by Daniel Brown
Aeqai congratulates the CAC as it celebrates its 75 anniversary year. We have decided to help the festivities by asking two people a month to let us know what the CAC has meant to them. Aeqai will be asking former staff and board members, as well as artists who have shown there, to share their thoughts with our readers about what the CAC has meant to them. We begin, this month, with thoughts by Jane Durrell, who was one of the original CAC’s volunteers/paid staff members, back when the CAC was housed in the art museum’s basement. I offer my own thoughts as a former board member and art collector. Aeqai will run this series for about four months.
I served as a Trustee of the CAC in mid to late 80’s, when it was still housed on East Fifth Street, downtown. The CAC has always been the most innovative and eclectic institution in the arts here that reaches out to new and different members of the community to serve on its board, so that I served with people as varied as Patricia Renick, Dick Rosenthal, Suzi Stone, Bob Bonini, Helen Heekin and Don Jacobs. Dennis Barrie was Director, and Sarah Rogers-Lafferty was Curator. During my time on the board, the CAC was in charge of finding and fabricating a sculpture that would represent Cincinnati and its history, and that sculpture is Andrew Leicester’s “Flying Pig” portal at Sawyer Point. I remember carrying a small guinea pig with me a city council meeting, to support Director Barrie’s choice of this sculpture, which was kind of like a happening, in its way (I named mine Irving).
Pat Renick taught sculpture at UC-DAAP, and she invented the first Women’s Sculpture Show at CAC and at every other gallery in this region, as well as the first Women’s Sculpture Conference. Women sculptors from around the world came here for an exciting and innovative series of lectures and panel discussions. At that time, it was widely assumed by a male art establishment that women were not physically strong enough to create monumental sculpture, and Renick set out to prove that such was not the case, changing the course of contemporary art history worldwide. Thus, we had a Louise Bourgeois Sculpture Show at the Taft Museum, outside on the front garden, and Louise Nevelson was commissioned to make a monumental sculpture for then named Federated Department Stores.
As Chair of the Exhibitions Committee, Sarah and I worked together regularly, and determined that our members wanted to see more photography and more architecture shows. We were working on a show tentatively called “The Male Nude” as a possible photography show, when Dennis found a traveling show of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, which supplanted the group show that Sarah and I were planning. Another sculpture that went up while I was on the board was the Nam June Paik piece in front of the CAC, which was meant as a kind of way finding work, whose arm pointed at the second floor CAC window, and contained text on current and upcoming exhibitions (this was Paik’s “Robot”).
I have never been as involved with such an exciting institution anywhere else in my long career in the visual arts here. The creativity of board and staff were immense, and a sense of optimism pervaded the institution, which lasted, I suppose, up until the CAC hit a Wall of Intolerance when the Mapplethorpe show was closed down, and the CAC and its director went to trial for pandering obscenity. But the ramifications of the CAC victory may have temporarily decimated its finances, but I would argue that the more tolerant and diverse Cincinnati in which we now live is very much a product of that victory, as our civic and corporate leaders had examine what kind of city Cincinnati would become.