Summer Arrives Early at MOCA

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 02:31.

Three great exhibitions opened at MOCA this past Friday: "Sarah Kabot: On the Flip Side," "The Persistence of Geometry: Form, Content and Culture in the Collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art," and "Transitions: Linda Butler and Philip Brutz Photography." "On the Flip Side" is the 2006 edition of the Wendy L. Moore Emerging Artist Series.  This annual exhibition of the work of a very talented, young (under 30), female artist who has yet not had a major gallery show never fails to generate a lot of excitement. "The Persistence of Geometry," curated by Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims of the Studio Museum in Harlem featured many works -- paintings, drawings, prints, textiles, sculptures and decorative arts -- from the Cleveland Museum of Art collection. Visitors may have expected this exhibition to be just another highlights tour of the CMA only in a new location, but the result was something totally new and surprising. "Transitions" gives the viewer a peek at what it looks like inside the museum now. Brutz's color stereoscopic transparencies were especially popular with children.

I met Sarah Kabot at MOCA about two weeks ago as she was installing her exhibition. I was immediately impressed by how cheerful and energetic she seemed at slightly before 9 am. She was there and ready to get working on her art before any of the MOCA staff had even arrived to let her in. This is an artist who really enjoys what she does! Part of Sarah's artistic strategy is to bring the unnoticed, seemingly mundane elements of the environment to the viewers attention through replication and mirroring. She described what she was doing as recreating elements from the ceiling (sprinklers, ducts, pipes) on the floor. I was intrigued. I could n't wait to see it and it is definitely a sculpture you must see in person despite the beautiful color catalog. Forms that you would usually avoid looking at  become  serene and beautiful -- almost sacred. This large installation is only one element of "On the Flip Side." You can even participate in one of Sarah's projects on her website.

I have missed many of the art objects in the permanent collection of the CMA since the Museum closed for its major expansion and renovation. Some of them were like old friends. I saw them several times a week while getting my M.A. in Art History at Case (art history students use the CMA library and classes are taught in the Museum). I thought I knew what I would be seeing, but the exhibition  was a startling surprise. Presenting art in a non-hierarchical manner, mixing "high art" and the decorative arts without emphasizing national borders, cultural distinctions or a time line forced me to take a fresh look at familiar pieces. Some of the pieces in the show are not regularly on view though. There were some fabulous textiles -- like one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright -- that I had never seen before. And there were works on paper that, due conservation needs, usually would only seen by appointment in the print study room.  Most people only know Vassily Kandinsky's highly spiritual and musical approach to abstraction through his paintings; a woodcut in the exhibition shows his ability to convey the same  in print. A colorful drawing by George Grosz for a slightly scary costume design was was also very eye catching. Placing all the objects in uniform, white rooms rather than creating an appropriate atmosphere with colored walls and wainscot kept the attention on the art, except, the Richard Long piece has never looked so good as it does in the curve gallery.

It was also nice to see many of the familiar museum guards. They seemed to enjoy a change of venue too. It must be lonely there now at the CMA and it must get unpleasant at times with all the construction dust and noise.

The opening for these three summer exhibitions, which run June 9th - August 20th was the best attended in my recent memory. The Wendy L. Moore emerging artist exhibit always brings out most of the local arts community and I think many people came out to see the CMA objects because they missed them as much as I did. All three exhibitions are excellent and have wide appeal -- the prefect place to take out of town guests. I plan to go back several times this summer.

MoCA on a roll - can't wait until they move

"Sarah Kabot: On the Flip Side," is a great series of works and installation. The Wendy L. Moore Emerging Artist Series has brought many really great young female artists into public light and this is no exception - great conceptual work and execution. The "Transitions" 3D and other photographs on view in the balcony were interesting and fit the context of the bigger show below, in back, "The Persistence of Geometry: Form, Content and Culture in the Collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art". Curated by the insightful and significant Lowery Simms, every work in the show is first-rate, and the combination is as powerful as the MoCA site can possibly produce. What I really enjoyed was the vibe of combining MoCA with the Cleveland Museum, as the guards we love from CleMuse were on duty and refreshing to see grace MoCA's stark home. As I hate the Playhouse Square compound and the MoCA space is far sub-optimal, I really look forward to having new space for contemporary art in Cleveland, which will be realized both through the expansion of the Cleveland Museum and now the planned relocation of MoCA to University Circle (taking it full circle back to home base from the New Gallery days when the organization played its greatest role in the community). Now, if MoCA could just merge with the new Cleveland Museum into a global powerhouse... I hate to rock every boat in town - actually, no I don't - the feeling of MoCA and the Cleveland Museum together just feels right, and I can't justify all the money planned for buildings when all I want is a functional arts community... both organizations need to change, and they need to work better together. Perhaps the new Cleveland Museum director will drive better synergy. For now, everyone needs to get over to the Cleveland Clinic, er The Playhouse, and check out three really interesting shows of exciting art.