Inclusiveness hallmark of upcoming CityMusic Cleveland concert series

By Carlo Wolff

CityMusic Cleveland will perform its first concert series of 2018 starting March 14 with a decidedly ecumenical series featuring works by both Jewish and Muslim composers. The idea, said CMC music director Avner Dorman, is to highlight what binds those cultures, not what divides them.

The free concerts will feature music by accordionist Merima Kljuco, a Croatian Jew who delivered a notable presentation in Cleveland in fall 2015; Tom Cohen, a Jew who runs an Andalusian orchestra in Israel and writes essentially Arabic music; Behzad Ranjbaran, an Iranian native who lives in New York City; Josef Bardanashvili, a Jew who lives in Israel; and Damascus-born Kareem Roustom, a child of Syrian and American parents.

Kljuco and pianist Seth Knopp delivered a moving multimedia presentation, “The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book,” Oct. 28, 2015 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Geraldine Brooks, the Australian author of “People of the Book,” a historic novel about that manuscript, introduced Kljuco. Brooks will not attend these mid-month Cleveland-area shows. But Kljuco will, soloing with the 40-piece chamber orchestra in a greatly expanded arrangement of the much leaner work she presented at CMA.

The other key idea, and part of CityMusic Cleveland’s mission, was to present this concert at various kinds of institutions and religious outposts, from Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood to St. Mary Parish in Elyria, with a stop at a public library along the way. A variety of locations is critical, Dorman said.

Sarah Sager, cantor at Fairmount Temple, will deliver remarks about the Kljuco piece at the orchestra’s series premiere March 14. This concert series, which runs from March 14-18, is the third series in the chamber orchestra’s 2017-18 season.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is a hallowed Jewish holy manuscript that since its creation in 1350 has traveled from its Spanish origin to Sarajevo; during World War II, a Muslim cleric there hid the iconic artifact under a mosque’s floor boards. “The story of the Sarajevo Haggadah … is the story of a single book over five centuries,” Sager noted.

Kljuco’s musical interpretation of the Sarajevo Haggadah stands on its own, Dorman said.

“I think the way she expresses the story is very direct, very moving,” he said. “She expresses a broad range of emotions. It goes from devotion and closeness, to prayer, to very scary, very dramatic moments.

“She did a very interesting thing in which different instruments in the orchestra relate to different characters, different elements; it’s almost like in an opera or film, where you have specific elements in the orchestra relating to specific emotions. It brings the story to your heart very directly.”

Does the Kljuco work speak especially eloquently in light of the current cultural and political climate?

“The atmosphere in the world now is more divisive and negative, and the Muslim ban is one example,” said Dorman, name checking a prominent, controversial policy of the current presidential administration. The CityMusic Cleveland program “gets to touch on the connections, the common goals that all people and religions have, rather than focus on the divisions.”

“We are certainly witnessing, on many levels, an era of tribalism,” Sager said. “For me, this is unfortunate, as it represents a regression from the ideal of all human beings as equal and of infinite value. Tribalism ultimately posits that ‘our tribe’ is better than ‘your tribe.’ I find it difficult to imagine a world in harmony and at peace with that attitude prevailing.

“As a response to the disunion of humanity, I love the fact of the Sarajevo Haggadah and the idea that its survival represents a noble and enduring ideal of human cooperation, coexistence, and interconnected community.”

Eugenia Strauss, who helped found CityMusic Cleveland in 2004, said attendees will receive a special, 36-page program about the concert that goes into great detail about the Sarajevo manuscript, the first illustrated Haggadah.

“We’re trying to humanize these communities, we care about respecting other religions, and many people put their lives on the line to rescue artifacts from either religion,” said the orchestra’s executive director. “What we’re really addressing is the humanity of all the major religions; we’re trying to say everybody is a human being, everybody wants a job and a roof over their head, and wants to educate their children, help their communities.”

The music Dorman chose for this series is “incredibly accessible and beautiful,” Strauss said. “I’m getting phone calls asking, what kind of music is this? It’s beautiful music.”

CityMusic Cleveland Presents ‘Two Faiths: One Spirit’

WHEN: March 14-18


Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, 23737 Fairmount Blvd., Beachwood, 7:30 p.m. March 14

St. Jerome Church, 15000 Lake Shore Blvd., Cleveland, 7:30 p.m. March 15

Cuyahoga County Public Library, 2121 Snow Road, Parma, 11 a.m. March 16

-Lakewood Congregational Church, 1375 W. Clifton Blvd., Lakewood,

7:30 p.m. March 16

Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus, 3649 E. 65th St., Cleveland, 8 p.m. March 17

St. Mary Parish, 320 Middle Ave., Elyria, 4 p.m. March 18

INFO: Free. Call 216-632-3572 or visit

Carlo Wolff is a freelance writer from South Euclid.

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on February 28, 2018.

Lawrence Jacobs calls this photo, taken at Blue Heron Bridge this summer, “Octopus Siesta.”

Beachwood doctor’s underwater photos highlight Avon exhibition

By Carlo Wolff

Dr. Lawrence J. Jacobs, a cardiologist with the Cleveland Clinic who is based at Fairview Hospital, became serious about underwater photography about four years ago, long after he discovered the joys of scuba diving.

The Beachwood resident is one of 15 doctors from the Clinic, University Hospitals, Southwest Hospital, Fairview Hospital and the MetroHealth System exhibiting at “Art by Doctors,” on view through Nov. 9 at Creative Space Art & More in Avon. Proceeds from sales of the art are earmarked for the Lorain County Free Clinic. An open house was Oct. 26.

This is Jacobs’ first exhibit outside a hospital setting, he said by telephone from Miami Beach. He calls himself an amateur photographer who focuses on underwater images. But he’ll also take oddball “surface” pictures, particularly if there’s a humorous slant, he said, noting he snapped a shot of “a lizard, a squirrel and a Pepsi bottle in the same frame” that morning. Other favorite subjects are his children and grandchildren.

“I started scuba diving about 10 years ago, and the idea of being an underwater photographer was very appealing to me because the beauty is all there,” said Jacobs, who attends Green Road Synagogue and Young Israel of Greater Cleveland, both in Beachwood.

To be a good underwater photographer requires being a good scuba diver and the key to that is maintaining neutral buoyancy so you neither sink through negative buoyancy or rise through positive buoyancy.

“You can’t take decent pictures if you’re moving up and down,” said Jacobs, who gets many of his photography tips from diving magazines. “It was more of an incentive to learn that very important skill when I took up underwater photography. The divers I went diving with were underwater photographers themselves.”

Whenever and wherever he dives these days – the eastern Caribbean is his favorite region, Cozumel, Mexico, his favorite spot – Jacobs takes his Canon J16 along. He has a special, and expensive, waterproof housing for it, he said. And he dives light: “You want to keep as trim as possible and you don’t want something sticking out from you.”

Another critical piece of equipment, he said, is an underwater vest. His is unusual in that a verse from Exodus is embroidered over the pocket where he stores the lead weights that neutral buoyancy requires. The biblical verse cites the “Song of the Sea” celebrating the Red Sea closing over the Egyptian army in their fruitless pursuit of the Jews. “They sank like lead in the sea,” Jacobs’ embroidery says in Hebrew, perfectly framing the fact that lead is what “a scuba diver uses to descend from the surface.”

Three of the four photos Jacobs is exhibiting were taken off Dominica, an island in the eastern Caribbean. The fourth comes from Blue Heron Bridge, a famous Florida diving spot in Riviera Beach.

According to Judy Kean, a stained-glass artist who owns Creative Space Art and The Glass Studio in the same Avon building, Art by Doctors was launched by Dr. Marcello Mellino, a cardiologist at several West Side hospitals, at Lakewood Hospital in 2009. Kean said this iteration, the first outside a hospital setting, features watercolors, acrylics, photography and cartoons. Kean also said she aims to make her Avon location a local center for creativity. CV

On Show

Art by Doctors

WHEN: Through Nov. 9. Open house 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 5

WHERE: Creative Space Art & More, 33760 Lear Industrial Parkway, Avon

INFO: 440-823-7406 and/or

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Oct. 24, 2016.

Lead image: Lawrence Jacobs calls this photo, taken at Blue Heron Bridge this summer, “Octopus Siesta.”

Kenneth B. Liffman, a member of the Maltz Museum board of trustees, inspects the Cleveland section of “This Light of Ours.” | Photo / Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage

Civil rights exhibit shines spotlight on struggles

By Carlo Wolff

One of the many striking features of “This Light of Ours,” the stirring exhibit of civil rights photography at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, is how low-key it is. This is a display focused on timeless issues. It is not about flash or theatrics, though it’s packed with drama.

The nine photographers showcased here, who abandoned their objectivity to participate in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, decided to tell the story of ordinary people with extraordinary passion. That’s why, for example, Matt Herron’s photos of black protestors smiling as an integrated march passes through rural, “virulently racist” Lowndes County in Alabama are so moving.

At the same time, “This Light” doesn’t sugarcoat the ugliness that fueled the movement that brought white sympathizers, including Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, to Mississippi in 1964. Herbert Randall’s photo of a bloody but unbowed Lelyveld is one of the more memorable images.

At the heart of this exhibit, which runs through May 14, 2017, is a room about local and state terror. At its center is a cage that partially replicates the “nigger wagon” Jackson, Miss., police used to round up protesters.

On the outside of the cage are quotations about courage, perseverance and human rights. On the inside are photos of the wagon in action. It’s an arresting way to frame the issues that were being played out at that time.

Pictures by Bob Adelman and Herron show police intimidation; black girls taunted by white adults; a black girl trying to make eye contact with a guy wearing a hard hat stickered with a Confederate flag; white guards dragging another black girl on the street; a black girl picketing a department store in Birmingham. Even innocent bystanders were corralled.

The exhibition, which originated at the Center for Documentary Expression and Art in Salt Lake City, has been customized by and for the Maltz Museum. Not only did the Beachwood institution add a section on Cleveland – the exit area celebrates brothers Carl and Louis Stokes, respectively the first black mayor of a major American city, and Ohio’s first black congressman – it also added 3-D, immersive images like a “freedom cross” and a thicket of hate-slogan signs.

The exhibition opens with a recreation of a bedroom in a sharecropper’s shack. It feels lived in, authentic. That paves the way for the heart of the display, 150-plus black-and-white images by photographers of different backgrounds and ethnicities who found common cause in civil rights. Named after an old gospel song, “This Light of Ours” serves up pictures of segregation, like an Adelman image of a socialite gathering in Dallas where, as the caption says, the maid “was just another piece of furniture,” and of determination, like Herron’s photo of Jim Leatherer wearing a yarmulke, so sweaty his T-shirt stuck to him as he walked the 50 miles between Selma and Montgomery, Ala., – on crutches.

