Everything We Saw at Pam Kravetz’s Whimsical Exhibit at Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel


As visitors ride up the elevator at downtown's 21c Museum Hotel, they'll be greeted by a surprise as the doors slide open: the whimsical works of Cincinnati-based artist Pam Kravetz.

Her work is displayed as part of the hotel's Elevate series, which places temporary exhibitions — Kravetz's art will be there for nine months — from local artists on guest floors, often complementing the context of the hotel's main exhibitions. In the case of Kravetz's stint, her hand-sewn pieces — imbued with elements of her own identity — run alongside the "bedecked and bejeweled" figures that make up Dress Up, Speak Up, which features several quilted artworks.

"Pam's work is incredible," says Michael Hurst, museum manager. "It doesn't look like most of the stuff that we show, that we have in our collection. But it's so suitable for the show Dress Up, Speak Up, that it was almost a no-brainer to have her work (as part of Elevate)."

Contained in vitrines — which greet guests as they exit the elevator at every floor — Kravetz's art is joy incarnate. Despite the display being small, her pieces feel grandiose in color and scale. On one floor, a hot pink primate sits on a swing suspended from the box's ceiling. Backdropped by circus-style stripes — red and white with jagged bits of black — ceramic bananas are affixed to the wall (with others scattered about the floor). Titled "Not My Monkey, Not My Circus," its kooky aesthetics remind that art can be, and should be, fun.

As Hurst says, her work is incredibly easy to immerse yourself in.

Enter another space and behold "Pamachu" — a Pokemon (think: Pikachu) rendered in Kravetz's likeness. Beside the puppet is a sign reading "tho you be tiny, you be fierce" in purple neon lettering. Each displayed piece pulls together several elements. Textured in a multitude of fabrics — and altogether, an explosion of color — the longer you look, the more details you'll notice.

"My work pulls you in and gives you an opportunity to either enjoy it just as a playful installation or then to get a little closer, a little deeper and actually start to understand the whys," Kravetz says. "There's heartache behind it and there's trying to figure out who you are and self-awareness and not being comfortable with who you are — which a lot of my work has been about — and then embracing the person you become."

In total, Kravetz's work fills display cases on seven floors of the 21c. (She's only the second artist to do so; Hurst says they have shown about 70 artists since they began Elevate.) Each, she says, has a quilted narrative element — the glue that ties her body of work together.

"It's super colorful, super poppy, very in your face," Kravetz says. "There's nothing subtle about me or my work. My work is definitely a reflection of who I am."

Followers of Kravetz's work will likely notice pieces from past exhibitions and events she's been a part of.  One of those being the eight-foot-tall and folky marionette puppets from 2009's The Beauty Queen, the Super Hero, and the Peanut, a show at the Contemporary Arts Center's UnMuseum. (It was the first time her work was on display at a museum.)

"They're all different times in my life of places and people I wanted to be," Kravetz says of the puppets, adding that they can be found on three floors. More recently, you can find works incorporated from Dazzle Doodle's House of Fun — an interactive, immersive installation from last fall's BLINK.

Pulling pieces from her personal vault and mixing them to create a new story/display for Elevate is a process Kravetz says she has loved.

Kravetz says she only knows how to sew by hand. But when she learned how to, her teacher told her to look at the backside. That's where one's journey is told.

"So many people want to close that up and don't want to show the 'not pretty,' " Kravetz says. "I love that. I really like the idea of adding and taking away and repurposing and changing."

The idea of art being in a continuous flux is very much a reflection of the human experience — an unending evolution of additions and subtractions. Each meeting of disparate fabrics in Kravetz's work, each glint of sequins or beads, each scrawling of sewn-on words evokes another feeling.

Though the date is TBA, 21c is planning a workshop event with Kravetz to run alongside the show.

"I love working with other people," Kravetz says, adding that a list of everyone that has had their hands in elements of the seven art installations is also displayed. "My voice is louder. My art is bigger because of the community of artists and family that I have had the honor to work with."

If you want to check out these works, and you're not staying as a guest, stop by the front desk to arrange access to the vitrines on guest room floors. For more info, visit 21cmuseumhotels.com.