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Somewhere Better than This Place

Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati

Alternative Social Experience in the Spaces of Contemporary Art. Installations, Photography, Film and Video, Sound and Performance Art

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Installations, Photography, Film and Video, Sound and Performance Art

Inaugural Exhibition in the New Zaha Hadid-Designed Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center For Contemporary Art Will Examine Social Constructs and Encourage Interaction Between the Art, Audiences and the Building

The Contemporary Arts Center will present a group exhibition of works by 39 leading contemporary artists and artist collaboratives when it celebrates the opening of its new building, the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, on May 31, 2003. In an ambitious show featuring 50 newly-commissioned and extant works that will inhabit all six floors of the Zaha Hadid-designed Center, Somewhere Better than This Place: Alternative Social Experience in the Spaces of Contemporary Art will explore the relationships among society, place and art by encouraging direct interaction between the Center's audiences, works of art and the building itself. The exhibition represents the diverse backgrounds, perspectives and sensibilities of leading U.S. and international artists working in various media-including installation, film, photography, video, audio and live performance. It will offer interactive, participatory experiences for viewers in the museum space or, in some cases, art that has been generated out of performances staged in the real world.

Such recognized contemporary artists as Vanessa Beecroft, Janet Cardiff and Yinka Shonibare will be featured alongside established and emerging artists from the Americas, Cuba, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The largest exhibition presented in the Center's 63-year history, Somewhere Better than This Place will maximize the opportunities in Zaha Hadid's design to encourage dynamic interaction between viewers and the works of art. The exhibition will premiere at the CAC's Grand Opening Party on Saturday, May 31, 2003. Regular public gallery hours will begin on Saturday, June 7, and the exhibition will remain on view through November 9, 2003.
"We wanted an inaugural exhibition befitting this tremendous moment for the Contemporary Arts Center-both to take full advantage of the CAC's incredible new building and to honor the Center's rich legacy of bringing important, thought-provoking art to Cincinnati," says Charles Desmarais, the Center's Alice and Harris Weston Director. "Somewhere Better than This Place is the ideal exhibition to open the Center's first free-standing home because it explores the relationship between people and places-particularly contemporary art museums. Like Zaha Hadid's visionary design for the building, which encourages a relationship between the CAC and its urban surroundings and between the art and audiences, the inaugural exhibition will maximize the interplay between the space, the art within its walls, and the visitor."

Like much of the significant and influential art of the last decade, the work in Somewhere Better than This Place reflects the role of contemporary art museums as places distinct from all others, in which "outside" culture is both represented and critiqued, and unique social activity is created. Organized by CAC Senior Curator Thom Collins, the exhibition is arranged according to four key themes: the social construction of identities; discourses of social order; changing patterns of social relations; and social encounters organized around shared experiences of the sublime.

As an exploration of social constructs, situations and assumptions, the exhibition will deliberately encourage participatory experiences between the art and the viewer. Similarly, the new Rosenthal Center is designed to enable viewers, artists and art to interact in new ways within a presenting space. The building will support the CAC's distinct role as a "kunsthalle," or non-collecting institution that presents temporary exhibitions, site-specific exhibitions and performances, and offers audiences an ever-changing and unique experience with each programming cycle. The new building will feature galleries of varying sizes and ceiling heights that connect and interlock like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, offering rich spatial possibilities and adaptable configurations to accommodate the wide-ranging scale and media of contemporary art. Works that would have been impossible to show in the previous CAC space, such as Cai Guo-Qiang's Melting Bath: Project for the 20th Century (1997)-a collective ritual environment involving a hot tub full of restorative herbs and a ring of enormous scholars' stones-will be showcased in the inaugural exhibition.

About the Exhibition
"There every culture, in every civilization, real which all the other real sites that can be found within the culture are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted," wrote historian and philosopher Michael Foucault in 1976. Specifically addressing the territories defined by institutions such as birthing centers, prisons, fairgrounds, and mental hospitals, Foucault labeled these places "heterotopia." They are spaces in which people can analyze and critique troubling aspects of society, and consider possible alternatives. According to Foucault's concept, such places are unique in that they invite society to explore different ideas of a "perfect world" and, conceivably, later act on those ideas in the real world.

