Gauguin (bottom). The Renoir piece was the most popular.
The second ballot show featured Georg Kolbe’s Assunta (left) as the winner, beating out Standing Woman by Gaston Lachaise (middle) and L’Ile de France by Aristide Maillol (right) with scores of 81, 66 and 63, respectively. 11 votes were cast in opposition to the entire show.
Exhibited “to render a long needed service. By showing together a group of paintings united only by the warm, personal spirit in which they are painted, we hope to make clear that nationality and chronology have little to do with art.” - Peggy Frank
“Two of the most solid and individual American painters and thinkers on art are Marsden Hartley and Stuart Davis” - Peggy Frank
“You are certainly setting some standards out there which are sure to affect other institutions throughout the country." - Stuart Davis
“It is up to disinterested public art institutions and groups who have no ‘axes to grind’ to lead the way in encouraging those artists who are thinking and painting in honest and creative terms. The Cincinnati Modern Art Society . . . [presents] this exhibition of ‘Twenty-Five Creative Modern American Painters’ with the above idea in mind” - Peggy Frank
Modern Art in Advertising, which featured works by Rufino Tamayo, Fernand Léger and Willem deKooning, was sponsored originally by the Art Institute of Chicago "because they considered the series one of the most artistically progressive advertising programs ever initiated by a large industrial enterprise and because of the economic opportunities offered [it] offered artists in such a relationship” (Marion R. Becker, modern art in advertising).
Accident and Design was created in 1945 for the CAC by Robert Goldwater, a prominent art historian. The MAS tasked him with putting together a show that illustrated the kind of styles and features that modern artists (such as Klee, Brancusi and Gauguin) were drawing from nonwestern art, including “African masks . . . Greek bronzes and American Indian artifacts.” In Goldwater’s own words, “ ‘They [the nonwestern works of art] were not the cause of his [contemporary artists] freedom from nineteenth century naturalism, but when he was ready they helped him attain it.’”
Lewy's show was picked up for circulation by the American Federation of the Arts.
The CAC presents the first American showing of Juan Gris’s retrospective.
“ ‘I have followed with admiration the work of the Cincinnati Modern Art Society since its foundation ten years ago. Although its administration has changed several times, I have been impressed by its consistently courageous and progressive policies which have produced at times exhibitions which I have greatly regretted bit having seen in New York.’ ”
Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Director of Museum Collections, MoMA, NY.
Excerpt from the catalog on the 10th Anniversary Exhibition
(MAS: The Center’s Early Years, 8).
Buckminster Fuller gives a lecture at the MAS.
A show that was set to be a yearly exhibition in which 5 new to Cincinnati artists were presented. While an identical show did not occur each year afterwards, the idea of showing lesser known artists continued on in other exhibits.
“Between 1940 and 1953, the Modern Art Society had four different directors. They were called variously, Director, Art Director, or Program Chairman depending on the circumstances. Sometimes they were paid, but more often not, as every scrap of money which we received from membership (there were no large gifts in the early years) went into exhibitions, lectures and catalogs”
Peggy Frank Crawford arranged this show commenting: “The resulting group of artists exhibited are heterogeneous, both in age and philosophy, homogeneous only in that all are represented by oil paintings. The common denominator in this exhibition is a matter of my personal conviction that each of these pictures is a fine thing to look at, worth serious attention”.
The Modern Art Society opens a space called Contemporary Arts Center inside of the Cincinnati Art Museum. The Society officially adopts the Contemporary Arts Center as its name two years later.
Architects Carl Strauss and Ray Roush remodel part of the lower floor of the Cincinnati Art Museum into 2 permanent galleries for the CAC.
This show was a completely unjuried exhibition and had local Cincinnati artists displaying works right next to artists like Joan Miró, Georges Braque, Picasso, and Rouault.
The Mary E. Johnston exhibition displayed 36 works from notable artists, a majority of the which were permanently housed at the Cincinnati Art Museum 11 years later.
The jump in numbers was due to a "campaign to enlarge membership" that began in 1953 under the president Mrs. Warner Atkins. This program, alongside increased community activities, exhibitions with wider appeal and the new permanent gallery spaces resulted in huge membership gains.
The Collection of Frank and Ursula Laurens displayed a large selection of private art in Cincinnati. Their collection was noteworthy for its 62 works by Paul Klee
The addition of the Emery Wing at the CAM replaces the original space belonging to the MAS. The CAC moves to a space in Carew Tower.
