Visual Arts

Cincinnati puts on three great shows

CINCINNATI — Art can affect lives in different ways. Some people experience it casually and distractedly; others make it the centerpiece of their lives; still others find an emotional and visceral release in it. But the right art seen by the right person at the right time can change these reactions.

Three shows at downtown Cincinnati's major museums present a challenge to revisit the notion that maybe you'll never want to know more about modern art or you feel too jaded to be wowed by anything anymore.

The result? There's never been a better time to have an all-out art day trip.

The artistry of apparel

While the idea of Hollywood instantly adds glamour to anything associated with it, the Taft Museum of Art's Fashion in Film: Period Costumes for the Screen highlights the mostly unsung artistry of costume design. A must-see for anyone who loves movies, the traveling exhibit features 36 Hollywood costumes from the British costume company Cosprop and spans four centuries of clothing design within four decades of filmmaking.

While name dropping works well to garner interest in seeing the works — Fashion in Film has costumes from such films as Dangerous Liaisons, Titanic, Evita, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Ever After — the exhibit itself fascinates in the detailing of each costume. A film buff can see the many levels of artistic work that go into a movie's production.

For instance, the intricate quilting on the interior of an overcoat made for Ralph Fiennes for 1999's Onegin — a detail never visible on screen — speaks to the depth of refinement from the crew. Same goes for Elizabeth Taylor's heavily jeweled gown for 1988's Young Toscanini and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer's vintage fabric dress in the 1994 miniseries Scarlett.

Melanie Griffith's gown for Shining Through dazzles in its design elements and in the hand-painted flowers dripping from the bodice. That detail becomes more impressive on learning that two copies of the dress were made in anticipation of the film's action sequences.

So very surrealistic

While Fashion in Film crosses boundaries by showcasing what usually is taken for granted, the Cincinnati Art Museum's Surrealism and Beyond in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem offers the best of the topsy-turvy expressions of early 20th-century art.

A traveling exhibit from the collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, the Cincinnati showing is especially notable because it is the only scheduled appearance in the United States, making the chance to see it something to brag about to coastal pals.

Offering a comprehensive survey of surrealist art from its roots in the beginnings of the Dada movement in 1916 through recent manifestations in international contemporary art, Surrealism and Beyond features works by a virtual who's who of modern art. Among them: Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Jean "Hans" Arp, Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters, Hannah Höch and Paul Delvaux.

Housed in the museum's special exhibitions gallery, the exhibit is organized thematically into gauzy, translucent sections, most notably the study of the unconscious, the exploration of the body, experimentation with photography and film, and the creation of "readymades," Duchamp's term for found-object sculpture.

The number of canonical surrealistic works in the show is astronomical — Höch's collaged Dada Dance and Ray's Portrait of Marchesa Cassati being personal standouts — but it is the sheer number of works by Duchamp that is most exciting.

Recognized as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Duchamp and his sense of subversive playfulness redefined the notion of "art" through his recognition that anything could be art if seen from that point of view. His Fountain is a white porcelain urinal turned on its side and signed with the pseudonym R. Mutt. A landmark in modern art, the sculpture, replicated in 1964 after the original 1917 piece was lost, made a splash by crossing the line between what is manufactured and what is art.

Out of the ordinary

Operating along similar lines is the work of Brooklyn, N.Y., sculptor Tara Donovan, whose first major museum survey is on display in Cincinnati's Contemporary Art Center.

Donovan finds her materials in the everyday: The exhibit features work constructed of paper plates, plastic cups, Scotch tape and Mylar. Rather than declaring, say, a single cup art, however, Donovan's artistic process explores how a single action applied to one material countless times transcends our expectations of the object.

Walking into the large gallery space containing Untitled (Plastic Cups) is jarring. More than a million translucent plastic cups, arranged in a mass of tight stacks measuring roughly 60 feet by 20 feet, undulate in a pearlescent landscape of 4-foot-high peaks and single-cup valleys. The sheer number of cups overwhelms, then delights.

Haze is similar in its charm and surprise. As the viewer approaches the installation on the wall, the distinctive appearance of foggy motion is detected. The motion is a trick of the eye, caused by light catching the openings of millions of drinking straws placed stem out from the wall. Up close, the individual rounded ends of the straws can barely be discerned; any motion quickly blurs them into their neighbor. Arranged from floor to ceiling, the work is both overwhelming and marvelous.