Bob Fitch’s photos of the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta are particularly heartbreaking. They show King’s family, friends and mourners devastated by his assassination in 1968. Remarkable blends of directness and respect, these photos show King’s family in moments as intimate as moments get, but there’s nothing of celebrity in them, only sorrow. The photos attest to Fitch’s sense of the gravity of the event. He captured that while maintaining a proper, respectful distance from his subjects.

“It’s impossible not to connect the images that you see with what’s going on in our country today,” said
Ellen Rudolph, executive director of the museum. People protested police brutality then – and today, with “the same messages being telegraphed.”

“The broader message was the civil rights movement was not a moment in time, but civil rights are something we constantly have to fight for,” Rudolph added, noting that “on the eve of this incredibly divisive presidential election we’re still fighting for voting rights.” CV

On Exhibit

“This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement”

WHEN: Through May 14, 2017

WHERE: Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, 2929 Richmond Road, Beachwood

INFO: 216-593-0575 or

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Oct. 13, 2016.

Lead image: Kenneth B. Liffman, a member of the Maltz Museum board of trustees, inspects the Cleveland section of “This Light of Ours.” Photo | Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage

Charles Mintz framed the Lustron portrait, “Detroit, MI: Miles and Terrence,” in baked enamel, a material similar to that used in Lustron Homes.

Photographer Mintz captures different kind of home

By Carlo Wolff

In the late summer of 2012, Cleveland photographer Charles Mintz presented “Precious Objects,” a show of people with their favorite things, at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood. Now he’s trained his deadpan, open-minded eye on one of the most important parts of people’s lives: their home.

Mintz just published “Lustron Stories,” a book of photographs about a very unusual kind of residence. Published by Trillium Books, a new imprint of The Ohio State University Press, it’s both intimate and affectless. Mintz’s photographs, like the smooth surfaces of Lustron Homes, are oddly opaque yet remarkably expressive.

The $49.95 book is available at Loganberry Books on Cleveland’s Larchmere Boulevard. Mintz has mounted two exhibitions drawing on his Lustron photos and is looking for a local venue to showcase the project.

Lustron Homes are prefab houses of porcelain-baked, enamel-coated steel manufactured in Columbus between 1948 and 1950. About 2,500 were sold, mostly 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath bungalows, to buyers all over the country, from Los Alamos, N.M. to Maine to Miami. About 1,500 survive.

They sold, without land, for $7,000, or close to $71,000 in today’s dollars. In some cases, they’ve remained with the original family. Mintz photographed 125 between 2011 and 2014. Their owners let him into their lives. While the focus is the people, the context is equally eloquent. These photos are nothing if not balanced. Not to mention lived in.

The Lustron project derived from one Mintz embarked on in 2009 to photograph foreclosed homes in every neighborhood in which he’d lived. His research showed that many had been built after either World War I or World War II.

Since he, like Lustron, was born in 1948, “this is history through my lifetime,” said Mintz, who owns a stucco house in Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. “The project is about the meaning of having your own home.”

Three of the photographs feature members of the original families, including the cover photo of Clementine and her mother, Anita, in Oak Park, Mich.

In that one, there’s the woman who bought the house, Mintz said. “The other story is the daughter who grew up in the house, which I find fascinating. We all remember, most of us, the home we spent the bulk of our childhood in. The house I grew up in in Cleveland Heights was a wooden house but it was essentially the same as these: a two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow built in 1949.”

Lustron Homes sold to a target audience of nondisabled, heterosexual, working-class families, Mintz said. It was the time of “Leave It to Beaver,” of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” before the government began to build the interstate system in 1956.

Assembling a Lustron Home might take as few as 350 man hours, he said. But getting the pieces of these low-maintenance, if problematic, homes (you couldn’t nail a picture to a wall, for example) from Columbus to their destinations could be daunting, as semis hauling them had to travel through towns, not to mention on challenging roads. If you had to carry a Lustron Home to, say, Topeka, Kan., you’d have to travel US 40, which in some places was “not much better than a dirt road,” Mintz said. And the semi would have to return to Columbus – empty.

In addition, Lustron ran on money borrowed from the Reconstruction Finance Corp., a federal agency designed to provide economic stimulus, Mintz said.

In “The Idea of Home,” the essay that ends “Lustron Stories,” Mintz says he worked with Ohio History Connection, a Columbus nonprofit and the state’s historical society. Armed with a skeletal database of Lustron Home owners, Mintz wrote “hundreds and hundreds” of letters, eventually connecting with the subjects of these photographs.

“It’s very hard to find volunteers to participate in projects,” he said, “but when you do, with few exceptions, they’re remarkably generous people.” CV

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Sept. 23, 2016.

Lead image: Charles Mintz framed the Lustron portrait, “Detroit, MI: Miles and Terrence,” in baked enamel, a material similar to that used in Lustron Homes. Photo | Carlo Wolff.

Milos, left, and Harry look over letters from Hungarian girls seeking to rediscover their community. PHOTO | Tivoli Film

Reel spotlight to shine on varied cinematic palette

By Carlo Wolff

Films spanning an inspiring sports saga, postwar chicanery, documentaries on key Jewish figures, and ones about probing and transcending the Holocaust are among the offerings coming to five Greater Cleveland venues for the 10th annual Mandel JCC Cleveland Jewish FilmFest.

The festival will feature 29 films from nine countries.

It launched informally on Aug. 24 with a showing of Roger Sherman’s film, “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” followed by a sampling of Israeli food and wine, at the Peter B. Lewis Theatre at Cleveland Institute of Art. It unofficially starts on Sept. 8 with a showing of “Fever at Dawn” at Shaker Square Cinemas and concludes on Sept. 18 with “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” actress Natalie Portman’s directorial debut, at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

Among the documentaries: “Sabena Hijacking: My Version,” a recounting of the 1972 hijacking of Sabena flight 571 from Brussels to Tel Aviv by members of the Palestinian organization Black September; “Rabin in His Own Words,” tracking an Israeli hero from childhood through Israel Defense Forces service to two terms as prime minister to his 1995 assassination; and “On the Map,” Dani Menkin’s loving account of how the 1977 Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team toppled the world champions, sending Israel into a wonderful tizzy.

These show, respectively, at 9:15 p.m. Sept. 10, 5 p.m. Sept. 11 and 4:30 p.m. Sept. 18, all at Cedar Lee Theatre.

Among the fictional films: “Laugh Lines,” an intergenerational movie about how youth can inspire age, showing at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15 following a young professionals happy hour presented in partnership with the Young Leadership Division of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland; “Naked Among Wolves,” a film about hiding a Jewish child from the Nazis at Buchenwald, screening at 1 p.m. Sept. 15; and “Firebirds,” a film about the value and ephemeral nature of identity. All these show at Cedar Lee.

The idea of this year’s festival, as in the nine years past, is to present what it means to be Jewish in as many cinematic ways as possible. The idea, too, is to entertain, enthrall, educate and inspire. Talking to Menkin, writer-director of “On the Map,” suggests that his movie about the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team and its improbable world championship in 1977 fills all those bills.

The executive producer of this fast-paced basketball documentary is Nancy Spielberg. She also was executive producer of “Above and Beyond: Birth of the Israel Air Force,” which screened at the 2014 Mandel JCC Cleveland Jewish FilmFest.

“I’ve been making fiction and documentary films for over 20 years and started my career with sports stories,” Menkin said in an Aug. 11 telephone interview from Los Angeles. An Israeli television executive “started talking to me about there was never a film about ‘On the Map,’ the legendary story,” he recalled.

He began to discover numerous documentary archives at TV stations and in private collections about the journey that took the upstart Israeli team to the top of the European League.

Although it defeated league champions Varese, the Italian team, it was Maccabi Tel Aviv’s victory in the second round over CSKA Moscow, the Soviet Red Guards team that actually put it on the map. While the game was played near Brussels – the Soviet Union didn’t recognize Israel and wouldn’t allow the team entry – the fact that it took place at all was a political victory for Israel, a country still reeling from the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“I always had the basic story for an Israeli audience,” Menkin said, “but that’s when I realized it was an even bigger story for the U.S. audience because everyone knew about the Miracle on Ice (U.S.A. ice hockey’s 4-3 upset of Russia in the 1980 Winter Olympics), but I was surprised how few people knew about the Maccabi Tel Aviv victory over the Russians in the European League.”

Besides finding the right archival material, Menkin’s biggest challenge was making “the film as dramatic as a fiction story, not only a documentary, so that people would be excited and fascinated, just like any sports drama. The second thing was to make the film a drama about countries, much bigger than just a sports story.

“My biggest reward is that people say this is not only a sports story, this is a story of Israel, a historical piece that a lot of people are enthusiastic about,” Menkin said.

Asked to compare the 1977 Maccabi Tel Aviv victory to the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers NBA championship, Menkin said he largely stopped following the Cleveland team after it fired coach David Blatt, the first Israeli to coach in the league.

“I became attached to the Cavaliers because of David Blatt,” he said, adding he liked Matthew Dellavedova and Kyrie Irving, and respects LeBron James, “even though there were rumors that” James was behind Blatt’s firing.

Menkin gave Blatt “credit for building the team that Tyronn Lue took over,” adding he doesn’t know “if people appreciate what he (Blatt) has done. He’s an incredible coach and another former Maccabi.”

“With all due respect, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s victory over the Russians in 1977 was bigger than LeBron James and the Cavs beating Golden State.” CV

For film reviews, additional interviews and a look at the history of the Mandel JCC Cleveland Jewish FilmFest, visit Canvas’ sister publication, the Cleveland Jewish News, at

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Aug. 26, 2016.

LEAD IMAGE: Milos, left, and Harry look over letters from Hungarian girls seeking to rediscover their community. PHOTO | Tivoli Film

Herbert Ascherman Jr. loves Cleveland, “selling” the city wherever he travels. Fans of the peripatetic photographer will have two major opportunities in September to savor the images he’s created over the past four decades. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

Photography is as natural as breathing to Herbert Ascherman Jr., whose work will be on display at two shows this fall

By Carlo Wolff

Ascherman’s portrait of a woman in a wedding dress at a piano in Bratenahl. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

Ascherman’s portrait of a woman in a wedding dress at a piano in Bratenahl. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

Mounting a photographic exhibition is one thing. For Herbert Ascherman Jr., it’s two.

In September, the work of Ascherman, a photographer widely known for his portraits, will be the subject of two exhibitions: a 40-year retrospective at Heights Arts in Cleveland Heights and a smaller, more conceptual one at the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve Gallery in Cleveland.

The Heights Arts exhibition, Ascherman’s first retrospective, consists of 64 black-and-white analog prints and one color photograph, taken “with a myriad of cameras.” The Cleveland display is 25 diptychs capturing Cleveland police and fire department personnel in their public and private modes.

“I went through 120,000 black-and-white negatives to pick the 200 that we edited down to 65,” Ascherman said of the Heights Arts show. “I went through every negative with a magnifying glass, frame by frame; the majority of these images have never been seen before.”