The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Heller that the recent program referred to was a collection that circulated from the MoMA that featured contemporary abstract painters such as Willem deKooning, Philip Guston, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
The CAC formed its first Education Committee in 1962 as a way to further the development of educational programming.
The Pop Art show An American Viewpoint is one of the first museum exhibitions of its kind.
“The work of the six artists included in this exhibition represents the most important force in the fine arts today” (Allon T. Schoener).
The CAC moves to a 4,000 square foot gallery on the fourth floor of the Women’s Exchange building after temporarily occupying spaces in the Taft Museum and Carew Tower.
“The Contemporary Arts Center . . . has organized this exhibition . . . to circulate throughout the country in order to acknowledge his [Albers’] contribution as an innovator of a new development which he refers to as ‘perceptual’ art . . .”
“Nine eminent experts in art have selected 152 pictures from 1042 examples prejudged by photographics organizations and authorities in the field.” The show debuted at the MoMA and began with a search for works 18 months before the selection. Selection allowed “all points of view, asking only that the product of a man’s work contain that certain spark which kindles in a sensitive observer a response to its message.” During the judging there was a simple collection of votes that lacked any “expression of opinions”, so there was no arguing over inclusion.
A special, one night presentation of Warhol's The Exploding Plastic Inevitable featuring The Velvet Underground and Nico.
A protest exhibit that featured roughly 50 works that not so subtly voiced criticism with Chicago’s then mayor, Richard Daley, who had recently told his chief of police to shoot to kill any “arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand” (referencing the riots in response to MLK’s assassination). Artists included Claes Oldenburg, Adolph Gottlieb, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg
The CAC moves to the Mercantile Center on 5th Street where it remained for 30 years. The move was reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer as " 'a matter of intense satisfaction for a wide group of Cincinnatians.' " It was designed by Harry Weese (who designed Metro Subway System in Washington DC) and featured 10,000 sq. ft. of space.
The new space opened with the Monumental Art show which expanded outward into Fountain Square. The new center would introduce Cincinnati to performance and video art through over 400 different exhibitions that spanned 30 a little over 30 years.
The center ran into financial issues in 1971. It closed down for the summer and lost its director, William Leonard. With a smaller budget and the help from volunteers, the center was able to reopen in the fall.
Nearly 1,000 people were in attendance for the opening, including John Cage and Mrs. Duchamp.
The first show of the 1972 season saw an exhibition filled with works made from edible materials such as an ice cream still life from Wilmer Graeter, golden chewing gum sculptures from Les Levine and Tom Marioni with both a live and video taped piece.
After presenting a video art exhibition, the CAC is chosen to represent the United States at the São Paulo Biennale.
A large exhibition was on display in 1976 consisting of selected ventriloquist puppets. The items came from the Vent Haven museum in Kentucky.
A travelling exhibition that visited the CAC comprised of Close's large scale dot drawings. The show also displayed works in progress to help viewers better understand the creation process.
"We [the CAC] present this exhibition hoping to call to the attention of the people of Cincinnati both the potential of the site itself and the potential contribution which contemporary artists can make to the design of public spaces. The proposals for Sawyer Point Park not only complement the city’s concept for the park, but also provide us with an exhibition of current artistic interest”
“This exhibition presents an assessment of the recent interest on the part of selected contemporary artists in patterns, ornamentation and the complexities of organically based design."
The work in the photograph, entitled Stahahe Sphere and Solomon Palm Arcade, inhabited the center area of the Mercantile Center
In 1978, the first paid Education employee was hired, marking the center’s commitment to providing more continuous programs offered to all visitors.
A visiting exhibition that focused on the artist's most recent 10 years, linking his recent canvas works to his sculptural pieces.
Saturdays for Children, a series of tours and art-making sessions aimed toward children under the age of ten, began in 1979. Pat Thomson is also hired as the first Curator of Education.
CAC acquires a permanent lease through a city bond for its location on 5th Street.
A show focusing on the reemergence of the figure in artists' works throughout the 1970s. Works included paintings, photos, sculptures and drawings from artists such as Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo, Richard Prince and Julian Schnabel.
Disarming Exhibitions was put together by the Art Museum Association for America.
"As we approach the middle of the decade it is becoming increasingly clear that the consciousness of the '80s is being shaped by the threat of nuclear war . . . each work [in the exhibition] simultaneously addresses the issue [of nuclear war], either directly or indirectly, and also reflects the ongoing aesthetic concerns of the artist" (Nina Felshin).
