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Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Centers Welcomes Back Metrobot

icon at CAC’s former home brought to its new facility

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In 1988, Metrobot, a 27-ft.-tall, electronic sculpture fashioned by noted Korean-American sculptor Nam June Paik, created a bold entry statement for Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center (CAC). Painted gold, containing a working pay phone, a head that resembles a TV set, and neon tubing sheathed under a plastic cover, Metrobot resembled an antagonist from a 1950s-era B-movie.
The late Albert Vontz Jr., who owned Heidelberg Distributing, a beer and wine wholesaler, bestowed the sculpture to the CAC as a gift to the city to mark Cincinnati’s bicentennial. Fifteen years later, CAC moved into larger quarters and left Metrobot behind and in limbo. In 2009, the owners of CAC’s former property had no interest in maintaining Metrobot, so it was removed and placed into storage.
In 2013, the CAC decided to break Metrobot out of mothballs and install it as a focal point outside its current location at Walnut and 6th St. in downtown Cincinnati. Albert Vontz III, son of the original Metrobot benefactor, and the Ralph V. Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation provided the necessary funds to resurrect the towering contraption.
Designer Thomas Strohmaier, who worked at Broadway Sign Co. and collaborated with Paik in Metrobot’s development, eagerly undertook refurbishing Metrobot. He now works for Cincinnati’s Klusty Sign Associates. Tri-State Fabricators washed, sanded and revitalized the sculpture with a fresh coat of gold paint.
Naturally, Metrobot’s renovation reflected the sign industry’s technological advances. Instead of a monochromatic electronic display, he now features a full-color, dynamic-digital sign within his “stomach.” Also, the original, flip-panel display on his left arm has been replaced by an amber electronic messageboard that also broadcasts videos. And, the cathode-ray monitors within his legs have been replaced by new, energy-efficient LED displays.
“Getting Metrobot ready for his big return to the CAC was a labor-intensive process,” Klusty’s Brian Marco said. “There was a lot of rewiring and a lot of welding of worn parts, in addition to retrofitting him with more modern technology. Being a part of such a high-profile installation that’s such an asset to the city made it more than worthwhile, though.”
 

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