Cynthia Kukla writes regularly for ÆQAI (pronounced ‘I’ as in ‘bite ‘ and ‘qai ‘ as in ‘sKY’ ), a Cincinnati-based e-journal for critical thinking, review and reflective prose on contemporary visual art. The word ‘ÆQAI’ was selected as a mispelling from a reprint of Livy’s text for the ‘Aequi.’ The Aequi were the peoples that Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus of ancient Rome conquered upon his famous brief tenure as a ‘temporary’ dictator. He crushed their rebellion and then reintegrated them into the burgeoning empire. It is a playful analogy to the artist community since it implies the inevitable incorporation of the Avant Garde into mainstream culture.

Letter From Los Angeles

April 2012

Our Debt to the West Coast: Pacific Standard Time: 1945-1980

“An unprecedented collaboration of more than 60 cultural institutions across Southern California coming together to celebrate the birth of the L.A. art scene.”

Visiting L.A. is like a review of your whole life. Driving around greater L.A. in traffic much less crazy than my hometown Chicago, mind-surfing images of hot-rods and humming Beach Boys tunes, seeing the exit signs for Disney world brings iconic childhood movies flooding into my mind: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Lady and the Tramp.” The lure of Hollywood is present with each glimpse of luscious palm trees hugging sleek, contemporary architecture. The music scene at Venice Beach from the 60’s just about rises from the pavement as we pass hippie holdout stores, houses and shacks. I can still hear The Doors playing. In Venice Beach, we pass the street named Ocean Park as we drive to LA Louver to see the Ed Kienholz Retrospective. Immediately, the iconic paintings of Richard Diebenkorn flash through the museum in my mind.


Letter from Chicago: Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective

May 2012

“Whaam!  Bratatat!  Varoom!  The Art Institute of Chicago explodes this summer with the energy of Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) in the largest exhibition of the seminal Pop artist to date.  More than 160 of Lichtenstein’s works, from the familiar to the completely unexpected, will be on view in the first of only two American venues for Roy Lichtenstein:  A Retrospective.” 1 This retrospective is of such eminence, it travels to the National Gallery of Art in Washington October 14, 2012 to January 13, 2013, to the Tate Modern February 21 to May 27, 2013 and finally to the Centre Pompidou, Paris, July 3 to November 4, 2013.


Letter from Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art

February 2013


The Drawing Center in New York featured the art work of William Kentridge in 1998, a year after he premiered at Documenta X, Kassel, Germany. The MCA-Chicago first presented the work of South African Kentridge in 2001 in his first American survey and it was during this time period that Kentridge’s star rose in America.


Letter from Chicago: Part I. “Picasso and Chicago: the Fearless Pursuit of the Modern”

March 2013

Questions flood the mind after seeing a stunning exhibition by an artist whose name is part of the cultural and popular vernacular. In this first of a two-part analysis, questions arise. What does Picasso mean to the art world now, in 2013? How and when did the United States enter into dialog with the European avante garde, as it was called at the cusp of the 20th century, and with Picasso a leading force of this avante garde?



Letter from Chicago: Part II. “Picasso and Chicago: the Fearless Pursuit of the Modern” Art Institute of Chicago

April 2013

I returned to Chicago for the April 19th symposium on Picasso organized for the “Picasso and Chicago” exhibition and seeing the exhibition again strengthens my already deep appreciation of Pablo Picasso and reinforces his pivotal role in advancing modernism. In the exhibition, you view Picasso’s oeuvre chronologically, which aides in mapping his individual artistic progress and his crucial participation in the Avant Garde. The exhibition begins with Picasso’s early years, the Blue Period, with the Art Institute’s iconic 1903-04 oil painting Old Guitarist as its centerpiece.


A Contemporary Art Checklist

September 2013

Editor Daniel Brown solicited “What is contemporary art?” as a topic from his selected list of writers, museum curators and gallery owners. “ALL ART HAS BEEN CONTEMPORARY” is a Neon installation piece above entrance to the Altes Museum, Berlin’s collection of classical antiquities. What is contemporary art? This increasingly important topic is complex and it is debated with no clear-cut conclusions, since current conditions fold back upon themselves and older conditions re-emerge.



Letter from Chicago

October 2013

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, Chicago. I discussed “Chicago’s Bauhaus Legacy,” and “Artists Respond to Genocide.” The Bauhaus is one of the most significant movements of 20th century art. Its place in Chicago is legendary. The genocide exhibition is (sadly) still timely and I chose to highlight this powerful topic at a cutting-edge smaller museum in Chicago.



Letter from Champaign : “Return to Sender”

November 2013

Krannert Art Museum, Champaign. I discussed “Letter from Champaign: “Return to Sender.” Ray Johnson is the founder of mail art, a movement working against the posh gallery system. Johnson remains a cultural icon in art and again, I wanted to highlight an historic topic at a cutting-edge smaller museum, this time outside Chicago.

Letter from Chicago: Focus on Five Artists and a Nod to Leyster

January 2014


My “Letter from Chicago: Focus on Five Artists and a Nod to Leyster” is a 2013 year-in-review. I selected four artists: It is “The Year of James Turrell, “The Year of Ken Price”, “The Year of Steve McQueen” and “The Year of Rosemarie Trockel”. I predicted McQueen’s Oscar sweep for “Twelve Years a Slave”. I also made special mention of Jay Defeo’s retrospective in San Francisco. She, like Lee Hall, was overshadowed in her era by male artists. This is the second most important article I have written for Aeqai.