A moving painting comprised of 84 television monitors. The images on each TV were taken from Paik's own archive of videotapes and collectively resemble the American flag.
The Center commissions Andrew Leicester to create a public sculpture for the entranceway to the newly constructed Sawyer Point Park on the riverfront. Leicester's design draws criticism and becomes part of the ongoing national debate on public art. At a hearing in the City of Cincinnati Council Chambers, the public voices its resounding support for the work.
The CAC's iconic Metrobot is installed as a commission for the 50th anniversary of The Center and the bicentennial of Cincinnati. The sculpture, designed by Nam June Paik, is an abstract electronic robot which gives the time and temperature, relays arts information, has a public telephone in its leg and a glowing pink neon heart.
To celebrate our 50 year anniversary a double exhibit called Encore I and Encore II is held to represent significant artists shown at the CAC during the 1970s and the 1980s. The goal was to select artists from this time period who were exhibited at a pivotal point in their career.
Early ideas begin for relocating the CAC. Preliminary suggestions included the former Ohio Mechanics Institute - College of Applied Science Building (now the Emery Center) and moving into the then-recently constructed Aronoff center. The first location even had a preliminary “adaptive re-use concept” drawn up by an architectural team called Morphosis (Michael Rotondi and Tom Mayne). Both suggestions were shelved and delayed due to the event surrounding the Mapplethorpe exhibit.
The CAC hosts the 20 Year Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective. Sherriff Simon Leis Jr. charged the CAC and director Dennis Barrie with pandering obscenity and sought to shut down the museum. The charges were dropped. The CAC voluntarily withdraws from the Fine Arts Fund donation (accounting for 17% of its income). Nearly 81,000 people visited the Mapplethorpe exhibition
"Since the Industrial Age and particularly the 20th century, artists have examined the impact of the machine upon their societies. Paintings from the 19th century for example, celebrated the industrial might of nations. In the 1920s and '30s the Futurists found inspiration and hope for a new world order in the metaphor of the machine . . . Mechanika, an exhibition organized by the Contemporary Arts Center, takes a look at how a number of contemporary artists are currently using machine-based imagery to explore the issues of contemporary society" (Dennis Barrie, Mechanika).
"This exhibition celebrates the body of work John Ahearn has made in collaboration with Rigoberto Torres since 1979 when they met at Fashion Moda . . . It was the process of molding masks and disguises for film characters that turned him [Ahearn] to casting sculptures . . . In Torres' case, he learned to make sculptural casts in his uncle's religious statuary factory in the South Bronx" (Suzanne Delehanty, Director at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston).
"When I became aware of the work of Walton Ford and Julie Jones nearly three years ago, I was struck by the similarity of their styles as well as their choice of subject matter. During a time when most contemporary artists shunned the figure in their work, Walton and Julie each elected to use the figure . . . to tell a story" (Jan Riley, Walton Ford and Julie Jones).
"Predictably, over the past several years artists have reacted against the perceived slickness of the neo-Pop eighties . . . Unquestionably, Tim Hawkinson's work, too, responds to the history of art of the past three decades. Equally important, however, is its implied critique of the two key social structures it emulates: the worlds of art and of industry" (Charles Desmarais, Humongolous).
“ ‘I know of no other time a program like this has existed . . . This is the first time . . . that an institution has mounted this kind of public event at this stage of the game, at this part of the process - at the very beginning. We are all here not to be the architectural equivalent of Monday-morning quarterbacks, and that . . . says a huge amount about the seriousness with which the CAC and Cincinnati are going about this business’ ” (Paul Goldberger in Zaha Hadid, Space for Art, 21).
The Board of Trustees awards Zaha Hadid with the commission of the new CAC building design over two finalists Daniel Liebeskind and Bernard Tschumi and 9 semi finalists: Coop Himmelblau (Wolf Prix), Diller & Scofidio, Herzog & de Meuron, Steven Holl, Rem Koolhaas, Eric Owen Moss, Jean Nouvel, Toyo Ito and Antoine Predock. Also, the purchase of land at 6th and Walnut is approved.
After a contribution by Lois and Richard Rosenthal to the new CAC building the CAC is voted to be named “The Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for the Contemporary Art”.
Allan Wexner's Hypar Room opened in the Mercantile space. The Hypar Room and Kim Abeles’s Leaf Leap: All the World’s Leaves (2000) became the prototype for the new Zaha Hadid 6th floor space, The UnMuseum, where the Hypar Room was also installed in 2003.
