Traveling through time
By Jane Kaufman
When Laura Owens was growing up in Norwalk, she spent a lot of time walking through the galleries of the Cleveland Museum of Art and studying pieces in the collection.
It was time well spent for the young artist, who now has an exhibition on view with the museum at Transformer Station. She is also preparing to launch a show that opens in May titled “Laura Owens & Vincent Van Gogh” at Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles in France, a foundation to promote the legacy of van Gogh.
References to van Gogh figure large at “Laura Owens: Rerun,” the local exhibit on view through May 30. The theme of the two-room exhibit at Transformer Station in Cleveland’s Hingetown neighborhood is time travel – particularly in regard to her own life. For it, Owens collaborated with nine teenagers taking part in the CMA’s arts mastery program, Currently Under Curation.
The main room contains mixed media and works on canvas, a series of paintings that include working clocks Owens created and decorated, along with works from the CMA’s Education Art Collection including textiles, print blocks and Mexican tiles.
In the smaller Crane Gallery, Owens created wallpaper – or what curator Emily Liebert says, feels like “an immersive painting” – that includes patterns and repeated images as a backdrop. The room gives off a pastel cast overall. In a collage style, Owens employed trompe l’oeil to feature layered images.
Representations of Owens’ early works are part of the installation, along with reproductions of newspaper clippings, pages from Owens’ writing as a child and other ephemera, including a permission slip to go to the Toledo Museum of Art and Owens’ student ID card from Norwalk High School. One of the reproduced clippings shows Owens holding the charcoal drawing of a woman, as the winner of the Governor’s Art Show when Owens was a high school senior.
In fall 2019, Liebert, curator of contemporary art for CMA, says she reached out to Owens about launching an exhibit. Liebert admired her work and knew Owens had spoken publicly about how important Cleveland’s culture, and specifically CMA’s collection, have been to her.
“She didn’t want to just plunk her work down in Cleveland,” Liebert says. “She wanted to engage with the community and, specifically she was interested in working with teenagers since that’s the age she was when Cleveland was especially meaningful to her.”
Liebert says the museum staff assembled a group of teens who were already taking part in the CMA’s Currently Under Curation program. Starting in the summer of 2019, the artist and students met monthly, viewing art in the galleries, mining the CMA’s Education Art Collection and looking through the CMA’s archive at Ingalls Library.
“Over the course of time, these particular ideas were coming to the fore,” Liebert says. “So time travel was something that was really coming up a lot in conversations between Laura and the students. So that became kind of a grounding theme for the show.”
In the course of the collaboration, Owens and the students decided to include some of her high school work, and the students helped select those pieces.
“Based on this year and a half of conversation and contact and collaborative thinking, Laura developed the wallpaper as well as one painting,” Liebert says.
The students created the title for the show. They also wrote the curatorial labels for each of the objects, and their names appear with the text they wrote.
“I think it was an incredible opportunity for them to work with a living artist,” Liebert says. “She was extremely generous with her time. I know that also for her, it was extremely inspiring to work with them.”
Liebert says Owens considers the teens to be her collaborators on this exhibit, adding that the collaboration between the curatorial and education departments of CMA allowed the museum to serve the community in a new way.
“I think the content of the show is very special,” Liebert says. “It’s Laura’s high school art, her mature art, works from the (CMA’s) Education Art Collection and the new wallpaper installation, which is a site-specific installation created for this exhibition.”
“Laura Owens: Rerun” is on view through May 30 at CMA at Transformer Station, 1460 W. 29th St. in Cleveland. For gallery hours and more information, visit transformerstation.org.