Story by Becky Raspe

As sites like Edgewater Park have been seen by hundreds of thousands of eyes, familiar locales like Lake Erie evoke their own feelings – almost a personality from years of existing alongside the bustling and developing city of Cleveland.

Catherine Opie’s “Outside Inside” works to capture this feeling of familiarity, the subsequent passage of time and how familiar places also change, even if in minute ways.

Courtenay Finn. Photo / Seth Beckton

Courtenay Finn, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, discusses “Outside Inside,” familiar sites that stand alongside the ever-changing world and how these static markers bring stability to a busy existence.

CANVAS: What makes this piece noteworthy? What stands out to you, and what should viewers know when they see it at the museum?

Finn: The subject matter of the installation and the title are particularly noteworthy as all the images are taken of Lake Erie, shot over the course of a year and showcasing the transformation of the lake over the four seasons. Incorporating both a micro and macro view, Opie emphasizes the passage of time as it occurs around the lake. 

This is pushed further with the scale and installation as Opie’s images transform the interior architecture of the museum into a window, bringing the outside inside. 

Photo / Field Studio for moCa Cleveland

What response or emotions does this piece evoke?

For me, the work operates both as a portrait of a place and as a meditation on the passage of time. It makes me think about different speeds of time: the slow time of geology, the time of a life lived and the history of change embedded in Cleveland as a city, and how these come together to create a sense of place. Our characterization of the outside world continues to be tied to the landscape and by enlarging images of Lake Erie and bringing them inside, Opie is asking us to think about our personal relationship to place.

What’s noteworthy about the materials the artist used or process she employed for this piece?

It is the first time the artist has worked in this medium and installed her work in and around the architecture of a space. I love how the piece reveals itself as you move around the building and how it changes in perspective to your body.

How does it fit into the artist’s larger body of work?

Over the past 30 years, Opie has turned her lens onto a diverse array of subjects, creating intimate portraits of a place. Whether in the form of friends, families, political gatherings, high school football players, to images of our national parks or the disappearing mall culture of middle America, Opie’s photographs operate as portraits of the here and now. She was born in 1961 in Sandusky and grew up there, so she has a personal and longtime relationship with the region and Lake Erie in particular.

Photo / Field Studio for moCa Cleveland

What was happening at the time that might have influenced this piece?

The images were all culled from her time in Cleveland developing a new commission for Cleveland Clinic in 2011. Opie came to Cleveland over the course of an entire year to capture the dramatic seasonal shifts of Lake Erie, recording dawn to dusk the reflection of light over the water, through to the crystallization of ice and snow along the lake’s edge. I can’t help but think about how 2011 was a record-breaking year for climate extremes, not just in the United States. 

Along those lines, how might this piece have influenced or inspired other artists after they saw it?

I do hope it opens up a dialogue around photography’s relationship to space, to how artists help us frame and see the world, and the value of looking closely at the places around us.  

On view

“Outside Inside”

Artist: Catherine Opie

Details: “Outside Inside,” 2019; eight vinyl prints with varying dimensions. Images courtesy of moCa Cleveland.

Acquired: As part of the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2019, moCa invited Catherine Opie to create new work, responding directly to the museum’s architecture, in the museum’s Gund Commons. 

Find it: Opie’s installation consists of eight images installed directly onto the walls of the Gund Commons and the Kohl Atrium & Monumental Staircase. It is a temporary installation on view until Jan. 5, 2020. It is experienced as you walk in and through the building.