Ascherman took the color photo of his wife, Colleen Sweeney, in 2000 on Achill Island off the coast of Ireland.

“It’s this gorgeous, 19th-century image of this beautiful redheaded woman in a black cape set against the brown heath, the wild heath of Ireland,” he said. “My shoulder is backed up against the cemetery wall, where her great-great-grand mother is buried.”

One could call this third-generation Shaker resident and fourth-generation Clevelander a man out of time; many Ascherman photos, particularly ones taken in France, resonate backward, speaking to a more leisurely, more elegant era. Even some American ones, like his black-and-white print of a woman leaning against a piano in Bratenahl, evoke such painters as John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler. Like those American masters, Ascherman composes as much as he captures.

Sgt. Anna Mercado, back row center, D.A.R.E. officer, Cleveland Police Department, in one of the photographer’s images on display. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

Sgt. Anna Mercado, back row center, D.A.R.E. officer, Cleveland Police Department, in one of the photographer’s images on display. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

“My style is 19th-century Romantic,” Ascherman said, noting he takes his cues from the early French daguerrian photographers and, in the 20th century, Yousuf Karsh of Ottawa, Canada and Arnold Newman of New York City.

Ascherman called Karsh a “romantic and heroic portrait photographer,” while Newman “created environmental portrait photography in the 1940s.”

The director of the Bibliotheque Nationale, France’s version of the Library of Congress, told Ascherman he has “American eyes and a French heart.”

The Artists Archives exhibit is more contemporary and thematic. Working with the Silver & Gold, the fundraising arm of the Fraternal Order of Police, Ascherman has taken 25 pairs of 8-by-10 photos with his Deardorff view camera, yielding silver gelatin prints. They show the same figure “publicly as we see them and privately as they are,” Ascherman said.

Photography continues to liberate him.

“I characterize myself as eternally curious. I go out for a walk, I take a camera, I see what I can see. And that’s all it is. It’s just walking and breathing.”

Pictures appear “in front of you and then you take them,” he said. “It’s a very Zen kind of thing. There are also very specific projects that I have done over the years; for example, I spent three summers in North Dakota and Montana photographing American Indians; I took over 750 black-and-white photographs with that 8-by-10 camera.” A show of some 45 handmade platinum prints from this is planned for the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 2018.

“I’ve had cameras since I was a kid,” he said. “I went to work for my father, he owned a lumber business, and it occurred to me I needed a job I couldn’t get fired from. So I picked up a camera and with very little practical experience went to work.

“My entire life has been spent behind a camera,” Ascherman added. “It’s been a life of discovery and delight. I get paid to take pictures. How much better does it get?”

Ascherman has notched 1,735 weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and “doggie birthday parties,” along with 9,000 black-and-white portraits; he works internationally, and he turned over 6,000 black-and-white portrait files he’d accumulated over 35 years to the Western Reserve Historical Society.

“I hope to share my vision with others who will enjoy what I enjoy,” Ascherman said. “I hope that my work uplifts the human condition. In my final discussion with my father, who wanted me to be in his business, he said put away the cameras and concentrate on business. He said, ‘I put food on 350 plates a day.’ And I looked at him without missing a beat and said, ‘I can put a smile on 350,000 people a day. Who makes the better contribution?’” CV

On view

WHAT: “Herbert Ascherman Jr.: 40 Years”

WHEN: Sept. 2 to Oct. 15

WHERE: Heights Arts, 2175 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights

INFO: Opening reception 6-9 p.m. Sept. 2. Gallery talk Sept. 29. Call 216-371-3457 or visit

On view

WHAT: “First Responders: As We See Them, As They Are”

WHEN: Sept. 15 to Nov. 5

WHERE: Artists Archives of the Western Reserve Gallery, 1834 E. 123rd St. in Cleveland

INFO: Opening reception 5:30-8 p.m. Sept. 15. Call 216-721-9020 or visit

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Aug. 18, 2016.

Lead image: Herbert Ascherman Jr. loves Cleveland, “selling” the city wherever he travels. Fans of the peripatetic photographer will have two major opportunities in September to savor the images he’s created over the past four decades. PHOTO | Herbert Ascherman Jr.

This wool and cotton carpet from the second half of the 1500s ushers the visitor into “Art and Stories from Mughal India,” a new exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. PHOTO | Michael C. Butz

Cleveland Museum of Art’s Mughal India exhibit tells the tale of a vibrant empire

By Carlo Wolff

It’s easy to get lost in “Art and Stories from Mughal India,” the new exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art. You may find yourself pulled into a small, gold-saturated painting of a warrior slaying wild boars, one of 100 on view at this sumptuous centennial offering. You might find yourself lost in the detail of the giant carpet unrolled at the entrance to the exhibit.

The painting, “Bijan killing the wild boars of Irman,” dates to around 1610, at the start of the Mughal empire in India. It attests to the exquisite control of court artists the Mughals assembled, employing the best Persians, Afghans and Indians of the time to tell illustrated stories of their conquests and romances.

According to Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, the museum’s George P. Bickford curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art, the Mughals were central Asian Muslims who were assimilators, able to move across cultures to integrate India in an empire that lasted 332 years. They were liberalizers and assimilators, she suggested in an interview at the museum July 29.

The exhibit consists of 95 paintings from the collection of Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim, which the museum acquired in 2013, along with 39 three-dimensional objects. These span that remarkable carpet, a highly tooled musket, a wine cup shaped like a gourd, a luxurious robe Mughal embroiderers wove for sale to French aristocrats, an architectural panel of beautifully inlaid marble from a Mughal building (the Taj Mahal in Agra in central India, one of the seven wonders of the world, is Mughal), and a ring of gold and chased stone.

Back to that painting of the warrior and the boars. The intricate image is surrounded by script. It’s figurative and highly detailed, its angularity underlining the tension of the event. Beautifully composed, it has the immediacy of a photograph. It shows Bijan as he attempts to spear a boar even as his steed rears up. It pins down action in a frieze-like manner, transmitting turbulence you feel today.

Getting lost in this exotic display at CMA (there are, of course, audio aids, even an app) is something to do again and again. CV

On view

WHAT: ‘Art and Stories from Mughal India’

WHEN: Through Oct. 23

WHERE: Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., Cleveland

INFO: Free. Call 216-421-7450 and/or visit


Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Aug. 1, 2016.

Lead image: This wool and cotton carpet from the second half of the 1500s ushers the visitor into “Art and Stories from Mughal India,” a new exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. PHOTO | Michael C. Butz

A scene from “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” which will screen Aug. 24 at the Peter B. Lewis Theatre at the Cleveland Institute of Art to celebrate the Cleveland Jewish FilmFest’s 10th anniversary. PHOTO | Menemsha Films

Mandel JCC’s Cleveland Jewish FilmFest ready to celebrate 10th anniversary

By Carlo Wolff

Tickets went on sale Aug. 8 for the 10th annual Mandel JCC Cleveland Jewish FilmFest, showcasing 29 films from nine countries at five venues from Sept. 8-18.

To celebrate this milestone, the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood will screen “In Search of Israeli Cuisine” at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Peter B. Lewis Theatre at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11610 Euclid Ave.

Director Roger Sherman’s documentary spotlights a cuisine drawn from more than 100 cultures that make up today’s Israel. Israeli food and wine prepared by Ran Saggi of Kantina, a kosher restaurant inside the Albert and Norma Geller Hillel Student Center at Case Western Reserve University, will be available at the post-screening party. Tickets to this event are $65 to $80. The film also will show at 10 a.m. Sept. 11 at the Cedar Lee Theater, 2163 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights.

Opening night of the festival will feature “Fever at Dawn,” a film about a love affair between Hungarian Holocaust survivors recuperating in Sweden in 1945. It shows at 7 p.m. Sept. 8 at Shaker Square Cinemas, 13116 Shaker Square in Cleveland. Tickets to the film and a dessert reception cost $18.

Closing night spotlights “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” the writing and directorial debut of actress Natalie Portman. It’s an adaptation of a memoir of the time Amos Oz spent with his mother Fania (Portman) at the end of the British Mandate for Israel and during the early years of the state of Israel. It shows at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

Other than the Aug. 24 and Sept. 8 dates, tickets to FilmFest screenings cost $11 for evening films and $9 for matinees. Tickets are available through and, save for Saturdays, at the membership desk of the Mandel JCC, 26001 S. Woodland Road in Beachwood.

For FilmFest passes, contact Jan Rutsky at 216-831-0700, ext. 1348. CV

On screen

WHAT: 10th annual Mandel JCC Cleveland Jewish FilmFest

WHEN: Sept. 8-18

WHERE: Cedar Lee Theatre; Peter B. Lewis Theater at the Cleveland Institute of Art; Mandel Jewish Community Center; Parma Library Snow Branch; Shaker Square Cinemas

TICKETS & INFO: $65-$80 for special event Aug. 24; $18 for opening night/reception, $11 evening films, $9 matinees. Call 216-831-0700, ext. 0 or email To buy passes, email

TICKET GIVEAWAY: Enter to win one of five pairs of tickets to the Mandel JCC Cleveland Jewish FilmFest at by Aug. 17. The names of winners will be announced Aug. 19.

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Aug. 4, 2016.

Lead image: A scene from “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” which will screen Aug. 24 at the Peter B. Lewis Theatre at the Cleveland Institute of Art to celebrate the Cleveland Jewish FilmFest’s 10th anniversary. PHOTO | Menemsha Films

The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland in the city’s University Circle neighborhood. PHOTO | FRONT International

FRONT International aims to shine spotlight on Cleveland with forward-thinking modern art event in 2018

By Carlo Wolff

The Cleveland Museum of Art in the city’s University Circle neighborhood. PHOTO | FRONT International / David Brichford

The Cleveland Museum of Art in the city’s University Circle neighborhood. PHOTO | FRONT International / David Brichford

If philanthropist and arts advocate Frederick E. Bidwell has his way, Cleveland will no longer be flyover country when it comes to contemporary art.

Bidwell, along with co-artistic directors Michelle Grabner and Jens Hoffmann, spearheads FRONT International: Cleveland Exhibition for Contemporary Art, a citywide contemporary art program launching year after next and recurring every three years.

The debut of FRONT, “An American City,” is set for July 7 to Sept. 30, 2018. It aims to feature more than 50 international artists, public programs, “artistic interventions” throughout the city, historical presentations, and according to the news release announcing it, “a dynamic system of dialoguing components.”

“A number of things are coming together that makes this a perfect time,” said Bidwell, FRONT’s CEO and executive director. “One is a sort of amazing spirit of collaboration and willingness to work together that I don’t think always existed in Cleveland. I think the second thing is all of the infrastructure and amenity improvements that have come together around preparations for the Republican National Convention; now we have this full suite of hotels and restaurants and infrastructure” making Cleveland “fully prepared to stage a world-class event.”

