Modern masters, talking turkeys and the king himself

Your summer roadmap to art in Cincinnati

By Susan Byrnes

Photo: Trenton Doyle Hancock, “Hot Coals in Soul,” 2010. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas; photo courtesy of James Cohan Gallery

If you’re looking for a little summer adventure, Cincinnati offers several exhibits well worth planning a day trip, or maybe even two, to see. Visit the Queen City this month, and you’ll find works by art world legends, contemporary darlings and regional and international emerging and established artists. You’ll experience the rare and never-before-seen, the comic and tragic, the conceptual, the virtuosic and the bizarre. From billboards to hidden warehouse galleries, chic hotels, former mansions converted into museums and star-chitect designed art centers, there are as many diverse kinds of venues as there are varieties of art on view.

Since you are already on the road, why not drive by Big Pictures, a year-long exhibition of contemporary photography displayed on billboards around the city, presented by the Cincinnati Art Museum. Big Pictures will encompass 36 billboards by 18 artists. Four billboards will be on view at a time; new artists will be unveiled in new locations every six weeks. Through Sept. 1, the billboards will feature images by Sara Cwynar and Lorenzo Vitturi. For a map of all the locations, along with more information about the artists and images, visit

The first full stop on our tour is the Carl Solway Gallery. This renowned gallery, famous for showing major contemporary artists in the Midwest for over 50 years, is located in a warehouse just northwest of downtown on Findlay Street. Buzz the intercom to get in, and you’ll find two shows: The Life and Death of Elvis: A Suite by Paul Laffoley, and Shooting the Moon in the Eye, a group exhibition featuring the work of William T. Wiley, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Shinique Smith, Allison Elizabeth Taylor and many more. The Life and Death of Elvis: A Suite is a must-see. Paul Laffoley is often referred to as a visionary artist who merges his interests in philosophy, literature, science fiction, architecture and spirituality within the practice of painting. The suite traces various periods in Elvis’s life with such titles as “Prime Elvis” and “Comeback Elvis,” and combines Laffoley’s characteristic references to astrology, numerology and other arcane ordering systems. The paintings have been in storage since Laffoley finished them in 1995, so this show marks the first time the series has ever been publicly exhibited. The show includes the display of a multiple page, detailed letter written by Laffoley describing his complex thought system behind the paintings. The Carl Solway Gallery opens at 9 a.m., Monday-Friday, and noon on Saturday, so make this an early stop if you visit during the week. For more information, visit

Next, head downtown to the Weston Gallery, located in the Aronoff Center. The gallery occupies a large atrium space, as well as downstairs galleries. On view through Aug. 24 is American Primitives, by Ohio State University sculpture professor Todd Slaughter. The exhibit fills the entire space with humorous and menacing objects and installations, including talking turkeys that reference the American individualism defined by Thoreau and Emerson and its contemporary extreme. To learn more, visit 

Just down the street is the Zaha Hadid building that houses Cincinnati’s Contemporary Art Center, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with a great roster of exhibitions ( and the 21C Museum Hotel (, with its lobby/gallery that rotates contemporary art exhibits regularly. The current show is Hybridity: The New Frontier, with works in many media including, painting, photography and taxidermy by an international array of artists. In the exhibition statement, Museum Director Alice Gray Stites said, “In these still and moving images of land and cityscapes, and in the taxidermy and fabricated figures of The New Frontier, nature meets technoculture, and the new natural is both organic and manufactured.” Don’t miss the artworks on permanent display either, such as the hotel check-in desk/Floor Module Table by Do Ho Suh and, in the restroom hallway, Healing Tiles by Brian Knep.

Another don’t-miss show is a few blocks east at the Taft Museum on Pike Street (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). Inside, you will find an historic mansion hung with old master paintings and objects, as well as a new show in the museum’s Sinton Gallery by internationally renowned contemporary artist Kehinde Wiley. Kehinde Wiley: Memling is a rare collection of eight small works by the artist, inspired by the paintings of Hans Memling (1430–1494), a Netherlandish master of the Northern Renaissance.

“The Wiley show is the first time we’ve brought in an internationally known artist for a Sinton Gallery show,” Taft Museum Assistant Curator Tamera Lenz Muente said. “The Taft is a collection of old masters, and has many portraits of the kind that Wiley uses as references. We have two paintings in our collection that are from the same period and style, although by French artists, of Hans Memling. Also, part of the Taft’s mission is to support and exhibit the work of African American artists.”

The exhibit is on display through Sunday, Oct. 5; Wiley will deliver a lecture on Thursday, Sept. 18. For more information, please visit

The last stop on the tour is the Cincinnati Art Museum, which is presenting a special exhibition of German Expressionism through Sunday, Aug. 17. Cries in the Night: German Expressionist Prints from around World War I features printed works by artists at the birth of Expressionism. Modern masters represented in this show are Kathe Kollwitz, Wassily Kandinsky, Otto Dix and many more artists from Der Blaue Reiter and Brucke groups, both critical to developing the Expressionist movement. For more information, visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Susan Byrnes at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Susan Byrnes at

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