June 6, 2012
The Cincinnati Art Museum is one of many Cincy gems that, following a visit, I wonder why I don’t make the effort to stop by more often. Well, Aaron Betsky, Director of the Art Museum since 2006, is trying to change that.
Born in Missoula, MT, Betsky moved to the Netherlands at the age of four. While he returned to the states for college, studying at Yale University, one could credit his upbringing in Europe as helping to shape Betsky’s interest in the arts. Growing up in a country with a multitude of museums and where every inch is thoroughly designed makes an impression on a young lad.
It was in college, under the tutelage of professor Vincent Scully, a famous architecture historian, that Betsky deepened his love for art and architecture. And more or less, that is what brings us to the present moment.
iSPYCINCY spoke with Betsky to discuss his interest in Cincinnati architecture, his goals for the Art Museum, and why people should stop by this summer.
iSPY: Who or what inspires you?
Betsky: Whenever I see a great work of art or design that inspires me to keep doing what I am doing. And I’ve certainly designed my life so I can see as much beauty as possible.
He went on to describe the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic value, from how something is composed and/or the medium from which it stems to how that object or creation reacts with its surroundings to evoke an emotion.
You can look at the Andy Warhol soup can simply as a painting, or you can look at it as a direct commentary on American consumer society, which is something overpowering, something that makes it stand out. Then you can look at what hangs right across from it (in the Art Museum), a Duncanson painting of the Little Miami River. It’s a very traditional landscape painting but because of an evocation of time and place it has a sense of summing up everything that makes the Cincinnati landscape so beautiful. It’s a powerful image of what Cincinnati is at its very best.
iSPY: Cincinnati is a city full of beautiful architecture… how would you describe the overarching themes in Cincy’s architectural heritage?
Betsky: Descending into the valley and glacial moraines of Cincinnati you realize how lush and dramatic this surrounding is. When you see the city spread out in front of you by the boldness of the Ohio River there is a powerful sense of the framing as a whole.
If you look at UC, the site of the best new architecture the city has seen, you can see how architect George Hargreaves ties all the buildings together.
Beyond UC, there are obviously a lot of historic structures. The city reached its heights in the 20s and 30s when Carew Tower and Union Terminal were built. They are some of the most magnificent structures in America along with landmarks representing the best of Cincinnati.
iSPY: What is the most important element of your home?
Betsky: It’s a mid-century modern house designed by Carl Strauss. I love the way it’s open to the outdoors. With great modern architecture the outside comes in and the inside flows to the outside. There is sense of complexity that comes from how spaces flow into one another other rather than being broken down.
iSPY: The Cincinnati Art Museum is such a wonderful asset for the city… how do you view your role as the Director?
Betsky: My role is to further the mission of the art museum, which is to bring people and art together. Since I’ve been here for the past five and a half years, we’ve worked hard to improve that. We achieve that goal by creating better exhibitions and experiences in the museum. Right now we only show three to five percent of our collection, but we are renovating the former art academy building, which will free up space to show more of our collections. Also, we bring art to people when people can’t come to the art through physical and virtual media. We’re trying hard to do all that we can to make sure the Cincinnati Art Museum remains a visual anchor but becomes one that is enjoyed by more and more people.
iSPY: The Bond Car is coming to the museum this June. A car isn’t a typical art exhibit but how does something like that bring excitement to the museum leading to further interest as a whole?
Betsky: We started showing cars here shortly after I arrived because I wanted to reach back to the history of the museum. It started in the arts and crafts movement of late 19th century, which focused on great art being around you everywhere, even in household objects like pots and pans. Some of earliest items the museum collected were ceramics and art pieces of use. We found there are a lot of good car collectors in town and believed that showing cars in context of the art museum was a display of great beauty. We had a bit of a hiatus but now we’ll continue with the Bond Car. I’m sure many will come because of the association [to the movies]. Obviously it attracts a slightly different audience, and we think that’s great. We hope that happens—see the Bond Car and along the way see other art we have and people end up spending more time at the museum.
You know what I say… If Bond doesn’t bring you to the museum, then, let’s be honest, nothing will. On that note, I think it’s time to revisit Goldfinger.
For more information about the Bond Car exhibit, or the Cincinnati Art museum in general, one can visit the website: http://www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org/.to top ↑