Seemingly days after it opened on February 21, one of the Contemporary Arts Center’s most ambitious and expansive exhibitions was sadly forced to close with the state’s COVID-19 lockdown. Happily, “Haze” is back and now it will be with us through February 28, 2021.
“Haze” is the first large-scale exhibition in the United States by Alexandre Farto, better known to Cincinnatians as Vhils. He adopted the pseudonym early in his career when he worked as a graffiti artist in his native Lisbon, Portugal.
Through a mix of art, architecture, video and explosive sounds that fill two floors of the iconic museum, Vhils brings us face-to-face with the mysteries and metaphors of urban life. He engages us through a variety of media — glistening architectural towers, incised wooden doors, hand-carved billboards and plasterboard compositions, an immersive video and an explosive look at identity.
Vhils is no stranger to Cincinnati’s artistic landscape. We’ve seen his work on downtown walls since 2011. His enormous portrait of African American abolitionist John Mercer Langston, etched into an exterior wall for Blink® 2019, still gazes down OTR’s Logan Street near Findlay Market.
In “Haze,” Vhils brings his artistry indoors. He captures the aesthetics of our urban landscapes — the ethereal to the disturbing, the sterile to the human. He explores urban diversity, the noises and crazy-quilt colorations of the city, including its pace and its faces.
At the center of the main gallery, we visit an urban illusion — a tightly packed landscape of glistening white towers that rise from the center of the room. There is a stark sterility and serenity to this pristine core of the show. But it yields to a populated and sometimes sobering examination of the tempo of life displayed in exhibitions that spider out from this central ideal.
Echoes of Vhils’ outdoor murals fill a corridor adjacent to the towers with brilliantly incised wooden doors that present us etched faces, somewhat reminiscent of his work in OTR. These portraits peer into the faces of city dwellers, presenting soulful expressions and emotions.
Another room appears to be awaiting artwork until we understand that it is sound, not sight, that is intended to capture our attention. “Identity” leaves us alone in a room with only one word on a wall until it explodes with a jarring audio presentation.
In another, a video confronts us with the lights, colors and shadows of urban landscapes. We watch as the camera takes us on tours of cities around the world, capturing the movements of people on the street.
From the familiar haunts of our own downtown to the touristy ponts de Paris and the congested alleys of Shanghai, we watch a ghostly panorama of pedestrians, moving at glacial pace through streets that glare with lights, glisten in the rain and introduce us to a citizenry that is sometimes all too familiar.
We see the faces of Cincinnatians in hushed concentration and hear the sounds of our city as their backdrop. Cincinnatians on their lunch hours, captured through the windows of Skyline Chili. A sign for United Dairy Farmers. The statue of James Garfield looking down at the intersection that bears his name.
Extending “Haze” through February 28, 2021, is a generous gift to our city. Be sure to catch it before it is gone.
Admission to the Contemporary Arts Center is free, but during the pandemic, capacity is limited. Visitors must call or go online to make an appointment for the window of time when they wish to attend. Visitors must wear a mask and maintain social distancing. Every two hours, the museum closes the galleries for 15 minutes to clean and sanitize. If you lack a mask, you can purchase one for $1 at the front desk. Visitors with children under 2 and those with medical conditions that make wearing a face mask impossible should call ahead to make arrangements.
Cincinnati native Carol Ellison recently returned home after living and working for 30 years as a writer/editor in New York and Boston. These days she plays with paint and pencils, and occasionally mashes them up with her word processor to teach writing to kids of all ages through a method she calls “art of the story.” In fact, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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