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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Should Everybody Love a Circus?
Circus poster exhibition more thought-provoking than you might think
03.10.2011
By Steven Rosen
When does something become art?
One answer is when a museum shows it. Thus, the current show at the Cincinnati Art Museum through July 20, The Amazing American Circus Poster: The Strobridge Lithographing Company, qualifies as art.
And I doubt few of the visitors to this exhibit will quarrel with this claim. There’s appeal on a number of levels. The work is populist in nature, spectacularly colorful with finely rendered and detailed imagery and features excellent examples of the labor-intensive lithography process. The exhibit tells fascinating stories and — since they date from 1879-1939 — it also sheds light on the way we once lived and entertained ourselves.
Also, since Strobridge was a Cincinnati-based printing company specializing in entertainment-related work, the show has local appeal. And because circus posters were posted (as their name implies) in public and vulnerable to the elements and wear-and-tear, a collection in as good a condition as this is rare.
The show is meticulously installed, too, organized into sections that highlight crowd-pleasing elements of the circus, such as clowns, animals, acrobats and athletes, “melodramas” and more. The museum even borrowed (from Wisconsin’s Circus World museum) a restored 1886-1888 Barnum & Bailey “pony float” — used in parades marking a circus’ arrival in town — carrying a gilded, 24-karat-gold Mother Goose figure.
Yet, this is the first time since the Cincinnati Art Museum acquired its collection of some 1,000 Strobridge posters in 1965 that any (save an exception or two) have been displayed. One key reason was that the museum didn’t regard it as art. (The show features 80 posters, drawn from both Cincinnati’s collection and those of the Ringling Museum of Art and private collector Howard Tibbals, based in Sarasota, Fla. His collection is promised to Ringling, which displays selections read more at:http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-22856-should-everybody-love-a-circus.html

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