Bidwell said Cleveland’s history — of industrial prowess and decline, of recent reinvention — makes for a “concentrated and dramatic story. … This is a great time to bring people here and what they’ll see is, yes, evidence of significant economic change; they’ll see income disparity, sure, but they’ll also see a vibrant community built on a proud tradition that’s very much alive.”

In addition, there’s “a real demand for something new and different. In the United States, the art world is really kind of dominated by these very big, very successful commercial arts fairs,” such as Art Basel, Art Miami and the Armory Show in Chicago. FRONT will be based on European models: free, linked by ideas and “about creativity, not about trends.”

The project, designed to elevate Cleveland to the level of such major arts centers as New York, Berlin and Los Angeles, is expected to cost $4 million to $5 million, with support from the Cleveland Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, various founding patrons and donors.

Bidwell, Grabner and Hoffmann suggest they plan to make the city an artwork in itself. All say they couldn’t do it without the collaboration and commitment of presenting partners spanning the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, the Cleveland Museum of Art, SPACES, Cleveland and the Akron Art Museum.

(Multi-institutional collaboration made its local debut in 2015 with “Violins of Hope,” a months-long project culminating in the debut of the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center on the campus of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.)

The Transformer Station in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. PHOTO | FRONT International.

The Transformer Station in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. PHOTO | FRONT International.

Last year, Bidwell — who with his wife, Laura, established the Transformer Station, a contemporary art gallery in Ohio City’s Hingetown district, in 2013 — tapped Grabner and Hoffmann for their local bonds and their international savvy. Grabner is a Milwaukee resident and conceptual artist who exhibited at MOCA Cleveland in 2013, and Hoffmann until recently was deputy director of exhibitions and public programs at the Jewish Museum in New York.

In a telephone interview from Milwaukee, Grabner said she is intrigued by the notion of creating “internationally significant art in what would be kind of an off-center metropolis.” She recently co-curated the Whitney Biennial in New York and was involved in the Portland Biennial in Oregon. She said she looks forward to “pulling in different artists, different kinds of work that will engage in this project about the American city.”

To Grabner, FRONT signifies “the forefront of innovation,” and there are a lot of interesting possibilities “in how one thinks of it as a delineation or philosophy.”

Hoffmann, who continues to work on exhibitions and public programs for the Jewish Museum, also has been senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit since 2012. He’s interested in “rethinking large-scale exhibitions,” adding “Fred was very, very open to reconsidering established forms and perhaps opening up to more unusual, new ideas, taking these experiences that both Michelle and I have into consideration to develop a completely unique program.”

Hoffmann said he told Bidwell at least a year and a half was needed “to really prepare this properly, to make it work,” and Bidwell agreed, “a really good decision.” CV

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Aug. 10, 2016.

Lead image: The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland in the city’s University Circle neighborhood. PHOTO | FRONT International

The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland’s eye-catching, Farshid Moussavi-designed building has become a city icon. PHOTO | Michael C. Butz

MOCA Cleveland celebrates fiscal health and an iconic image as executive director Snyder says its moved ‘from the margin to the center’

By Carlo Wolff

Jill Snyder, executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, enjoys the sun on Toby’s Plaza outside of the museum in Uptown. PHOTO | Carlo Wolff

Jill Snyder, executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, enjoys the sun on Toby’s Plaza outside of the museum in Uptown.
PHOTO | Carlo Wolff

Jill Snyder is happy that the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland has completed a $36 million funding campaign. She’s also pleased that the darkly gleaming building that anchors Uptown in University Circle is becoming a Cleveland icon.

Above all, Snyder, MOCA’s executive director, suggested in a recent interview outside the museum at Euclid Avenue and Mayfield Road, she’s proud that it has, so to speak, arrived. It’s been 10 years in the making.

As an independent, noncollecting institution, MOCA joins peers such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Like those, MOCA, which was designed by Farshid Moussavi, is in a mid-sized city and has an operating budget of about $3 million (nearly double what it was before it moved from its old location on Carnegie Avenue in 2012).

In addition to similar budgets and urban contexts, these museums collaborate: “Myopia,” the Mark Mothersbaugh exhibit running through late August at MOCA and the Akron Art Museum, originated at MOCA Denver and traveled to the Cincinnati museum.

“What we’re saying is that we are a high performer within our peer group and we’re establishing what our peer group is in a more defined way,” Snyder said. “We have budgets that are comparable in the $3 million range. We’re in midsize cities, not the major metropolitan areas, and each of us has within the past decade or so built a new museum with a design architect.

“So it’s very instrumental for our board and for leadership to look at peer examples to establish new norms and shape our vision moving forward,” she said.

Construction of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland’s current home, shown here nearing completion in 2012, has contributed to the museum’s success in recent years. PHOTO | Michael C. Butz

Construction of the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland’s current home, shown here nearing completion in 2012, has contributed to the museum’s success in recent years.
PHOTO | Michael C. Butz

At the same time, Snyder said MOCA also has raised its local profile dramatically, moving “from the margin to the center,” stepping up engagement with the Cleveland Museum of Art as CMA “is becoming more attentive to contemporary art,” tripling attendance and expanding its community outreach. “Our exhibitions are receiving more critical attention, and from our surveys, visitor satisfaction is consistently extremely high,” she said.

And the museum now is on firm footing. After two years of planned deficit, 2015 showed a surplus “and this year we’ll be in the black,” she said. “Like any business, we have investors and we feel very responsible to the public trust that’s been invested in us. And we’re very proud that we’ve delivered on our promise while at the same time we have so many goals yet to achieve.”

In addition to fiscal stability, the museum staff has solidified, too. In May, it hired Andria Hickey as senior curator and A. Will Brown as assistant curator.

“We’re very excited by the new curatorial team we’ve just hired, and together we aspire to elevate our global position and deepen our public value,” Snyder said. CV

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on June 24, 2016.

Lead image: The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland’s eye-catching, Farshid Moussavi-designed building has become a city icon. PHOTO | Michael C. Butz

Franklin Cohen, ChamberFest Cleveland co-founder. PHOTO | ChamberFest Cleveland

Jewish themes key to ChamberFest Cleveland concerts at Maltz Performing Arts Center

By Carlo Wolff

Franklin Cohen may be retired, but he’s anything but inactive. After the fifth season of ChamberFest Cleveland concludes next month, the Cleveland Heights resident is off to China to perform and teach clarinet, the wind instrument he reveled in as first clarinetist of The Cleveland Orchestra for 39 years.

In 2015, Cohen left the orchestra to pursue more personal interests like connecting and making music with old friends and develop a mouthpiece business. The principal clarinetist emeritus has done the former, but the latter is still in the embryonic stage.

“I have sold some to friends,” he said in a recent interview, but he hasn’t commercialized the mouthpieces. At the same time, Cohen still teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music, “and, the day after ChamberFest (ends), I’m going to Beijing to perform and to teach. I am busy.”

On June 15, Cohen, along with his daughter Diana Cohen, will launch the new season of ChamberFest Cleveland, the summer music festival they co-founded. After an opening night party at Crop Kitchen, a restaurant in University Circle, ChamberFest Cleveland V formally launches at 8 p.m. June 16 at Mixon Hall at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Cohen is thrilled that a June 18 concert will take place at the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel on the western campus of Case Western Reserve University. The festival concludes July 2 with a second performance in that hallowed venue, which debuted last fall with a stirring “Violins of Hope” concert.

“We figured that in our fifth anniversary season, having just witnessed the renaissance of that synagogue, especially as an art center, that this was the perfect opportunity to perform at our ChamberFest — especially this concert that is so focused on the Old Testament, with ‘Isaac the Blind,’” Cohen said.

The full title of Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov’s 1994 work is “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” Scored for klezmer, clarinet and string quartet, it explores Old Testament themes in a presentation also featuring works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Benjamin Britten — and Cohen, along with accordionist Merima Klujco.

Cohen and Klujco’s “Miriam the Prophetess” is a meditative piece Cohen commissioned Klujco to write. Late last October, she performed her haunting “Sarajevo Hagaddah: Music of the Book,” at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gartner Auditorium.

This iteration of ChamberFest Cleveland ends July 2 at the Maltz Performing Arts Center on the CWRU campus with works by Antonin Dvorak, J.S. Bach, Eric Ewazen — and the highlight, Igor Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat,” or “A Soldier’s Tale.”

“We were figuring that in this, the inaugural year of that center, why not play there and showcase this beautiful center to Cleveland audiences,” said Cohen, a member of Cleveland’s Jewish community for more than 40 years. “I’ve known Milt and Tamar Maltz now for quite a few years, and they’re very significant supporters of our mission and our festival.” CV

On stage

WHAT: Fifth season of ChamberFest Cleveland

WHEN: June 15 to July 2

WHERE: Various Greater Cleveland venues

TICKETS & INFO: Call 216-471-8887 or visit

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on June 10, 2016.

Lead image: Franklin Cohen, ChamberFest Cleveland co-founder. PHOTO | ChamberFest Cleveland

Square-dancing Roli Polis take the floor at the Akron Art Museum. PHOTO | Michael C. Butz

Mothersbaugh collaboration a work of art for MOCA Cleveland and the Akron Art Museum

By Carlo Wolff

An unprecedented collaboration between the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and the Akron Art Museum spotlights the protean Mark Mothersbaugh, an Akron boy who transcended the poor eyesight he was born with to become a polymath whose artwork spans rock ’n’ roll, rubber stamps, postcards, Victorian lockets bearing warped images, carpeting, video, soundtracks for film, jingles, sculpture and painting.

The Mothersbaugh exhibits, “Myopia,” run through Aug. 28 at both museums. The focus in Cleveland is music. In Akron, it’s graphics. Visit both museums for the whole picture. To get the idea, put the covers of the magazines each institution is handing out side-by-side to turn the halves of a Mothersbaugh drawing into one.

Opening parties in Cleveland May 27 and Akron May 28 preceded the forming of long lines of people eager to look inside Mothersbaugh’s buzzing mind.

The Cleveland party featured instrumental, “classical” Mothersbaugh compositions and a performance by Mothersbaugh. The following afternoon, he and Adam Lerner, who curated these displays, gave a talk at a Summit County Public Library branch. Lerner’s title is director and chief animator, department of fabrications, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, where the Mothersbaugh exhibition originated.

Mothersbaugh’s work packs humor, wit, irony, and often, a sense of despair. It can be both deliriously sensual and bilious, as “Ruby Kusturd,” a giant ruby atop a bronze base on exhibit in Cleveland, suggests. Even as it messes with your mind, it attests to an obsessiveness Mothersbaugh converts to astonishing creativity.

While he may be best known as the founder of the art-punk rock band Devo, Mothersbaugh also is an acclaimed visual artist who commandeers all kinds of media to present a weirdly familiar, weirdly disturbing view of a world pitting promise against peril, the synthetic against the authentic, technology against the organic.

