Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rest in Pieces

The former location of the Cincinnati Art Academy- now being adapted for use by the Cincinnati Art Museum.
I believe one goal of a museum should be to teach and display the historic masterpieces of society; to demonstrate good taste and the higher ideas of truth and beauty. These days, instead of a masterful display of higher ideals, it is most often about entertainment and pushing an agenda or political view. A lot of new work chosen for display is about chaos; ideas that supposedly embody progress but are often just offensive in a gross attempt to shock- one could write an entire book on the topic of chaos in art. Any work of true beauty that is displayed (generally being at least 100 years old) is often described by the curator with modern eyes, ignoring the bigger ideals and historic context, instead focusing on perceived sexist or racist overtones. Aesthetics are rarely brought up. The lack of aesthetics can be seen in the atrocious presentations in many of the shows. The recent renovation of the Schmidlapp Gallery are a perfect example. I have discussed the ineptitude of displaying artwork in the past
The push of these ideas of chaos are happening not only inside the museum but are continuing outside and are destroying the most beautiful building of the entire Eden Park complex.

I will continue discussing this disaster in future posts, but would like to begin the conversation with a few letters I wrote back  in 2005 that garnered a lot of attention, resulting in uncomfortable phone conversations with museum directors and newspaper reporters. It was a response I was not expecting and one I must admit I was not entirely prepared for. When Timothy Rub (the director at the time) called me, put out and insulted by my letter, he denied that they had in fact decided to tear down this building. Well of course this was just smoke and mirrors. An attempt to get those criticizing their actions to back off.

Shortly after they announced their plans to tear it down despite a grassroots movement to stop it. 
Timothy Rub  moved on to greener pastures in Cleveland. A new director was chosen to manage the Art Museum expansion.  At first I was hopeful, as he claimed to be a scholar of architecture. He even discussed his love for the Art Academy building and it's architect, James W. McLaughlin (1834-1923)

Well, not sure what to say about the following photo, "Uh, thanks for not burning this to the ground."

A construction crew is tearing off the 3rd floor, with it's copper roofing and wonderful North facing sky lights. It is to be replace with a modern glass box that from the designs I have seen, will look like a big square fish tank.
The following is the letter I sent in a mass emailing 7 years ago:

"Throughout the discussion on options for the future of the Art Academy building, there are many reasons tossed about which in the end would seemingly justify tearing the building down.

One argument is that the museum complex is no longer unified architecturally.
The museum, as it should, displays paintings and sculptures of many moods, styles and periods.  The museum complex itself also happens to be made up of many styles.  Isn't the Art Museum complex itself a
superb educational tool?

Another suggested 'problem' is that the Academy building has been altered from it's original grandeur. Does this then make it obsolete and fodder for  the wrecking ball? It is not necessary to assume that a building be fully restored to its original state to be saved.  Great cathedrals all over Europe have been seriously altered and rebuilt over time.  They have changed with the tastes and moods of the day, from Romanesque to Baroque for example.  This doesn't make the current state less valid.  This doesn't mean it is not worth maintaining if it is not as the original architect envisioned. It may not have all of the glory of the original, but it is still an impressive and beautiful piece of architecture.

Most of the damage to this lovely building has been done since the late 40's, being topped off with the cold and unfortunate addition of the Adams-Emery Wing added in the 60's.  This was followed with the strange addition of the museum power plant located right at the museum entrance.

The last major move move spun the progress of this museum's renovation around in the right direction with a "$13 million renovation project, completed in January 1993, restored the grandeur of the Museum's interior architecture and uncovered long-hidden architectural details."  I must now say emphatically that the possible destruction of the Art Academy building would be a serious move away from this progress.

I understand that the Museum has limited funds and is in need of more space for its collection. Undoubtedly, saving this building will take dedication and a good deal of creative thinking.

In addition, I realize that there may be more glory in building a supposedly 'forward thinking, ground breaking, modern glass and steel structure' than there is to saving this symbol of Cincinnati's past, but I believe that it is imperative that we do save her! 

I've been asked why I am so committed and involved in the future of this wonderful building.  After all, I did not graduate from this school, and while I have worked in the building as an instructor, I am not a member of the faculty.  I am, however, a painter and citizen that is proud of this city's past influence in the arts and the place that the old Academy building holds in its history.  As a citizen of this city I have an opinion on how our museum uses its funds and educates the public. I hope you, the community have opinions of your own and will make them known to all that will listen.
Spread the word.

Thank you
Richard Luschek "

1 comment:

Amelia Murdock said...

Honestly the first time I went to the Cincinnati museum all I could think about was how terribly mashed together the architecture was around that one piece of decent building. In all honesty I felt like it was already so far gone (as far as the architecture goes) I dismissed it as a complete non-entity and just tried to hurry inside as fast as possible to get away from what (in my opinion) had become an eye-sore since the additions. Your post has helped me understand what has happened to the poor building. The planned renovations--especially the very odd tulip thing-- are well, maybe even worse then what was added on in the 60's? I didn't think architecture could get worse then the 60's. Guess I was wrong.

Also, I like your point about the cathedrals and how they had been changed and added onto from their original beautiful construction. But you have to remember that all the additions--even though different styles--had basic elements of classicism that they were built around. Any additions or changes to the building now won't have a classical foundation/elements thus, won't be at all like the beautiful european cathedrals.