"Somewhere Better than This Place comments on the museum of contemporary art as one of a handful of modern heterotopia," said curator Collins. "It is an institution dedicated to presenting alternative visions of important aspects of the social life just beyond its walls, and offering alternative experiences related to them. When confronted with new ways of thinking and behaving in a contemporary art museum, audiences discover important perspectives on pressing issues and are encouraged to return to the world ready to participate in bringing about positive change."

The Social Construction of Identities
The first part of the exhibition explores categories of identity, including gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality. The social construction of identities based on such categories has been increasingly cast into doubt as society has revealed and examined how and why these categories were created in the first place. Artists represented in this section have responded to this rethinking of social construction by exploring where these identity claims come from and by weighing their personal and political implications, both positive and negative.

These themes are explored in the exhibition though the work of French artist Gilles Barbier; Robert Beck, a New York City-based mixed media artist; Sanford Biggers and Jennifer Zackin, both based in New York City; Patty Chang*, a San Diego-born performance artist; Japanese graphic design collaborative Groovisions; Korean-American painter Byron Kim and African-American painter Glenn Ligon; South Korean-American performance artist Nikki Lee; Yinka Shonibare, a London-based multidisciplinary artist of Nigerian heritage; Brooklyn-based African-American photographer Lorna Simpson; and New York City-based installation artist T.J. Wilcox

In the video performance Contortionist (2000), Patty Chang explores the identity categories with which she is most closely associated-female, Asian-American, lesbian-in funny, moving and provocative performances and videos. As in Contortionist, in which she masquerades as a Chinese acrobat by working with a partially hidden double, Chang's work forces audiences to confront limited and limiting cultural stereotypes associated with these labels. In addition to showing a print from Contortionist, she will create a new performance piece for Somewhere Better than This Place.

Also included in this section of the exhibition will be Robert Beck's video Untitled (1995), a compilation of family photographs, found images and sound elements, integrated to produce a video slide show. Through these various elements, Beck builds a seemingly diaristic and mundane autobiographical narrative that, upon repeated viewing, reveals underlying hints at violence and sexual strife. In this subtle fashion, Beck's picture-stories speak both to personal and more universal aspects of the family drama that help form our personality and sense of self. Beck's works are in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

Nikki Lee will be featured in the exhibition through photographs from her series of performance projects documenting her assimilation into American culture. After moving to the United States from Korea in 1995 with few personal contacts and very little English, Lee made her own processes of acculturation the subject of a series of projects involving distinct North American subcultures-senior citizen, sex worker, punk, lesbian, skateboarder and Ohio trailer park resident among them. For each project, Lee transformed her physical appearance to gain entry, and then worked to become an accepted member of a group. These demanding performances, recorded in casual snapshots taken by friends, illustrate the mutability and social constructedness of individual and group identities. Lee's work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Yinka Shonibare's dual British and Nigerian nationality is central to his work. Somewhere Better than This Place will feature Shonibare's recent photographic project Dorian Gray, consisting of 12 large-scale photographs and based on the 1945 screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray directed by Albert Lewin. By assuming the role of Dorian Gray himself, Shonibare extends his preoccupation with the dandy as "outsider," which first manifested itself in his previous work, Diary of a Victorian Dandy (1998). Shonibare's work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Camden Arts Centre in Great Britain and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

Discourses of Social Order
Discourses generated in such diverse disciplines as science, law, philosophy, medicine and theology, have profoundly affected our individual thoughts, actions and interactions with others. The artists represented in this section have revealed and critiqued what they see as problematic social structures borne out of science and other disciplines, in order to undermine and displace them with more progressive systems of thought and belief.

Discourses of Social Order features work by Belgian performance artist Francis Alÿs; California-based sculptor Sam Durant; New York City installation artist Renée Green; conceptual artist Mark Lombardi; Puerto Rican installation artist Pepón Osorio; Ljubljanian artist and architect Marjetica Potrc*; and Chinese-American performance artist Zhang Huan*.

Recently commissioned to stage a ceremonial procession commemorating the Museum of Modern Art's move from midtown Manhattan to its temporary home in Queens, Francis Alÿs is known for creating work inspired by the chaotic, sensuous, and brutal streets of Mexico City, where the native Belgian has lived for the past 15 years. Somewhere Better than This Place will feature Zócalo, Mexico D.F., Nov. 14 1998, Alÿs' video recording of 12 continuous hours of human activity on the central plaza in Mexico City.

