CAC honors 20-year milestone, Hadid legacy with international exhibit

The Contemporary Arts Center is hosting a special exhibition to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its downtown Cincinnati building and the visionary designer behind its creation.

World-renown architect Zaha Hadid created the concept for what is now the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art.

Dubbed the “Queen of Curves,” Hadid became known for “(liberating) architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity” through her designs, according to the Guardian. Her lone Cincinnati work reflects that aesthetic with a series of jutting cube and rectangular shapes hanging over sidewalks along Walnut and Sixth streets.

The CAC opened in 2003. It was the first building Hadid designed in the United States. It was also one of the few museums in the world designed by a woman.

Zaha Hadid

In honor of the milestone year and Hadid’s vision, the CAC will present a group exhibition that examines the building’s legacy through a collection of new commissions by an international roster of artists. Each piece proposes a take on Hadid’s career and the CAC building itself.

“A Permanent Nostalgia for Departure: A Rehearsal on Legacy with Zaha Hadid” opens Sept. 22, and will remain on view through Jan. 28.

Spain-born, Chicago-based architect and researcher Maite Borjabad López-Pastor serves as guest curator.

“Zaha Hadid’s iconic design of our building is a symbol of innovation and creativity, and it embodies our mission as an incubator for creative expression in the Cincinnati community and beyond,” said CAC executive director Christina Vassallo. “It only seems fitting to celebrate Hadid’s visionary work as an artist by asking a new generation of artists to reflect and respond to the impact she made throughout her life and how her ideas continue to live on and inspire us all.”

A last celebration of the Queen of Curves

The exhibition reflects on several big-picture themes – time, history, cultural background and landscapes – and how a legacy can become a passageway for those ideas. 

Pieces cross multiple media types – sculpture, installation, textiles, sound, video and performance. They also tie into a multitude of cultural backgrounds and practices.

Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1950. She spent time at boarding schools in Switzerland and England before going on to study mathematics at the American University of Beirut and later architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.

Her designs exist in major cities in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States.

Hadid died in Miami, Fla., in March 2016 at age 65.

Even after her death, Hadid’s work continues to impact the creative journey of visual artists and artists across the world, including those on display in the exhibit. Some lived in cities where her building’s stand, while others are from countries or cities where she once lived.

Participating artists include Rand Abdul Jabbar, Khyam Allami, Emii Alrai, Hera Büyüktaşcıyan, Andrea Canepa, Dima Srouji, Hamed Bukhamseen and Ali Ismail Karimi. Bukhamseen and Karimi are founders of Civil Architecture Studio.

A Permanent Nostalgia for Departure
(Back) Rand Abdul Jabbar, Khyam Allami, Emii Alrai and Hera Büyüktaşcıyan; 
(front) Andrea Canepa, Hamed Bukhamseen, Ali Ismail Karimi and Dima Srou

The CAC asked each artist to take one of Hadid’s core tenets or structures and then reimagine it.

Büyüktaşcıyan, for example, found inspiration from a childhood photograph of Hadid. The cascading form made of carpet aims to weave connections with the artist’s own childhood. It reimagines the idea of the ground as an accumulation of time and memory.

The piece aims to connect to Hadid’s “urban carpet” design concept. It’s a key element of the CAC space, intended to create a seamless connection between the museum and the environment just outside its walls.

Borjabad described each of the new works as an “exercise to mobilize knowledge that departs from Zaha Hadid and evolves towards the unknown of the provocation.” 

“These works resist the idea of a retrospective or monographic traditional exhibition, and with it a monolithic narrative on the architect’s practice,” she said.

Beyond the new works, the exhibit also brings a selection of paintings and ephemera by Hadid. The selections highlight the early stages of Hadid’s process.

Contemporary Arts Center

Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in downtown Cincinnati.

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