"My Reality: Contemporary Art and the Culture of Japanese Animation explores the notion of the invented communal or personal reality that functions as an avenue of escape from contemporary social circumstances. For both the Eastern and Western artists participating in the exhibition, escape derives from fantasy and play . . . My reality, your reality - it's all just an illusion" (Jeff Fleming).
The new Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art opens in the spring, featuring 85,000 square feet, including a black box performance space and an education center known as the UnMuseum
The UnMuseum opens alongside the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art. The entire 6th floor of the new Center is dedicated to the display of commissioned, interactive, contemporary art for young audiences. It is also the location for a variety of family friendly programming.
Beautiful Losers is an exhibition of multimedia art and design that explores the recent work of a diverse group of visual artists who participate in or are inspired by aspects of the street culture loosely organized around skateboarding, graffiti, punk, and hip hop subcultures in U.S. urban centers. The core of the project involves painting, sculpture, and photography, as well as film, video, web-based projects, performance, and clothing and product design by more than fifty individuals who have emerged in the last decade - some now established figures in the art world, but many receiving their first broad exposure here.
Bunch Alliance and Dissolve investigates the structural potentialities of a group exhibition, and the temporal nature of correlations that are drawn by third parties between artists' works. The show includes approximately twenty-five international artists. While a number of the participating artists have exhibited extensively, the majority are early-career artists, for whom this will be their first museum exhibition.
Organized by: Serpentine Gallery, London
Exhibition Sponsors: James A. Miller, Alice F. and Harris K. Weston
Maria Lassnig (born 1919) is an avant-garde pioneer who has produced fresh and vibrant work for 60 years. She has remained independent from many art historical movements and yet her work has consistently engaged with successive generations of artists. For much of her career, Lassnig was celebrated mainly in Austria and Germany, but the significance of her work has now been recognized through exhibitions worldwide.
Co-organized by: The Contemporary Arts Center in the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art and Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami
Exhibition Sponsor: Duke Energy; Lightborne
Sponsor In-Kind: Turnbull-Wahlert Construction, Inc.
The first major U.S. exhibition of artist Anri Sala’s work, Anri Sala: Purchase Not by Moonlight, features photographs, sculptures and films that explore the interplay of space, time and perception. With its presentation in Cincinnati, following its debut in North Miami, Purchase Not by Moonlight is one exhibition with two volumes in which Sala’s work responds to the unique architecture of each institution. This presentation marks the world premier of Sala’s new film, Answer Me.
For the CAC, Sala designed a layout that engages in a dialogue with the architecture of Zaha Hadid. He creates a choreographed experience that unfolds in synchrony with the galleries. All the films together are presented as a unified installation, and could almost be considered a single artwork.
CAC Exhibition Sponsor: James A. Miller
Fine Arts Fund Corporate Partner: P&G
Shilpa Gupta is emerging as one of the most important female artists living and working in India today. Considered a pioneer of new media art, she tackles deep-seated issues such as cultural and political divides (or similarities), religion, commerce, and terrorism. Her work encourages the questioning of assumptions and biases about how we live and our place in the world. Although often her pieces comment on particular conflicts or locales, they transcend those specifics and touch on themes universal to mankind and relevant in all our lives. By providing viewers with thought-provoking messages and the opportunity to connect with global concerns in a more personal way, Gupta challenges observers to be active participants in creating her work anew each time it is encountered.
Co-organized by: CAC and the Kunsthalle Wien.
Special Thanks: James A. and Mary Miller, Allan Berliant and Jennie Rosenthal Berliant, Susan and Bill Friedlander, The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation (Public Artworks)
ArtsWave Corporate Partner: P&G
“The public has a right to art. Art is for everybody.”
Keith Haring ranks among the most iconic, influential and popular artists in the world. Twenty years after his death, this is a rare and in-depth look at the prolific early years that established Haring’s language as an artist, his politics and social conscience, and his open homosexuality. This historic exhibition of rarely exhibited early work chronicles Haring's arrival in New York City (from his native Pennsylvania) and his immersion in New York’s dynamic downtown culture.
Made possible by: Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award
Exhibition sponsors: Legg Mason Investment Counsel, Jen & John Stein
ArtsWave Corporate Partner: Duke Energy Corporation
The show builds on eco-conscious exhibitions the CAC has spearheaded in the past--including The American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Life, Ecovention and Beyond Green--and puts into context the nearly 40 year phenomena of farming as art. Featuring a real working farm within the gallery, a farm stand in the museum lobby, sculptures used for farming, videos and other installations, Green Acres presents farming as art through a wide variety of approaches. Another key component to the exhibition will be the satellite projects throughout the community.