The exhibition will include Pepón Osorio's video Badge of Honor: Father's Prison Cell, Son's Bedroom (1995), which juxtaposes an austere prison cell with a child's bedroom exploding with new consumer goods. These video "testimonials" of two related individuals - the father, a prisoner; and the son, the beneficiary of relocation to a rich industrial nation - illustrate two extremes of social order: the absolute lack of freedom through incarceration and the freedom sometimes enjoyed to excess associated with material privilege in a capitalist society. Osorio's work has been shown at the Whitney Museum and El Museo del Barrio in New York and el Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.

In Sam Durant's Partially Buried: 1960s/70s Dystopia Revealed, Utopia Reflected (1998), side by side piles of moist earth on mirrors contain two distinct sound elements: an edited compilation of positive, progressive speeches at Woodstock, and the terrifying sounds of the riots and pleas for calm at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont - resulting in a dramatic juxtaposition of 1960s countercultural thought and rhetoric. Durant's works have been featured in solo exhibitions at the Kunstverein Dusseldorf in Germany, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

This section of the exhibition will also feature a new sculptural installation by Marjetica Potrc. Potrc approaches each new project by considering the architectural fabric of the city in which she is working, and then identifying buildings that tell particular stories about disadvantaged sub-populations. She then rebuilds these structures in the museum or gallery. For Somewhere Better than This Place, Potrc will work with recycled and reused building materials from Cincinnati and in collaboration with architecture students at the University of Cincinnati to create an installation based on building strategies employed by organizations such as international relief agencies. Potrc won the Guggenheim Museum's Hugo Boss Award in 2000.

Zhang Huan stages elaborate, ritualistic public performances that meld aspects of traditional Asian culture with contemporary performance. For the opening of the new Rosenthal Center, Huan will stage a large piece on the street outside of the Center involving a large group of volunteers. Zhang is considered one of the most influential members of the group "Beijing East Village," an art colony in the rural outskirts of Beijing where artists performed works exploring issues surrounding consumerism, sexuality, gender and personal suffering in or around their homes. His works are in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.

Changing Patterns of Social Relations
From brushing our teeth to the way we treat others, most human activities and interactions are more or less a matter of routine. The artists represented in Changing Patterns of Social Relations re-examine and re-evaluate rituals such as worship, communal eating and attending sporting events to force participants to think critically about the routines we take for granted. By disrupting the fabric of social life, these artists create work that encourages thoughts and actions toward social consciousness and change.

This section of the exhibition features work by Italian-born, New York City-based performance artist Vanessa Beecroft; French sculptor Marie-Ange Guilleminot; U.K.-based multi-disciplinary artist Julie Henry; Swedish video artist Mats Hjelm; Stockholm/New York-based video artist Ann-Sofi Sidén; Taiwanese installation artist Lee Mingwei*; Spanish performance, installation, photography and video artist Santiago Sierra*; English photographer Sam Taylor-Wood; and Argentinian performance artist Rikrit Tiravanija.

Lee Mingwei's work reflects the artist's preoccupation with the infrequently observed social rituals of daily life. By engaging audiences in carefully isolated and staged activities such as eating, letter writing and sleeping, he raises them almost to the level of sacred practice. Through projects such as the Living Room Project at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Mingwei encourages a re-valuation of key social rituals. For the CAC's exhibition, Mingwei will invite 20 residents of Cincinnati to transform generic devotional structures into shrines to their personal heroes. Visitors will be invited to add materials to these shrines and to create their own throughout the course of the exhibition.

In 1967, Mats Hjelm's father, Lars Hjelm, a journalist, filmed the Detroit race riots for Swedish television news. Returning thirty years later to the sites where his father filmed, Mats Hjelm created White Flight (1999), a video interpretation of the same places and people that reveals significant shifts in the nature of Detroit's social fabric. Also powerfully revealed is the legibility of father's and son's differing perspectives on the same politically loaded subject matter, which itself points to shifts in their own social circumstances.