Enter the Mueller Family Gallery at the top of MOCA Cleveland and you’ll see a visual palindrome: a foreshortened silver Scion xB with blackout windows, door handles on doors that can’t be opened, and two “tails.” Naturally, the license plate is “mutatum.”

Go to the Akron Art Museum and you’ll encounter two rooms with figures at rest on artificial grass. One features sinister/funny round-bottomed Roli Polis, painted differently, in apparent conversation and preparing to square dance. Another features what look like molars: three painted fiberglass sculptures that on closer inspection resemble the butts of horses.

Like the shows themselves, the Scion and the “molars” speak to Mothersbaugh’s unity of vision, the notion of duality — and to pause and purposelessness. The Scion isn’t going anywhere, and the molars, as molars should be, seem deeply rooted. CV

On view

WHAT: “Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia”

WHERE: Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 11400 Euclid Ave., Cleveland; Akron Art Museum, 1 S. High St., Akron.

WHEN: Through Aug. 28

TICKETS & INFO: MOCA Cleveland, 216-421-8671 or; Akron Art Museum, 330-376-9185 or

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on May 30, 2016.

John W. Carlson holds his palette self-portrait standing inside his ArtCraft Building studio.

John W. Carlson’s art unveils a uniquely gestural and gripping world

Story by Carlo Wolff
Photography by Michael C. Butz

Carlson’s workspace, including some of his monoprints hanging on the wall.

Carlson’s workspace, including some of his monoprints hanging on the wall.

The walls of John W. Carlson’s studio in the ArtCraft Building in Cleveland pulse with life. There are pictures of folks Carlson has extracted from the media. Some canvases depict people he knows, his vigorous artistry transforming them into images more emblematic than realistic. There are haunting blacks-and-whites; there’s color, too, as Carlson emerges into happiness.

There’s a painting in progress in his central work area, its background orange, its foreground four women; one, skirted where the others wear pants, stands off to the side. It evokes a shattered Greek chorus. It strikes memorable, sadly provocative poses. It’s both recessive and in your face; that’s Carlson’s dynamic.

“I think of it as the definition of haiku, which is sudden awareness of beauty by the meeting of opposite or incongruous terms,” he says of his art. “It’s achieved through gesture,” he adds, sculpting the air with his hands.

“I’m all about the gesture, and I think within the gesture there’s an emotional component. One viewer might look at it as a dangerous gesture and take the emotional content with that, whereas another person might see it as a more benign gesture and respond to it with a different emotion.”

Carlson talks of “striking a match,” of “breaking a space” in his head. He aims to interrupt the viewer’s flow, demanding a new kind of engagement. Perhaps that’s why his paintings, dominated by the human shape, pop so strongly despite a purposeful lack of definition. They have the immediacy of a news bulletin, leaving interpretation up to the viewer.

“I don’t want them to walk away in the standard three seconds; I’d like them to be able to experience an emotion they may never have,” he says.

Carlson throttles the viewer through recontextualization, plundering what he sees on the street and what he screens and reads for images to embed in his paintings. It’s up to the viewer to answer the questions of identity and emotion that he raises.

He points to a painting called “In the Afternoon.” The man looks as if he has fallen off a bed or been abandoned on the street. His head has no facial features, a regular in Carlson’s work. Is he resting or dead? The somber, black-and-white painting suggests that “ambiguity” could be Carlson’s middle name.

“One of my collectors referred to one of my works as ‘beautifully disturbing,’ and that’s a loaded comment. I loved it,” Carlson says.

“To be disturbed doesn’t have to be, ‘Oh, I saw a baby on the railroad tracks.’ It doesn’t have to be this bad thing,” he continues. “A lot of words take on connotations more heavily toward one side than the other; like my poet friend said, ‘If I had to say the one word that encapsulates your work, I’d say tension.’ Ugliness can be beautiful, and tension isn’t always Excedrin headache No. 52. Tension keeps the viewer engaged.”

Garbage and guitars

“In the Afternoon,” 30x40 inches, oil and charcoal on canvas; image courtesy of the artist.

“In the Afternoon,” 30×40 inches, oil and charcoal on canvas; image courtesy of the artist.

The second oldest of five brothers, Carlson is the son of a former millwright at General Motors and a stay-at-home mother. His parents always encouraged his artistic ambitions, and small books about classical painters that a priest brought to the Carlson home in Ashtabula kindled young Carlson’s artistic flame.

“There was one on El Greco, one on Fra Angelico, Raphael,” he recalls. “I just pored over those books, visually memorized the paintings in them. They just had a huge (impact), like the striking of the match of me really wanting to make things like that. I don’t know how else to explain the significance, the joy I got from those books.”

Carlson, who cites influences such as Egon Schiele and Franz Kline, began his artistic career by studying a book on how to draw horses, creating work that drew on equestrian art by the French masters Edgar Degas and Theodore Gericault.

Carlson inhaled art daily in Catholic schools in Ashtabula, and then spent a year and a half studying at the long-defunct Cooper School of Art in Cleveland.

Meanwhile, as he pursued his gritty, figurative muse, he worked at jobs that allowed him to provide for his family.

“The lion’s share of my working career was working for the city of Ashtabula, first off as a garbage man, a job I thoroughly enjoyed,” he says. “I loved knowing where every street in the city was, I loved knowing that Mrs. Smith would always put a couple of bottles of beer next to the can for us.”

The camaraderie was great; so was coming across the occasional treasure, like old 78-rpm records. But in the mid-’80s, tired of having to bend over every five or six yards, Carlson went to work in the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Life was tricky for a man balancing domestic responsibilities with boundless creative drive. Turns out painting isn’t Carlson’s only artistic talent. He’s a rock ’n’ roller.

Between 1976 and 1987, Carlson, who looks like he stepped off a new wave album cover, played guitar in bands such as Wildlife, The F-100s, Bridgestreet and the Execs; the last even recorded an EP at Kirk Yano’s After Hours Studios.

Carlson did no painting during that span, though he designed some band posters. He still picks up the guitar every day. But he never made the leap to a musical career because that “would have required me to quit my job,” he says.

“I knew in my heart of hearts if you really want to be like the bands you want to emulate, you have to go on the road and put all your energies into it. You don’t do that with a 9-to-5 job.”

Or while you’re raising a family, including two boys from the second of his three marriages. One, Ryan, lost his life to drugs five years ago. Ryan was 26. “My Grief,” a powerful oil-and-charcoal self-portrait he produced two years ago that now rests atop a bookcase in his studio, attests to the depth of Carlson’s sadness.

Art had to wait until it was all he had – and wanted – to do.

That time came in 2005, when having earned enough to retire early, Carlson embarked on his second, profoundly artistic career.

Contemporary Carlson

“Little One,” 36x28 inches, oil and charcoal on canvas; image courtesy of the artist.

“Little One,” 36×28 inches, oil and charcoal on canvas; image courtesy of the artist.

Today, the 61-year-old Carlson lives in Lakewood, and one of his works – a charcoal drawing entitled “Viewpoint” – lives at the Erie Art Museum as part of its permanent collection.

Several works are at home in his studio. “Car,” an oil painting of a round-shouldered 1940s automobile, looks like it’s about to be consumed by fire. “Rescue” depicts a girl, hair wild and expression despairing, pushing through a kind of yellow storm. With full frontal foreground and suggestive background, Carlson’s paintings, which sell for $250 to $4,500, grip. That’s his intent.

Works in progress are at the heart of his studio space. There’s also a kind of anteroom with a sofa where this jazz lover with the rock ’n’ roll hair can groove to Yusef Lateef, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus.

Carlson reserves the long, narrow part of his Cleveland workplace for scores of paintings he’s made in the past decade-plus, slotted into bins against the wall. They speak to his prolificacy, work ethic and a love of art.

“John was the first nonphotographic/fine art artist who has exhibited at the Print Room,” says Shari Wilkins, owner of the Cleveland Print Room, a workshop and exhibition space dedicated to analog photography that neighbors Carlson’s studio in the ArtCraft Building. “I liked John’s work from the start because of its ability to evoke emotion along with an expression of cinematic quality that I appreciate.”

Carlson’s work, interwoven with Wilkins’ vernacular photography (or “found photography”) was displayed in the Print Room’s “Destruction of Form” show in July 2015. Those works also were on view earlier this year at BAYarts in Bay Village, at which Carlson teaches art courses.

Carlson also teaches at Valley Art Center, and recently opened the doors to his studio for a public tour, suggesting he’s as welcoming to artistic newcomers as fellow artists in Cleveland were to him when he emigrated from Ashtabula.

“I felt welcomed when I first arrived here 10 years ago. I mean, warmly welcomed,” he says. “It was time to be a little fish in a big pond. I was a big deal in Ashtabula, as far as that goes. They picked one of my pieces to be the cover of the Ashtabula County Visitors’ Guide.”

Now, Carlson eyes an even bigger pond: New York City.

In late March, one of his drawings, “Struggle,” was on view at Trygve Lie Gallery in NYC. It was part of the 2016 #TwitterArtExhibit, a show involving various artists and mixed media that showcases postcard art and benefits Foster Pride’s “Handmade” Program, which supports the creativity of young women in foster care.

Carlson uses such Big Apple opportunities to network. He considers a full-on New York showing of his work – as yet unrealized – the ultimate goal.

“That’s the holy grail.” CV

On view

“Point of View,” featuring new works by John W. Carlson, Sarah Curry, Brian Mouhlas and Douglas Max Utter, will be on view from July 15 through Sept. 16 at HEDGE Gallery, which represents Carlson, at 78th Street Studios in Cleveland. A solo Carlson show is scheduled for May 2017 at the Massillon Museum of Art.

 Lead image: John W. Carlson holds his palette self-portrait standing inside his ArtCraft Building studio.

Jenniffer Omaitz discusses her marbling – a creative endeavor she undertakes in her spare time – while in her studio in Kent.

Intuition and a ground-up process inform the art of Jenniffer Omaitz

Story by Carlo Wolff
Photography by Michael C. Butz

“Currents,” 2016, mixed media installation. Courtesy of the artist.

“Currents,” 2016, mixed media installation. Courtesy of the artist.

For the decisively hands-on Jenniffer Omaitz, process is important, whether it involves building startling, three-dimensional work or mixing her own pigments for paintings.

The rubble from this artist’s installations, at floor level of the studio space at her home in Kent, cohabits with her paintings – all planes, perspectives and texture – on the walls, showing her progression over the past 15 years.

“I think one informs the other,” the soft-spoken Omaitz says of her different kinds of expression. “I find that doing both allows me to feel a little more full as an artist.”

Omaitz assembles her constructions from the ground up, knows how to get the discount at local hardware stores for supplies, and customizes the blends for her acrylics and oils.

Procedure and result matter equally to her. If that seems contradictory, attribute it to the ambiguity this nonobjective, abstract artist so profoundly leverages. Alchemy fascinates her, too. So do transformation and evolution, both in her art and in herself.