The CAC brought the work of anonymous French artist JR to Fountain Square, Findlay Market, and Rabbit Hash in Kentucky. This was the artist’s first solo museum exhibition and exposed locals to social justice and participatory art. In September 2013, 1239 portraits were taken at the CAC for his Inside Out project.
The Buildering: Misbehaving the City exhibition curated by Steven Matijcio filled Hadid's building and expanded out into the streets of Cincinnati. “In the CAC’s 75th anniversary year," states Matijcio, "we want to peer into the future by re-imagining our history. The Buildering project provides a special opportunity to perform the CAC building and the city of Cincinnati ??" incorporating them as active collaborators and partners in perception. The city is seen as a given, fading from view through sheer familiarity, but the artists in this exhibition approach this subject with genuine curiosity, endearment, and enthusiasm ??" imagining new possibilities in something we navigate every day.”
Nam June Paik’s Metrobot was reinstalled outside the CAC at 6th and Walnut. Technologically renovated, the robot now features both video and LED message boards and an upgraded telephone.
In 2015, the lobby reopened to the public after being briefly closed for renovation. The lobby was updated to exemplify Zaha Hadid’s original vision, for it to be the most vibrant and public space in Cincinnati.
In 2015, an UnMuseum Advisory Group was formed to discuss a future renovation for the 6th floor. The group was comprised of educators, staff, and community members all seeking to discover the possibilities of what a new 6th floor would look like.
The CAC instituted free admission for three years made possible by a gift of $75,000 from The Johnson Foundation and $150,000 from a newly formed Contemporary Arts Center patron’s circle known as The 50.
The CAC presents a major survey exhibition of celebrated Korean-American artist Do Ho Suh. Passage allowed viewers to rethink ideas of home, settlement, place, and migration.
The CAC organizes the first major survey of era-defining artist Caledonia Curry ??" better known as Swoon. Swoon is a pioneering social champion in a field traditionally dominated by men. She has overcome every barrier to re-define what “street art” means today.
After years of research, the CAC called a design charrette to interview four possible firms for the 6th floor remodel.
For the first time, the CAC dedicated all its galleries to exhibitions in the FotoFocus Biennial. No Two Alike, featuring Karl Blossfeldt, Francis Bruguière, and Thomas Ruff, occupied the second floor galleries. Mamma Andersson's Memory Banks filled the fourth floor. And, Akram Zaatari's The Fold--Space, Time and the Image inhabited the fifth floor.
Inspired by their sensitivity to Hadid's architecture, their understanding of multi-use spaces and sustainability, the CAC chose MIR Collective, a newly formed firm, to lead the 6th floor remodel project.
Art and Race Matters is the first comprehensive retrospective of one of America’s most compelling and controversial artists, Robert Colescott (1925-2009). The exhibition reveals 85 total works throughout 53 years of his career that both bring to the surface and challenge diversity and racial stereotypes. Art and Race Matters is organized by Lowery Stokes Sims, a long-time Colescott scholar, and CAC’s Alice Weston & Harris Director, Raphaela Platow, with assistance from Matthew Weseley. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue highlighting Colescott’s extensive career and will be touring several museums around the United States all facilitated by the CAC.
Saya Woolfalk lives, works, and performs the provocative concept of cultural hybridity. Marrying totemic iconography with technicolor surrealism, science fiction, and fantasy, Woolfalk imagines a fictional race of women able to alter their genetic make-up and merge with the natural world. Her mythical society of “Empathics” and “Chimabots” also joined in during Artwork's BLINK festival with a mural on Walnut between Court and Central Parkway. During the BLINK festival, dance performances began at the mural and moved down Walnut to the gallery in the CAC.
Haze is Vhils’ first large-scale exhibition in the United States. Alexandre Farto (aka Vhils) is renowned for his unusual technique of removing the surface layers of urban walls to create riveting portraits and imagery. Using construction tools like hammers, chisels, and pneumatic drills, the artist exposes and confronts architectural surfaces as they narrate the history of a city itself. For Haze, Vhils chiseled into the CAC's walls and even set off explosives in the 5th floor gallery.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the CAC developed its first virtual tour. The 3-D scanning of the galleries allows visitors from anywhere in the world to experience the institution's exhibitions and allows for greater reach in future programming.