Sublime Social Encounters
In recent years, artists have expanded upon the traditional art-viewing experience of looking at a work of art and experiencing an emotion or thought, to stimulating actual experiences created by the work itself. The artists included in Sublime Social Encounters re-create shared experiences in the gallery, rather than representing experiences or objects for the viewer to passively absorb. By wrenching sublime phenomena out of the picture frame and re-creating them in the gallery environment, these artists' installations provide a collective experience, and potentially, provoke transformative collective action.

This section of the exhibition features work by Swiss artist John Armleder; Italian installation artist Monica Bonvicini; Canadian audio artist Janet Cardiff; Cai Guo-Qiang, a Chinese installation artist living in Japan and New York; Russian team Komar and Melamid; German installation artist Tobias Rehberger; Canadian mixed media artist Jana Sterbak; Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, a multimedia artist from Spain; and German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.

Working with a silver-coated polyester fiber developed for use in the space shuttle, Jana Sterbak created Faradayurt (2001)-an easily assembled and transported nomadic dwelling-that protects its occupants from all forms of radiation, from radio and television signals to microwaves. Responding to the fact that people in all populated areas of the world are constantly bombarded with unseen forms of human made energy, Sterbak has devised a portable environment that is capable of isolating and protecting viewers, and that invites them to move through states of relaxation into a collective meditation. Sterbak's works have appeared in solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art.

In a playful nod to the dramatic natural phenomena often depicted in romantic paintings, Monica Bonvincini's installation A Violent, Tropical, Cyclonic Piece of Art Having Wind Speeds of or in Excess of 75 Miles per Hour (1998) will recreate a violent, hurricane-force wind inside the new CAC. While the romantic landscape painting is meant to conjure a subjective encounter for the lone viewer, Bonvincini's installation makes the sublime phenomenon the site of a shared social encounter, as audience members must work together to withstand the wind machines' destabilizing effects.

In Forty-Part Motet (2001), Janet Cardiff recorded each of the 40 voices in a performance of English Renaissance court composer Thomas Tallis' sacred Spem in Alium separately. Each is played through its own speaker, and all 40 speakers are carefully organized around the perimeter of an empty gallery. Listeners may choose to walk around and experience each voice separately, small groups of singers together or, sitting in the center of the space, the unified choir. In this way, the artist offers visitors to the gallery the opportunity to experience the transcendent composition as both audience member and implied participant in the ensemble. Cardiff's work has appeared in exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sao Paulo Bienal 1998 and the Tate Modern Opening Exhibition.

[*indicates artists who will create new work for this exhibition.]

Public Programs and Catalog
Because many of the works in Somewhere Better than This Place are participatory, the exhibition will provide the public with ongoing opportunities to interact with the featured art and artists. Performance artists Patty Chang and Zhang Huan will present new performances to commemorate the CAC's grand opening. Several exhibition pieces will offer ongoing, interactive activities, ranging from eating with other participants in a noodle kitchen to having a relaxing foot reflexology session. Details of these opportunities and additional public programs and performances during the exhibition will be announced closer to the opening. The Center will also publish a comprehensive, four-color catalog of the exhibition, including an essay by Senior Curator Thom Collins.

About the Contemporary Arts Center
Founded in 1939 as the Modern Art Society by three visionary women in Cincinnati, the Contemporary Arts Center was one of the first institutions in the U.S. dedicated to exhibiting the art of our time. Throughout its distinguished 63-year history, the Center has earned a reputation for provoking thought and introducing new ideas by presenting the work of diverse artists from around the world working in various media. The Center established itself as a leader in 1940 as one of the first American institutions to exhibit Picasso's Guernica and has continued this pioneering tradition by featuring the work of hundreds of now-famous artists early in their careers including Laurie Anderson, Jasper Johns, Louise Nevelson, Nam June Paik, I.M. Pei, Robert Rauschenberg, Kara Walker and Andy Warhol. In 1990, the Center was at the center of an important First Amendment legal case, when it successfully defended the right of Cincinnati's citizens to view an exhibition of the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. The CAC focuses on new developments in painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, performance art and new media, presenting 12 to 18 exhibitions and 20 to 40 performances annually.

Image: Patty Chang, Contortion

Contemporary Arts Center
115 East Fifth Street Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

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Slide Show
dal 1/7/2005 al 11/9/2005

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