Artistic process

“Building Something Out of Nothing,” 2015, acrylic on canvas, 30x36 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

“Building Something Out of Nothing,” 2015, acrylic on canvas, 30×36 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Omaitz’s art is muscular, explosive. It’s also as palpable as the workspaces in the home she shares with her husband, Steve Collier, and their dogs Juneau, an Alaskan Malamute, and Yukio, an Akita.

Take “Currents,” an installation recently displayed at “Hypothetical Constructs & Translucent Boundaries,” a show she shared with Cleveland Heights artist Andy Curlowe at the Klemm Gallery at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Mich.

The site-specific installation, a mash-up of mesh, industrial labeling, tape, cut-up paper and what appear to be blocks of silver packaging material, is abstract, for sure; it also hints at a kind of urban topography, conjuring the mess and promise of city life.

“The House That Art Built,” another installation there, resembles a house, complete with stories (the physical and the mental kind), roof and doors. It’s also a house of crazy angles, unstable yet inviting, a house after a tornado. There’s sharp humor at work here.

Curlowe loved watching Omaitz assemble her installations.

“During our install, I was able to witness Jen’s unique and intuitive installation build process,” he writes in an email. “It was transformative to see from start to finish her installation evolution, from unloading her car – packed to the brim with found and made material – to seeing her paint, tack, glue and weave all of these elements into the wall installations for our exhibition.

“It was positively fantastic to see her completed installations, but as a fellow artist, truly compelling to see how she did it.”

During a wall tour of her home, the thoughtful, deliberate Omaitz points to “Building Something out of Nothing,” a work of stripes, daubs and translucencies, its planes in combative dance. Its title vamps on “Building Nothing Out of Something,” the name of a 2000 anthology by indie rockers Modest Mouse.

Noting the painting is not too “plasticky,” Omaitz says, “it’s very gestural, it’s very expressive, it’s very free. I put on some music and kind of let myself go; intuition plays a big part in the initiation of the painting.

“If I want to do something in one piece, I can force it or let it happen,” she says, calling her process organic. “I’ve come to the realization that I need to let it happen for it to be authentic. … It has to have that, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen that before in my work’ moment.”

Creative beginnings

“Looking Past the Frame,” 2015, acrylic on canvas, 22x30 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

“Looking Past the Frame,” 2015, acrylic on canvas, 22×30 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

As the child of a single mother (both her parents are deceased), Omaitz grew up with beauty – literally. Her mother owned and ran a beauty shop in Mayfield Heights for 21 years, including the ones Omaitz spent at Brush High School in Lyndhurst, where she regularly won awards for her art.

“My mom urged me to follow my dreams and stay creative – and really nurtured that; I think that’s partially how I gravitated toward that skill,” she says.

“I grew up watching women and men come in and be transformed in the span of 20, 30 minutes,” she adds. “I think watching this transformation from this idea of beauty to this other idea of beauty right in front of me all the time was really … it had an impact on me.”

Omaitz also wanted to stand out; couldn’t help it, seeing as her mother, Ginnette, stamped her only child with a name with two sets of consonants. As a little girl, Omaitz was always looking for a souvenir labeled “Jenniffer,” with two F’s. She finally found one, a pencil. She’s sure the “Jenniffer” in the wood was a typo.

What wasn’t a typo but her choice was changing her last name. “I changed the S to a Z. You don’t get famous unless you have a Z,” she quips.

Why visual arts rather than, say, theater?

“It’s just easy for me to have a pencil in my hand and a piece of paper in front of me. That was just something my mom always kind of gave me (at the salon) and I would just sit there and start to sketch all these women who were sitting in their chairs or occasionally a man sitting in a chair. … Oftentimes I wasn’t as skilled when I was younger and people would say, ‘Oh, Jenniffer, you’re doing a horrible job, I don’t want to see it.’ But later on, people would say, ‘Please draw my portrait, please, please draw my portrait.’ I still do it to this day when I teach figurative drawing.”

Those early portrait forays helped refine her creative path.

“I had that conversation very early in my life,” she adds, referencing her comprehension of beauty. Art school – she attended the Cleveland Institute of Art when it was a five-year school, graduating during what’s known as “The Era,” which also featured such graduates as Amy Casey and Robert Goodman – only quickened her gravitation toward an artistic community that continues to nurture her.

A 2002 graduate of CIA with a BFA in painting, Omaitz also studied at the Lacoste School of the Arts in Lacoste, France, in 2000 and earned a Master of Fine Arts in painting at Kent State University in 2009.

Schools of thought

“The House that Art Built,” 2016, mixed media installation. Courtesy of the artist.

“The House that Art Built,” 2016, mixed media installation. Courtesy of the artist.

Education clearly matters to her, too.

The only Ohio artist to participate in, an arts education project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Omaitz thinks “it’s really important to keep the education of the arts alive. I want to teach, I want to be part of that process and I believe in the power and the dynamics of the arts.”

Serving her last month as visiting college lecturer at the University of Akron’s Mary Schiller Myers School of Art, where she was senior lecturer from 2010 to 2015, Omaitz also was on the adjunct faculty at Kent State University and the Cleveland Institute of Art from 2011 to 2015.

“Over several years I had an opportunity to see the work that flowed from her students’ efforts,” Richard Fiorelli, a professor in the Foundation Department at CIA who is retiring this year, says of Omaitz, his former student. “She has a natural ability to bring out the best in her students. The walls were filled with strong work from her students on a consistent basis.

“I have a wonderful memory of Jen requiring/encouraging her drawing students to eat with chopsticks so that they would develop greater dexterity and finger control. I loved the idea. Nudging students outside of their own personal comfort zone. Flap your wings and fly. Such are the moments of a gifted teacher and artist. Chopsticks and drawing dexterity! Very cool.”

Even when she relaxes, Omaitz is on the creative hunt. She does marbling, modern variations on a printmaking process hundreds of years old. She creates mono prints. She investigates book art.

And she participates in several shows a year. Last year, there were two major ones. One was “Shifting Spaces,” at a gallery in Denver, where she lived in 2006. The other was “Folding Gesture,” at Robert Maschke’s 1point618 Gallery in the Gordon Square Arts District of Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, where she regularly shows. Her paintings cost between $400 and $7,000, depending on size.

“I don’t know if you can make a living out of art here,” Omaitz says of Northeast Ohio. “But you can live as an artist. It depends on the kind of art you make.”

Count on Omaitz to make art edgy. CV

Lead image: Jenniffer Omaitz discusses her marbling – a creative endeavor she undertakes in her spare time – while in her studio in Kent.


“Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia,” 30,000 postcards, installation view. Photo: Trevor Brown. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

Northeast Ohio native and former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh’s homecoming marked by his multidimensional ‘Myopia,’ on view at both MOCA Cleveland and the Akron Art Museum

By Carlo Wolff

24 Nov 2014: Mark Mothersbaugh's Myopia exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, CO. ©Trevor Brown, Jr./Trevor Brown Photography

24 Nov 2014: Mark Mothersbaugh’s Myopia exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, CO. ©Trevor Brown, Jr./Trevor Brown Photography

Mark Mothersbaugh and his friend, Jerry Casale, talked music and tried to make sense of a broken world after the Ohio National Guard fatally shot four of their fellow Kent State University students on May 4, 1970.

The killings unnerved Mothersbaugh, an Akron native who’d done his fair share of Vietnam War protest. Both he and Ravenna man Casale were visual art students at Kent State, and both were interested in pop culture. Their most famous product, which the two helped form in the early 1970s, was the rock group Devo.

“I still have nightmares and daydreams about Akron,” Mothersbaugh says, evoking the early Northeast Ohio underground rock scene. “But Cleveland also represents our first foray into the world, getting in a car with some amps in the back seat and driving up to the Flats and going to Pirate’s Cove and going, ‘Omigosh, who’s this band Pere Ubu? Who are these people?’

“These guys are kindred souls,” he recalls thinking. “Finding out there’s somebody called Rocket from the Tombs, the Dead Boys … we were all still under the gravity of Ohio, all of us. And Akron is kind of a Cleveland wannabe (in) the same way Cleveland, when I was a kid, was kind of a Detroit wannabe. Akron always wanted to be as cool as Cleveland.”

“Mark Mothersbaugh,” self portrait. Courtesy of Mutato Muzika.

“Mark Mothersbaugh,” self portrait. Courtesy of Mutato Muzika.

Both Ohio cities are cool for Mothersbaugh these days. His impact on pop culture – by no means exclusively musical – will be on display in “Myopia,” a precedent-setting solo retrospective coming in late May to both the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland and the Akron Art Museum.

Mothersbaugh’s musical heritage will be the focus at MOCA Cleveland. The show will spotlight experimentation, performance and sound, including documentation of Devo’s first performance and Mothersbaugh’s experimentation with manipulated musical instruments.

“Mark Mothersbaugh, Bulbous Politico Gets a Hand,” 2004, woven nylon fibers, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Ron Pollard.

“Mark Mothersbaugh, Bulbous Politico Gets a Hand,” 2004, woven nylon fibers, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Ron Pollard.

Simultaneously, the Akron Art Museum will spotlight his career in the visual arts, including recent sculpture, rugs and a collection of 30,000 postcard-sized drawings.

Seeing both – discounted tickets will be good at both institutions – is highly recommended. Mothersbaugh, who was extremely near-sighted as a child, is a protean artist with a ridiculously multifaceted solo career; the younger generation is more likely to know him for his non-Devo work.

“He is made of creativity,” Megan Lykins Reich, deputy director of programs and engagement at MOCA Cleveland, says of Mothersbaugh. “He can pull everything off,” she adds, noting her conversations with Mothersbaugh start in one place and end up somewhere totally unexpected. “How did I get here? Where am I?” Reich asks herself after a phone engagement with Mothersbaugh. “He’s so creative and so gracious with it.”

“DEVO.” Art Direction: David Allen. Backdrop silkscreen: Phyllis Cohen. Photo: Jules Bates.

“DEVO.” Art Direction: David Allen. Backdrop silkscreen: Phyllis Cohen. Photo: Jules Bates.

“He is a creative genius,” concurs Mark Masuoka, executive director of the Akron Art Museum. “When people get a chance to experience the visual arts portion of the exhibition, they will truly understand how amazing he is, especially as a visual artist.

“He’s touched our lives and we don’t even know it,” Masuoka adds, noting the Akron Art Museum plans to work with Mothersbaugh after “Myopia” ends its local run.

“This is very much a homecoming for me,” Mothersbaugh says of “Myopia” in a freewheeling, hour-long interview from Mutato Muzika, his Hollywood-based music production company. “Whether anybody’s aware of me or of Devo, we’re very much stamped with Ohio, so we are considered emissaries by everybody else even if you guys (Northeast Ohio residents) don’t think so. To come back and do the show here to me has such a nice feeling. It’s like bringing it all back home in a literal sense.”

“Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia,” Roli Polis installation view. Photo: Trevor Brown. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

“Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia,” Roli Polis installation view. Photo: Trevor Brown. Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

“Home” was scary to this peace-loving Ohio boy at Kent State at the dawn of the ’70s. “I just couldn’t for the life of me think of anybody I would shoot with a gun or blow up with a bomb,” he says. “How do you keep making progress in a good way? Who changes things?”

One way is advertising. Another is art.

Around that turbulent time, Burger King ran a commercial using Pachelbel’s “Canon,” a famous baroque organ piece. Mothersbaugh evokes it by singing “hold the pickles,” bemoaning how “they took a beautiful piece of music and turned it into a burger commercial.” He deplored the cultural predation but admired the sophistication.

“The kind of music was important because the way they used music, it was a subversive delivery system,” and not good for you, he says. “Then you saw within minutes they sell you sugar with bubbles for 75 cents or a dollar and you’ve got a can of gook. And they look so happy.” He thought advertising techniques “were really sophisticated and interesting and much more powerful than the very naïve idea of hippies to hold a sign up and think somebody cares.”

So he began to look for the right way to close the gap between spirituality and science and between the synthetic and the authentic. And with Casale and Mothersbaugh’s brothers Jim and Bob, all devotees of 20th century Pop Art, all came together as the musical group Devo. Punk, new wave, experimental, rock – Devo was all of the above. Its heyday was the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, it was an early, prominent presence in the Cleveland-Akron underground music scene, and it scored a big hit in 1980 with “Whip It,” a very catchy, hot piece of synth pop.

“In the 40 years that have transpired since then (the founding of Devo, which he dates to 1974), I’ve remained a gallery and museum exhibiting visual artist,” Mothersbaugh says. “But because of the high visibility of both Devo and working in the entertainment industry, you wouldn’t know that I’ve scored about 140 movies, television shows and video games.”

He has written scores for Rugrats movies and Wes Anderson films; for TV shows from “Hotel Malibu” to “Big Love”; and for video games including “Crash Bandicoot” and “The Sims 2.”

Mothersbaugh’s experience with the corporate record business left a bad taste, so he went on his own as a visual artist, securing art shows all over the world by contacting smaller galleries that advertised in the avant-garde magazine Juxtapoz and pricing his work, like low-edition multiple prints, “so first-time art buyers could say, ‘Hmm, will I buy a keg of beer for my party or buy my first piece of art?’”

His smaller shows “would always be with people who were really in love with art,” he says. “I really thought museums were these big, well-funded creampuff projects for the rich and I discounted them until through Adam Lerner (curator of the original “Myopia,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver), I started seeing the mechanisms by which they work.

“I realized these big museums with beautiful buildings and really nice collections of art are kind of more like an NPR station, constantly hustling to keep going through next year to keep the lights on.

“This project has changed my respect and certainly my level of knowledge about how museums work,” he added, noting that with its Northeast Ohio double play, “Myopia” will have been in four museums now, “and they’re all different but the thing they have in common is the crews,” aspiring artists or simply people who “just love the joy of being that third party to the triangle: The artist, the art work and the audience.”

“I find these people at museums that are incredibly inspiring to me,” he said.

Akron “is a beautiful museum. If you like the show in Cleveland, you should really just go to give it a shot. Maybe we can figure out a way to get us there. Or we could all walk there. I need the exercise.”

“What better way for us to welcome him back, celebrate his art and celebrate him?” says the Akron Art Museum’s Masuoka. “That’s really what the exhibition is about, but also I think it’s a sort of poignant statement about his creativity and that he is an amazing artist.”

The joint show promises to be exceptional, suggests MOCA Cleveland’s Reich. Not only will the displays showcase a protean pop-culture figure, they represent the first time the two institutions have worked together.

“(Mothersbaugh) is the exemplary kind of contemporary artist, working in a hybrid way across many disciplines successfully without hesitation, and able to carry on a consistent aesthetic across these different practices,” says Reich, noting the “Myopia” show in Cleveland will feature a Scion car with two back sides and “sculptural instruments” Mothersbaugh calls Orchestrions. “Everything he does is very ‘Mark’ in this palpable, incredible way.” CV

On view

MOCA Cleveland: May 27 – Aug. 28

A free opening night party and concert will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. May 27 on Toby’s Plaza outside of MOCA Cleveland. Mark Mothersbaugh will be on hand to perform on his six-sided keyboard, followed by a Mothersbaugh DJ set. For more information, call 216-421-8671 or visit

Akron Art Museum: May 29 – Aug. 28

An Artist Talk with Mark Mothersbaugh and Adam Lerner will be held at 2 p.m. May 28 at the Akron-Summit County Public Library. A free opening party will immediately follow from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Akron Art Museum. For more information, call 330-376-9185 or visit

Tel Aviv artist Ben Aderet to highlight opening night gala for ‘Expressions’ at Park Synagogue

By Carlo Wolff

A wide range of Israeli art will be available at “Expressions,” a fundraiser set for May 19-22 at Park Synagogue East in Pepper Pike. An opening night gala May 18 will feature the Tel Aviv artist Nissim Ben Aderet, creating sketch paintings that will be for sale during a silent auction that evening.

“There’ll be lots of sculpture, photographs, paintings, sketches and drawings,” said Anita Siegal, co-chair of the event for the third time. The show will feature artwork from Expressions, a Tel Aviv gallery owned by Meir Assour, an Israeli who goes by the name, “Major,” and arranges Expressions shows all over the world, Siegal said. “The idea of having Nissim as a feature opening night was Major Assour’s,” she added.

Some of the art will be very traditional, including Judaica, menorahs and mezuzahs, and Assour will bring a few pieces of more traditional Jewish jewelry. Some pieces “will be quite expensive and others will be quite affordable.”

The goal of this Expressions is to “attract a broader demographic,” Siegal said.

Over the years, Siegal, who is married to Michael Siegal, CEO of Olympic Steel and former chair of the Jewish Federations of North America board of trustees, has acquired art from Expressions, and she said she urges people traveling to Israel to visit Assour’s gallery. The Siegals live in Gates Mills.

Her husband “is the art collector between the two of us,” said Siegal. “I have veto power, but he’s really the selector. It’s his passion. He loves art.” CV

On view

WHAT: Expressions: Celebrating Israeli Art at Park

WHERE: Park Synagogue East, 27500 Shaker Blvd., Pepper Pike

WHEN: Opening night gala May 18; show runs May 19-22.

TICKETS & INFO: $250 for Collector for opening night gala, starting at 6 p.m.; $100 for Patron, starting at 7:30 p.m. Sponsorships available. Admission to regular show $5. Call 216-371-2244 or visit

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on May 4, 2016.

Lead image: Israeli artist Nissim Ben Aderet

Cleveland Jewish Arts and Culture Lab’s ‘Homeland and Promised Land’ spotlights artwork from Cleveland, Israel and Russia

By Carlo Wolff

The work of 12 Greater Clevelanders, four Israelis from Beit Shean and five Russians from St. Petersburg will be on display starting May 9 at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood. These artistic endeavors are the fruit of the Cleveland Jewish Arts and Culture Lab, a Mandel JCC program launched four years ago to broaden the notion of Jewish sensibility through art.

This year’s theme, “Homeland and Promised Land: The Importance of Cultural Zionism,” takes on a new dimension in light of the 20-year bond between sister cities Beit Shean and Cleveland, said Sara Hurand, who runs the program with Rabbi Zachary Truboff of Oheb Zedek-Cedar Sinai Synagogue in Lyndhurst.

Work by all the artists, who are fellows awarded cash stipends of $400 to $750, will be on display at the Mandel JCC. The artists from Israel and Russia won’t attend the opening, however, Hurand said.

“We have paintings, very short films, poems, a novel, mixed-media installations, batik — over 180 individual pieces of work,” she said. “We work with these Fellows for six months; Rabbi Truboff will touch on a current or biblical issue — modern politics, theology, philosophy.”

The program is open to “Jewishly identified people,” Hurand said, adding, “We look to have a group that represents a cross-section of our community,” from the ultra-Orthodox to Modern Reform.

Tamarah Long, a CJAC Fellow from Cleveland, created the installation, “She Dreams of Flowers.” Here’s part of her artistic statement:

“The world is complex but I hope these drawings and paintings give people the thought that perhaps gratitude is in order for this incredible homeland that lives not only in our minds, but for most of us that are at this show today, it is also our reality to be able to dream in color.

“As I continue to work on this project, I would like to work on a series of sepia-toned works that portray the journey and horror that exists for some refugees. This was very much on my mind, as I created this installation and as I studied the beautiful images in the Torah.” CV

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on May 4, 2016.

Lead image: Tamarah Long at work on her “She Dreams of Flowers” installation. PHOTO | Ashley Hartman

The Cleveland International Film Festival is again set to wow crowds — this year while celebrating its 40th anniversary

By Carlo Wolff

PHOTO | Cleveland International Film Festival

PHOTO | Cleveland International Film Festival

The 40th iteration of the Cleveland International Film Festival, one of the city’s signature offerings, will reflect various technologies and storytelling modes, suggest two of the people in charge of the popular happening, which drew more than 100,000 in 2015. This year’s festival will run from March 30 to April 10, largely out of Tower City Center in downtown Cleveland.

The festival, which has grown 600 percent since moving downtown 25 years ago, will unfold under new ownership that reflects Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert’s growing Cleveland stakehold.

The festival’s executive director, Marcie Goodman, said March 23 that CIFF looks forward to working with Bedrock, the new owner of Tower City Center.

Bedrock Real Estate Services belongs to Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Bedrock announced its acquisition of Tower City from Forest City Real Estate Trust that Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the show goes on.

In a prepared statement, Marcie Goodman, CIFF executive director, said, “We will be at Tower City Cinemas, which has been our home for 26 years, for our 40th anniversary in 2016 and, hopefully, for many years to come.”

“It is an anomaly in the film festival world to be under one roof – especially a roof that houses a multiplex movie theater, hotels, restaurants, shops, and a hub for public transportation,” Goodman’s statement continued. “It is something many festivals dream of and something the CIFF is fortunate enough to have. It is what creates the excitement, the energy, the enthusiasm, and the experience of the Cleveland International Film Festival.”

Although there always are late additions — the festival makes fresh information available daily — CIFF 40 promises 192 feature films and 213 short films from 72 countries. According to Bill Guentzler, artistic director, he and Mallory Martin, director of programming, visited some 20 film festivals in 2015, and 3,000 films were submitted for consideration. In his 17th year with CIFF, Guentzler said he thinks he’s figured out “what our audience likes. It’s just something that will challenge them but at the same time, remember, it’s a movie — it should be entertaining as well.”

