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.

Letter from Chicago: Making Their Mark: Illinois Women Artists, 1940-1960

November 24, 2015

Making Their Mark: Illinois Women Artists, 1940-1960 opened October 17 and is on view until January 17, 2016 at the International Features Gallery of the Peoria Riverfront Museum in Peoria, Illinois. With this exhibition, the museum is contributing to the necessary scholarship on women artists.

Letter from Chicago: ‘Kerry James Marshall: Mastry’ opens April 23 and runs through September 25, 2016 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

May 24, 2016

Letter from Chicago: ‘Kerry James Marshall: Mastry’ opens April 23 and runs through September 25, 2016 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. By Cynthia Kukla If you haven’t met him yet, let me introduce you to Alabama-born, Chicago-based artist Kerry James Marshall.

When Photography Was New: Picturing the West: Masterworks of 19th-Century Landscape Photography Islands of the Blest Artist-Led Communities: Meatyard, Lyons, Siskind & Callahan

November 19, 2016

The Fotofocus Biennial 2016 features a marvelous array of photography exhibitions – eight exhibits curated by Kevin Moore for Fotofocus and about sixty additional ancillary exhibits of photography that various museums, galleries and libraries from Cincinnati to Columbus have prepared in support of the biennial endeavor.

Visionary Artists at the Carnegie Arts Center

December 17, 2016

Amanda Ackerman and Emily Frey are the curators for the brilliant retrospective of about three hundred works by Edith Harper, collaborator and wife to Cincinnati’s well-known and beloved artist/illustrator Charley Harper. Their lives, work and art bear a similar pattern to the well-known West Coast couple, Charles and Rae Eames, of the Eames chair fame. While there are other couple-collaborators, such as Claes Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen and Christo and Jeanne-Claude, both the Eamses and the Harpers began working together from the onset of their respective relationships, in long, collaborative and happy marriages of life and art. We should all be so fortunate!


Color Beauty Vision – Carl Solway Gallery

Febuary 10, 2017

Color is the lush and unapologetic feature that binds the three artists whose solo presentations opened Friday, February 3rd, 2017 at the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati and continue through April 29. Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson’s new woven silk weavings are the quiet scene-stealers of the Solway shows, though all three artists weigh in with […]

KayWalkingStick at the Dayton Art Institute

March 19, 2017

I can’t decide if I should leap for joy or feel cheated by the art world when I discover yet another marvelous woman artist who has not received appropriate mainstream recognition. Here’s Kay WalkingStick, now in her eighties and thriving in her studio practice, who has had a vibrant career with early New York accolades.

Unique Vision Celebrated in Two Exhibitions: Otherwise: Keith Benjamin, Ben Clark, Richard Emry Nickolson at Thunder Sky Gallery Uncanny at Visionaries and Voices Gallery

May 6, 2017

Cincinnati continues to harness the landscape lion: the Taft Museum exhibition of 2016, Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape and two more stunners, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Picturing the West: Masterworks of 19th-Century Landscape Photography and Van Gogh: Into the Undergrowth.

Transcending Reality: The Woodcuts of Kōsaka Gajin through May 7, 2017 at the Cincinnati Art Museum

May 6, 2017 

Cincinnati continues to harness the landscape lion: the Taft Museum exhibition of 2016, Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape and two more stunners, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Picturing the West: Masterworks of 19th-Century Landscape Photography and Van Gogh: Into the Undergrowth.


A Painter’s Family Tree, “Predecessors” at the Contemporary Arts Center

September 23, 2017

Everyone has a family tree. Painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s exhibition, Predecessors, outlines her family tree poignantly. She gives us the women in her family in portraits and with important personal photographs that are photo-transferred and are featured in still life tableaux. She further imbeds in her paintings photo-transfers of important Nigerian political and popular figures […]

Takashi Murakami Takes His Octopus to the Bank

October 29, 2017

Incredibly, the Takashi Murakami exhibition officially broke the David Bowie attendance record of 193,000, making it the all-time highest attended exhibition in the Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago’s 50-year history. Numerous prints Murakami had available for the MCA Museum Store were sold out, including an $11,000 print in an edition of 100.


Swoon, a survey, the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati September 22, 2017 through February 25, 2018

October 29, 2017

Swoon makes magic. Swoon stirs souls. The world needs more Swoon. I get cynical about politically inspired art much of the time. Such art is often self-serving (great way for an artist to get a solo show in our hyper-correct gallery and museum environments.)

A Cincinnati Artist Finds Meaning in a 2,000 Year Old Poem Dynamic New Paintings by Kim Krause Marta Hewett Gallery, October 6 through December 2, 2017

November 26, 2017

“Nothing seems that certain”1 is a great operating procedure for an artist to generate new work. This is what Kim Krause believes and it is clearly manifested in his new solo exhibition at Marta Hewett Gallery titled The Nature of Things.

How a Czechoslovakian Artist Promoted the Modern Woman Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau, Dayton Art Institute September 16 through December 31, 2017

November 26, 2017

Like Impressionism, with its wild brushstrokes and look of abandon in representing the world shocked the smug Parisian Salon art community, so too, Art Noveau originally was intended to be moderne, to usher in the new century, the twentieth century.

Frank Herrmann, Slayer of Dragons Solo Exhibition, “New Works”, Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery in the Aronoff Center for the Arts December 1, 2017 through January 28, 2018

December 23, 2017

Painter extraordinaire Frank Herrmann means what he says. In a 2016 interview, Herrmann stated: “Never wait for the great idea or wait for the perfect moment when the work has stalled. You have to work through those moments, that may be depressing but just keep working.”


Across Borders: Two Artists Respond to Nature Mystically Emily Carr at the Audain Museum, Whistler, B.C. and The Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, B.C. Charles Burchfield at The Burchfield Penney Art Center-SUNY at Buffalo State University, Buffalo, New York

February 19th, 2018

Emily Carr is one of those heroic early 20th century artists who should escape attention no more. It was her singular vision to document the magic of the British Columbian wilderness and to be the very first artist who recognized and painted the magnificence of First Nations’ peoples’ totems that existed throughout British Columbia and […]

First Nations Art Preserved and Celebrated at the Audain Museum Whistler, B.C., Canada

February 19th, 2018

The masks of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast are powerful objects that assist us in defining our place in the cosmos. In a world of endless change and complexity, masks offer a continuum for Native people to acknowledge our connection to the universe.     -Chief Robert Joseph (Down from the Shimmering Sky, 1998) […]