An Uncrowned Queen

Cincinnati’s Cynthia Goodman enjoys international success as a curator, writer, corporate art consultant, documentary producer and former director of New York City’s IBM Gallery of Science and Art.

Her gold-braided resume made her the preeminent choice to be the interim director of Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center, not once but twice.

But Goodman was cryptically passed over for the CAC directorship in 1992 and, again,14 years later, in 2006. She has become the uncrowned queen of Cincinnati visual arts.

Phyllis Weston, gallery owner and a long-time friend of Goodman, said, “Because of our strong friendship, I am aware of her accomplishments. She has had a passion for what she is doing. Rather than trying to trade on the national and international art scene, she did not care about  recognition.

“I was there to encourage her to continue on doing big things.  I’ll tell you one thing, she is much better known in New York than in Cincinnati.”

Nevertheless,  Goodman continues to give Cincinnati excellence in art shows. Her most recent one here was the dramatic exhibition, “The Art of Caring: a Look at Life Through Photography” presented last summer at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.

An abridged version of the Museum Center exhibition,  with all new photos, also was presented at the Phyllis Weston Gallery in Cincinnati last November.

Her catalogue for “Art of Caring” was selected as book of the month for Oprah Winfrey’s Oprah Magazine, August 2009.

Goodman’s exhibitions,  whether showing off Dale Chihuly’s striking glass creations, being ahead of the pack in recognizing the computer as a creative machine in  “Computers and Art” (1987) or providing a poignant sweep across humanity in “Art of Caring,” are not artistic accidents. They have their genesis in a carefully prepared education and auspicious career.

To begin with, Goodman was exposed early-on to creative people and forward-looking institutions. Her education and distinguished mentors have implanted in her a kind of artistic radar system that uncovers ideas for exhibitions. With such advantages how  could Goodman have been anything other than what she is today?

From the very beginning there was always a presence of art.

“My father’s family is filled with doctors as was my father Dr. Sander Goodman,” Goodman said.

The maternal side of the family was another matter.

“My mother studied voice at CCM (the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music),” said Goodman. “My mother’s sister was an artist and painted sets for the Cincinnati Opera.”

Her mother’s brother was the late Arthur Derek, the Cincinnati Enquirer art critic.

With such an art-oriented family, little Cynthia was taken to the Cincinnati Opera when it was presented at the Cincinnati Zoo. There were visits to the Cincinnati Art Museum.

“I first thought I wanted to be an artist, Goodman said. “My father thought I should do something more practical.”

When Goodman reached college, she was interested equally in French literature and art.

“I think when I entered college, I wanted to be a simultaneous French translator at the United Nations,” Goodman said.  “By the time of my junior year, I became focused on art.”

Goodman received her undergraduate degree and a doctorate, both in art history, at the University of Pennsylvania.

While a university student, Goodman said, “I was a research assistant for Anne d’Harnoncourt, who was the curator of 20th century art (beginning in 1972) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”

While still at the University of Pennsylvania another training opportunity surfaced.

“I was not only a college intern at the Philadelphia Museum of Art but I was a summer intern at the Metropolitan Museum (of art in New York),” Goodman said.

Soon Goodman’s networking sent her on a comet ride through the art world.

“In New York, I had befriended the painter Helen Frankenthaler,” Goodman said. “She sent me to meet her dear friend Henry Geldzahler who was curator of 20th Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was pretty much one of the most famous people in art  world.

“Through Henry, I met everyone from Andy Warhol to Josef Albers (the color theorist painter) to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis whom Henry was dating. I became very much immersed in the art world and worked for him as an undergraduate.

“One day, Geldzahler came back from lunch and said, ‘Cynthia, could you stop what you are doing? I just had lunch with Josef Albers and I didn’t have time to take him through the (Robert) Lehman Wing.’

“And I think I said something like, ‘Gee, Henry, I could stop making these copies and take Josef Albers through the Lehman Wing. I think I could do that,” Goodman laughed.

Her doctorate was on Hans Hofmann. “He was known as the greatest teacher of art in America,”she said. He taught at the Art Students League of New York.

