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Indepth Arts News:

"Somewhere Better Than This Place: Alternative Social Experience in the Spaces of Contemporary Art"
2003-05-31 until 2003-11-09
Contemporary Arts Center
Cincinnati, OH, USA

The Contemporary Arts Center presents a group exhibition of works by 39 leading contemporary artists and artist collaboratives when it celebrates the opening of its new building, the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art. In an ambitious show featuring 50 newly-commissioned and extant works that will inhabit all six floors of the Zaha Hadid-designed Center, Somewhere Better than This Place: Alternative Social Experience in the Spaces of Contemporary Art will explore the relationships among society, place and art by encouraging direct interaction between the Center's audiences, works of art and the building itself. The exhibition represents the diverse backgrounds, perspectives and sensibilities of leading U.S. and international artists working in various media-including installation, film, photography, video, audio and live performance. It will offer interactive, participatory experiences for viewers in the museum space or, in some cases, art that has been generated out of performances staged in the real world.

Such recognized contemporary artists as Vanessa Beecroft, Janet Cardiff and Yinka Shonibare will be featured alongside established and emerging artists from the Americas, Cuba, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The largest exhibition presented in the Center's 63-year history, Somewhere Better than This Place will maximize the opportunities in Zaha Hadid's design to encourage dynamic interaction between viewers and the works of art. The exhibition will premiere at the CAC's Grand Opening Party on Saturday, May 31, 2003. Regular public gallery hours will begin on Saturday, June 7, and the exhibition will remain on view through November 9, 2003.

"We wanted an inaugural exhibition befitting this tremendous moment for the Contemporary Arts Center-both to take full advantage of the CAC's incredible new building and to honor the Center's rich legacy of bringing important, thought-provoking art to Cincinnati," says Charles Desmarais, the Center's Alice and Harris Weston Director. "Somewhere Better than This Place is the ideal exhibition to open the Center's first free-standing home because it explores the relationship between people and places-particularly contemporary art museums. Like Zaha Hadid's visionary design for the building, which encourages a relationship between the CAC and its urban surroundings and between the art and audiences, the inaugural exhibition will maximize the interplay between the space, the art within its walls, and the visitor."

Like much of the significant and influential art of the last decade, the work in Somewhere Better than This Place reflects the role of contemporary art museums as places distinct from all others, in which "outside" culture is both represented and critiqued, and unique social activity is created. Organized by CAC Senior Curator Thom Collins, the exhibition is arranged according to four key themes: the social construction of identities; discourses of social order; changing patterns of social relations; and social encounters organized around shared experiences of the sublime.

As an exploration of social constructs, situations and assumptions, the exhibition will deliberately encourage participatory experiences between the art and the viewer. Similarly, the new Rosenthal Center is designed to enable viewers, artists and art to interact in new ways within a presenting space. The building will support the CAC's distinct role as a "kunsthalle," or non-collecting institution that presents temporary exhibitions, site-specific exhibitions and performances, and offers audiences an ever-changing and unique experience with each programming cycle. The new building will feature galleries of varying sizes and ceiling heights that connect and interlock like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, offering rich spatial possibilities and adaptable configurations to accommodate the wide-ranging scale and media of contemporary art. Works that would have been impossible to show in the previous CAC space, such as Cai Guo-Qiang's Melting Bath: Project for the 20th Century (1997)-a collective ritual environment involving a hot tub full of restorative herbs and a ring of enormous scholars' stones-will be showcased in the inaugural exhibition.

About the Exhibition

"There are…in every culture, in every civilization, real places….in which all the other real sites that can be found within the culture are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted," wrote historian and philosopher Michael Foucault in 1976. Specifically addressing the territories defined by institutions such as birthing centers, prisons, fairgrounds, and mental hospitals, Foucault labeled these places "heterotopia." They are spaces in which people can analyze and critique troubling aspects of society, and consider possible alternatives. According to Foucault's concept, such places are unique in that they invite society to explore different ideas of a "perfect world" and, conceivably, later act on those ideas in the real world.

"Somewhere Better than This Place comments on the museum of contemporary art as one of a handful of modern heterotopia," said curator Collins. "It is an institution dedicated to presenting alternative visions of important aspects of the social life just beyond its walls, and offering alternative experiences related to them. When confronted with new ways of thinking and behaving in a contemporary art museum, audiences discover important perspectives on pressing issues and are encouraged to return to the world ready to participate in bringing about positive change."

Zhang Huan
Water Level

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