Letter from Wyoming: There Is Good Art Everywhere

March 2014


Tayloe Pitchett Gallery. “Letter from Wyoming: There is Good Art Everywhere.” I discussed a pair of exhibitions – “Robert Motherwell: A Collection of Works 1970-1990″ and “Lee Hall: Visual Poetry 1970-2010″. Motherwell has legendary status as an Abstract Expressionist painter and slightly younger Hall was marginalized for two reasons: she was female and she didn’t want to play the gallery game. Still painting in her 80s, she is being rediscovered and celebrated.


Letter from Thessaloniki

Summer 2014


Letter from Thessaloniki. I requested this article and edited it for Aeqai. “Art and Memory” by Professor Sachinis discussed a newly-installed memorial to the Holocaust Jews of Thessaloniki. Keeping with my commitment to political content, such as the “Artists Respond to Genocide” article, I felt it is valuable for an American audience to be exposed to continued European involvement with remembrances to the Holocaust.


Seeking to Make “Everyday Objects Shriek Aloud”

September 2014


Why a new exhibition on Magritte? “René Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938,” is the Art Institute of Chicago’s season blockbuster. This stunning exhibition is the first that zeroes in on Magritte’s most inventive and experimental years, showing us his seminal experiments of 1926-27 on through 1938.  I was bowled over.


Letter from the Midwest

October 31, 2014


Letter from the Midwest differs from my previous “Letters.” It is a quick romp through parts of the Midwest where there have been interesting exhibitions. While “there is good art everywhere” to quote myself, we can’t get everywhere, so I hope this snapshot gives you an impression of some of the exhibitions, or it inspires you to make a trip to Chicago or Indianapolis where I am highlighting several venues:

Chicago: the only North American venue for “David Bowie Is”which opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art on September 23, 2014 and continues through January 4, 2015.

Art Chicago: the Oldest contemporary art fair in America. From September 17-20, EXPO CHICAGO, the International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art, hosted over 120 leading international galleries at Festival Hall at Navy Pier. Expo Chicago represents 16 different countries and 35 different cities. Navy Pier was the site of the original fairs, beginning in about 1980 and it is, in my opinion, the best place to host this important fair. Indianapolis: Harry Sidebotham’s solo exhibition at the Indianapolis Arts Center “Recent Futures” was chosen as the Director’s Choice Recipient of the Art Center’s 2014 Art From the Heartland Exhibition.


What Is This Art Thing?

Winter 2015

By Ruben Morrisey, Edited by Cynthia Kukla. Read this like you saying, “Homie is a baller.” Swaying would be good too. http://www.learner.org/courses/globalart/work/207/index.html So I says, “Man, look at all those chairs.  2014 was “The Year of Chairs!”  I see this exhibit, orange chairs, lime green chairs sitting in front of really boring paintings not even made with paint (can you imagine?)  What’s […]

February 28, 2015: Reflections at the End of Black History Month. Where We At? Dealing (with) Black Feminism

March 2015

By Venise Keys, Edited by Cynthia Kukla. In the great tradition of Black Feminism, I have integrated a daily practice of self-love into my lifestyle as a full-time graduate student. This self-love is deeper than an assortment of wooden Afrocentric jewelry or a proclaiming Black Nationalist flag (although I proudly have both)…it is an active […]

Letter from Springfield Pro-Text: When Words Enter Visual Art

March 2015

Not every Friday the 13th is as memorable as the opening reception and new exhibition at the Illinois State Museum-Springfield Gallery.  Curated by the museum’s Robert Sill, Pro-Text: When Words Enter Visual Art “explores the various ways artists choose to combine language in their visual art. It features art by self-taught artists and works by […]

la Biennale di Venezia: Part One

Summer 2015

Inaugurated in 1895 with the first international presentation in 1897, la Biennale di Venezia is the oldest and in my opinion, still the most prestigeous of the contemporary international exhibitions of visual art. Venice celebrates the 120th anniversary of the first Exhibition (1895).Venice is an erotic city, steeped in cultural, and military history and it retains its magic and mystery in the twenty-first century. You still can only get around on foot or by water taxi. You still get lost on the winding narrow streets and laugh with another small group who have made the same wrong turn one-half minute before you have.  It keeps us human. No wonder thousands flock to the Biennale every two years.

la Biennale di Venezia: Part Two: Americans in Venice

September 21st, 2015

The Venice Biennale, which opened in May, is on view through Nov 22 with exhibitions in the Giardini and the Arsenale, featuring 136 artists, 89 participating countries, and 44 collateral events presented by non-profit organizations and exhibited in various locations across Venice. The city’s massive Arsenale (of Venice’s mighty past as controller of the Mediterranean)

Letter from Chicago: “Charles Ray: Sculpture, 1997–2014″

October 21, 2015

Here’s the link to my latest article for the art journal Aeqai. I’ve made an analysis of the West Coast artist Charles Ray who had a significant retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Please let me know what you think.