Goodman became interested in this key abstract expressionist when Geldzahler asked her to do research for a lecture he was to give on Hofmann.

The first exhibition that Goodman curated started her at the top.

“It was at the Metropolitan Museum in 1979,” she said. “It was called ‘Hans Hofmann as Teacher: Drawings by His Students.’ “ Later, she also wrote a book on Hofmann (1986).

After working at the Metropolitan, Goodman was research assistant to Angelica Rudenstine who was the great curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in the 1980s.

“I did research for her on the Peggy Guggenheim Collection,” Goodman said.

She later was based at the museum again while on two John Paul Getty fellowships.

“In between my times at the Guggenheim, I had my daughter (Dara) in 1984.

Goodman’s husband, Micha Ziprkowski, from whom she is divorced, is a doctor, like her father. He practices in New York.

After her associations with the  Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Goodman moved over to Madison Avenue to become director/curator at the IBM Gallery of Science and Art (1988-1990).

The diverse exhibitions she mounted at IBM included ”Rediscovering Pompeii” for which she rooted around in Naples storage rooms to select never-before seen Roman antiquities, a show on art glass from the Corning Museum and “Pleasures of Paris: Daumier to Picasso.”

Goodman’s practice of working with experts on the art in a given exhibition and her perceptive eye have been a winning combination.

“It’s a wonderful way to be guided by your eye and also to be guided by the knowledge of those who are more knowledgeable in a certain area,’ Goodman said.

Calling herself a “closet techie,” Goodman has embraced technologies like video, robotics, and 3-D without glasses as channels of expression in art for exhibitions. She has long described the computer as “a tool of art.”

In 1995, she was appointed co-director of the InfoART Pavilion at the Kwangju Biennale in Korea with the late Korean video artist, Nam June Paik. The biennial, an international exhibition, presented the world’s leading artists in the multimedia art field.

This interest in technology and being involved in such associations as the World Technology Network led to the highly successful “Computers and Art” that was such a conscious-raising hit at CAC in Cincinnati. This show was presented before she became interim director there the first time.

Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth, TX, is among colleagues who express admiration for her. Lee met Goodman briefly while he was director of the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati in January 2007.

“Cynthia’s exhibitions strike this wonderful balance between shows that are both scholarly and shows that appeal to a broad general public,” Lee said.

With all the international successes Goodman achieved before and after the CAC rejections, a compelling “what-if” question still lingers.

A conferred directorship at CAC would have been more than a title for Cynthia Goodman. It would have offered her a base from which to launch a continuing vision of exhibitions. And think of the credit that would have accrued to the CAC with Goodman as a show organizer.

No CAC director’s programming, at least  since Dennis Barrie’s  (1983-1991), can come close to the impact the Chihuly and computer art shows Goodman organized for the center. The only exception would be the controversial Robert Mapplethorpe photography show that drew 50,000.

Under its directors CAC, for the most part, has become an importer, not an exporter, of shows: they rent them from other institutions.  Shows like Goodman’s, which began at CAC, generate income from travel.

Without  the platform of a directorship, Goodman’s exhibitions still have engaged viewers. “The Art of Caring” is a prime example.

Goodman organized “Art of Caring” as guest curator for the New Orleans Museum of Art.  Her curatorial credentials earned her a pass into the renowned Time/Life Picture Collection from which most of the 200 photographs in the show were drawn. Such artists as Albert Eisenstadt, Larry Sultan and Sally Mann are represented.

The photography show is divided into seven sections reflecting the human life cycle. The sections are: children and family, love, wellness, disaster, care giving and healing, aging, and remembering.

Originally, the museum sponsors of the show wanted an exhibition on just the art of caring but Goodman was thinking much bigger.

“I started working with that theme and I realized it was a little too sweet for me,” Goodman said. “I realized there were so many tragedies, so many tough moments in people’s lives.

“In each of the photographs on display there is some demonstrable interchange between the people in the photographs–expectant parents…a family birthday party.”

While Goodman was developing the show, hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

“I realized I could not do a life-cycle show without a section on disaster,” Goodman said.

As it turns out, the emotional core of the exhibition is encapsulated in just four shots of the devastation from the New Orleans hurricane. The pictures document the storm’s destructive force on New Orleans and the suffering on human faces who were victims of it.

Despite shows like “The Art of Caring” occasionally seen here, Goodman’s vision is fragmented. Her exhibitions stretch across a vast international landscape of diverse galleries and museums. These efforts are individual stars in themselves but a directorship would have consolidated Goodman’s shows into what could have been appreciated as her milky way of creativity.

But Goodman says as if signing a peace treaty between herself and Cincinnati, “I just live with it because it is my city.

“I just go on.”

A merry-go-round of directors at CAC

The great scandal of Robert Mapplethorpe was over. In October 1990, a Cincinnati jury had acquitted the Contemporary Arts Center and its director Dennis Barrie of all obscenity charges brought against images contained in the late photographer’s exhibition “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment.”

An exhausted Barrie resigned in December 1991 moving on to become the first director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

At this point, Cynthia Goodman was appointed CAC interim director to stabilize the traumatized arts center–the first in the country ever to suffer a police raid.

The Cincinnati-born Goodman already was a bright light at CAC. A year or so before the appointment, she had organized the blinking, flickering  “Computers and Art” exhibition with works by such artists as Nam June Paik.

Following the computer show came the spectacular exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s “Installations,” a glowing collection of his undulating, color splashed glass forms.

Both shows, produced in the old CAC on Fifth Street, downtown, remain two of the highest attended shows in CAC exhibition history. The Contemporary Arts Center did not honor a request to supply exact attendance records for these shows.

With such a stellar start, Goodman seemed all but coronated for the CAC directorship. But she was passed over for Elaine King in 1993.

For the most part, there is considerable amnesia surrounding this rejection and another one to follow in 2006.

Roger Ach, who was president of the CAC board in 1991 when Barrie resigned, said, he doesn’t recall the reason why Goodman wasn’t named CAC director the first time around.

“I was a big fan of Cynthia’s,” Ach said. “The two shows (“Computers” and “Chihuly”) were very much leading edge in their time. Nobody even thought about computers and art.

“It was thought-provoking. Nobody really knew-certainly not the general public–who Chihuly was at the time outside of a few glass afficionados.

“It may be that some of the powers on the board just didn’t see eye to eye or didn’t share a common mission.

“Certainly, from a professional standpoint, I think she was highly qualified and well liked. Otherwise, why would the board have brought her back, not once but twice, as a stabilizing force?

“I was rotating off the board at the end of my term in early 1993. She was still in place and I think she was a candidate but I don’t remember voting on that matter.”

Richard Rosenthal, a CAC board member and a former president of the CAC, is apologetic for also not remembering Goodman’s presence at the center in 1992.

“I’m sorry I was there but I just don’t recall her service at that time,” Rosenthal said, “nor do I recall that she presented herself as a candidate.”

But Rosenthal also lauded Goodman’s resourcefulness while he was on the CAC board during Goodman’s second stint as CAC interim director.

“I don’t recall the specifics anymore,” Rosenthal said, “but there was a cancellation (of an exhibition). She called upon an old friend and colleague and was able to put together over night a wonderful fabric show (“New Media/New Materials”).

“She did what you hope an interim director would do. She not only righted the ship but steered it into port.

“I clearly recall she did present herself as a candidate the second time.”

Cincinnati Gallery owner Carl Solway said,  “I was not a board member” in 1992.

However, Solway was on the CAC board in 2007 when a new director was selected to  replace Linda Shearer but he isn’t talking.

“I feel like I can’t comment about this because I was on the search committee. I feel like my discussion of the search committee is  privileged and confidential.”

The Cincinnati executive and arts patron Otto M. Budig Jr., who was president of the CAC board of trustees during Goodman’s second interim directorship, said “that it was a difficult choice” referring to the firing of Shearer.

“For a period of time before Raphaela (Platow, the current CAC director) came, it (the directorship) was a moving target,” Budig said.

According to Budig, a prime concern of the CAC board during the search for Shearer’s replacement was the candidates’  financial management abilities.

“There were any number of people who came to the CAC,” Budig said. “While they were artistically inclined, I think what happened was their business sense was transcended by their artistic sense and their desire to do artistically what they felt the CAC needed and wanted.

“That’s not an indictment, don’t misunderstand me. We all have our strengths.

“Whether we like it or not one of the things a non-profit (institution) has to view is financial strength and the manner in which it is conducting its fiscal activities.”

Budig would not say that lack of financial savvy the board was seeing in candidates at the  time of the search necessarily applied to Goodman.

“It would be inappropriate for me to make that kind of a judgment because I had such little contact with Cynthia.,” Budig said.

“This is a little awkward because I don’t have a firm understanding or recollection of her and what happened during her tenure with us.

” Unfortunately, I do not recall her or the process through which we moved to choose another candidate.” Budig added.

For her part, Goodman is uncomfortable discussing her two-fold rejection.  She is, saying of herself,  “very guarded” about the subject. She obviously still wants to work in Cincinnati.

“It was so purely political,” said Goodman her voice intensifying. “There was a whole lot going on. I can’t even begin to tell you.

“It is political if someone picks someone besides you for reasons that really have nothing to do with qualifications.

“There was one character who, I think, was involved both times. So, I really can’t talk about it.”

The objector, named by two credible sources who would not go on record, would make any current top-ten list of influential Cincinnati arts personalities then or now.

Even though Elaine King won the first round, Goodman was to remain as chief curator but King soon fired Goodman and appointed herself as chief curator. King said it was all about saving money for CAC.

King lasted as CAC director all of one year and ten months before she was fired. “Resigned” is the way boards of directors like to label such dismissals. But she was fired.

The Contemporary Arts Center had became a virtual Tower of London either beheading its directors or torturing them enough to opt for exile. Director Charles Desmarais resigned three months after the new Contemporary Arts Center opened in 2003. Like Barrie, Desmarais suffered battle fatigue not from putting up controversial shows but from the pressures that came from building a new CAC.

At the CAC opening, Desmarais’s  wife, the editor Kitty Morgan, put it more succinctly.

“Maybe now,” she said, “I can get my husband back.”

Linda Shearer replaced Desmarais  in July 2004. Another beheading was not far off.     Despite the fanfare over exhibitions she mounted at the Williams College Museum of Art in Massachusetts, Shearer lasted two years and two months. a bit longer than King,    The CAC also found Shearer ineffective as a director.

The shoving out of Shearer was nice enough. The  CAC President Budig was out in front saying Shearer wanted to pursue “other opportunities.”

The truth was that her programming was more often than not an intellectual maze. Attendance was plummeting at the newly opened center. It was fast becoming more known for its much-praised architecture than the shows housed with in it.

Again, Cynthia Goodman was called to the CAC to be interim director for 2006-2007.  Goodman picked up where she had left off in 1992.

She conceived another show, “New Media/New Materials,” which was organized in cooperation with the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia. It featured such artists as Kiki Smith, Tom Friedman and Claes Oldenburg.

While the show didn’t goose attendance as the Chihuly art glass exhibition did, I still found myself writing in a review that the show was both “intellectually stimulating and downright entertaining.”

Goodman, in an interview with me during this second interim directorship, was campaigning for the job. She announced her interest and willingness to become a candidate.

But the CAC board, instead, chose the German-born Raphaela Platow, a chief curator from the Rose Museum at Brandeis University. A native of Munich, Platow arrived in July 2007.

Goodman ruefully said,   “There have been a lot of people since (who) all have regretted it,”

Certainly, Budig  was no fan of Shearer.

And Rosenthal pointedly said,  “Elaine King did not work out too well.”

Roger Ach gives credence to Goodman’s assertion that there may have been one figure with enough clout to have swayed two boards twice. He wouldn’t go on record, either, to name his suspect but he said, ” I can understand why Cynthia might be right.”

-Jerry Stein

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