CIFF 40 kicks off March 30 with “Good Ol’ Boy,” an American film that promises to touch on contemporary topics such as immigration and the American dream. It concludes April 10 with “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” a New Zealand film said to blend the genres of road comedy and coming of age.

Its spotlight event will be the March 31 showing of “Believeland,” an ESPN documentary about faith in the face of futility, a persistent theme in Clevelanders’ loyalty to its problematic professional sports teams. That 7 p.m. screening will take place at the 2,700-seat Connor Palace at Playhouse Square, the largest theater CIFF has used to screen a movie. (“Believeland” also will show at 6:30 p.m. April 5 at Tower City.)

While Tower City Cinemas will be the CIFF hub, as it has been since 1991, there also will be screenings at the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern in the city’s Waterloo district; at the Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights and the Capitol Theatre on Cleveland’s West Side; the Akron-Summit County Library, the Akron Art Museum, and the Nightlight, all in Akron; and the new Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque in Uptown, which will present native Clevelander Dennis Hauck’s “Too Late” on 35mm film April 4.

Even 3-D will be represented, in “The Art of Burning,” a documentary about the Burning Man Festival that will screen at 9:25 p.m. April 9 and 1:45 p.m. April 10.

Also new this year: an exhibition space in an empty storefront at Tower City Center that CIFF will use for a free program called “Perspectives,” a cache of virtual reality films and interactive media presentations that will take place on the last weekend, April 7-10. According to Marcie Goodman, CIFF’s executive director, “filmmakers more and more are working across numerous platforms, we want to be able to show their work in all their different ways … and film festivals want to stay vibrant.” Programs like “Perspectives” are ways to bring in new viewers and show the versatility of the medium, she said.

“You’re going to see a little bank of stools where you’re going to be able to experience virtual reality with a virtual reality headset and it’s going to be well-staffed,” said Guentzer. These will be “experiences, more than just watching something. You’re being transported inside the film.”

The virtual reality presentation is “really fascinating,” he added. “Because a lot of them are social justice- or activist-based, they’re not only telling a story, they’re trying to change our mind about something. By being in the film, you have a lot more empathy.” CV

On Screen

WHAT: Cleveland International Film Festival

WHEN: March 30-April 10

WHERE: Tower City Cinemas, 230 W. Huron Road, Cleveland; various locations in Cleveland and Akron

TICKETS & INFO: $14 per film for CIFF members, $16 nonmembers. Call 877-304-3456 or visit

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on March 23, 2016.

Special interests

Among the “sidebars,” which are special-interest collections of movies, are “Jewish and Israeli Visions,” eight films from or about Israel. Two, the gay-themed “Blush” and “Oriented,” also are featured in the “10% Cinema” sidebar, dedicated to LGBT themes. The Cleveland Jewish News — a sister publication of Canvas — is media sponsor of “Dough,” an Israeli comedy screening at 6:25 p.m. March 31 and 11:40 a.m. April 1.

Lead image: PHOTO | Cleveland International Film Festival


Entering “Rend” at Michael Weil’s Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Michael Weil

Grieving father creates exhibit at Cleveland Heights gallery as eulogy for son, best friend

By Carlo Wolff

Photos of Masada, left, and the Grand Canyon bracket Michael Weil at his Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Carlo Wolff

Photos of Masada, left, and the Grand Canyon bracket Michael Weil at his Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Carlo Wolff

There is damage. There is numbness, shock. There are wounds that tell you you’re alive, that even keep you alive. And there are wounds that cannot heal, grief so deep it becomes a thirst that cannot be slaked.

Then, too, there is tranquility, in an image so beautiful it hurts, like “Beyond All Hymns, Praises and Consolations,” a photograph Michael Weil took of his son, Josh, on a lake in the Adirondacks. It’s almost gauzy, its core an impression of Josh in his canoe fading into the dawn mist. Josh is actually on his way into the deepest recesses of his family’s heart.

“Beyond All Hymns, Praises and Consolations” PHOTO | Michael Weil

“Beyond All Hymns, Praises and Consolations” PHOTO | Michael Weil

Josh Weil and his friend, Alexander Doody, were killed in an automobile crash May 14, 2015. They were seniors at Hawken School in Chester Township. A benefit in their memory is planned for May 28 at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in Cleveland. All proceeds from the event, set for 4 to 11 p.m., will go to the Catch Meaning Fund at the Cleveland Foundation.

Michael Weil, his wife, Meredith, and Sam, their other son, came up with the notion of “catch meaning” to emphasize the importance of squeezing all the juice out of every living moment, as Josh did.

“The meaning of (my) life is to help others find the meaning of theirs,” Weil said, citing Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a book in which Josh was interested.

For now, there’s “Rend,” Weil’s memorial to his youngest boy.

An adjunct professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Weil has been taking photographs for years. His tools are a Canon with Leica lenses. His pictures in “Rend” have heft — literally. Because they’re printed on cloth, they’re three-dimensional.

Little did Weil know his public debut would be a eulogy for Josh and Alex, his best friend.

“Beyond” is one of 18 images Weil assembled for his moving debut at his own space, Foothill Galleries. That picture, the very distillation of loss, may be the most personal in this gorgeous and resonant display.

“Rend” is a photographic cache of varying tonalities that is both profoundly inviting and profoundly sad. See where the family went, from Iceland to Israel, from Canada to California. There are images of the Grand Canyon, Masada, the Colosseum, Joshua Tree, the Mojave Desert. The photographs, each uniquely torn, speak of emblematic places. They also carry on the unfinished business of the heart.

Weil effectively prepared for “Rend” by reading Leon Wieseltier’s book, “Kaddish,” a meditation on how Wieseltier grieved his father’s death. “I’ve been trying to say kaddish daily for the past nine months,” Weil said in a March 1 interview, “and it became a very powerful concept, the idea of rending as an expression of grief.”

“A rend is a physical expression of grief, like a tear meant both ways,” reads part of Weil’s opening statement on the entrance wall at Foothill. “Jacob rent his clothes, so too did Job. These 18 images are torn because our memory and hope of being here with Josh is torn. Eighteen for his life and his holiness and his steps beside us among these hills, rocks, spires, dunes, trees, walls, and waters.”

“I don’t know if the notion of healing is realistic in this regard,” Weil said at his gallery, which opened Feb. 11. He spoke of the myth of Prometheus, a figure in Greek mythology who comes to view the eagle that gnaws at his liver daily as his only companion. Since Josh died, there’s been a lot of gallows humor in Weil’s life, and he doesn’t know whether he wants to be healed.

Losing a child is the “worst imaginable thing anybody ever has to get through,” said Weil, an art historian who has turned sorrow indelible. CV

On View

WHAT: “Rend”

WHERE: Foothill Galleries of the Photo-Succession, 2460 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland Heights

WHEN: Through May

INFO: Call 216-287-3064 or visit


Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on March 17, 2016.

Lead image: Entering “Rend” at Michael Weil’s Foothill Galleries. PHOTO | Michael Weil

Cleveland Museum of Art’s centennial exhibition, ‘Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt,’ masterfully takes visitors on a historic trip through the once-mighty desert kingdom

Story by Carlo Wolff
Photography by Michael C. Butz

Statue of government official Sennefer, dating back to about 1479 to 1425 B.C.

Statue of government official Sennefer, dating back to about 1479 to 1425 B.C.

How layered reality was to the ancient Egyptians comes clear in the magisterial “Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt” exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Dominated by artifacts from the British Museum in London, with 10-plus pieces from CMA’s own collection, this is the first Egyptian exhibition at CMA in 20 years. It’s a fitting successor to “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse,” the far larger, similarly resonant and wildly popular show the museum concluded in early January.

With more than 150 objects on display, from tiny pieces of jewelry to weapons to colorful sarcophagi to massive temple sculptures, the exhibition is one to absorb over and over. On view in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Hall, it is designed to show the levels involved in the very notion of pharaoh, ancient Egypt’s intermediary between the many gods the people worshipped and the people themselves.

Its spectrum redolent with earth and sun, this covers roughly from 3000 B.C. to the Roman conquest of 30 B.C., and it starts

Statue of Amenemhat III in a devotional pose, dating back to about 1859 to 1814 B.C.

Statue of Amenemhat III in a devotional pose, dating back to about 1859 to 1814 B.C.

with a room dedicated to showing the lay of the land. The red granite Hathor capital from the Temple of Bastet — an imposing and impossibly heavy object indeed — ushers the visitor into the display. That capital certainly commands your attention.

The next room, dedicated to the gods, features highly stylized animal and human figures, all possessing a unique quality of stillness. One of the key sculptures is the head of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III, from the 15th century B.C. The king seems to be smiling; that quality of stillness, underlined by the two-dimensional feel of the stelae and carvings in other rooms, gives many of these artifacts a peculiar timelessness, even modernity.

Tuthmosis’ crown, seeming to rear up conically from his head, has a cobra as a kind of hood ornament. Compared to the opening capital and many other artifacts, this is small, but it’s arresting out of proportion to its size. Tuthmosis’ headpiece would make a gorgeous modern hat. Be sure to check it out from the side.

Sphinx of Pharaoh Amenemhat IV, dating back to about 1814 to 1805 B.C.

Sphinx of Pharaoh Amenemhat IV, dating back to about 1814 to 1805 B.C.

Another room, dedicated to symbols of power, features jewelry and sacrificial objects; each royal crown bore specific symbols and associations, making virtually all the objects in this mysterious and authoritative exhibition both decorative and philosophical.

Texts attached to the displays, which are set back and spotlighted and/or mounted in glass cases, provide details on their provenance and help the viewer interpret them. To the modern observer, this is art — and history. One can only speculate that to the Egyptian of those times, this all spoke of religion and spirituality; the aesthetics were secondary.

A series of shabtis, which were human figurines placed inside tombs to undertake agricultural work on behalf of the deceased in the afterlife.

A series of shabtis, which were human figurines placed inside tombs to undertake agricultural work on behalf of the deceased in the afterlife.

Among the more interesting displays are “foundation deposits,” miniature replicas of construction implements buried in temple foundations. These ritual objects, akin to the talismans and amulets that adorned Egyptian royalty, were created and sited to protect and purify those houses of polytheistic worship. They are representations of the permanence of those temples, which the Egyptians built of stone. They built their palaces of sun-dried mud brick, suggesting they regarded their rulers as more temporary than the gods they represented.

As if the multiplicity of gods weren’t enough, the pharaonic age also featured rulers from countries other than Egypt, including the Nubian Shabaqa, and Greeks, like Alexander the Great. The variety of objects throughout this authoritative display attests to a period far more diverse and turbulent than what used to be found in the history books. CV

On View
WHAT: Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt
WHERE: Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., Cleveland
WHEN: Through June 12
TICKETS & INFO: Free to members; $7 for member guests and people aged 6 to 17; $15 adults, $13 seniors and college students, free for children under 5. Call 216-421-7350 or visit

Career Mossad agent Avner Avraham discusses Adolf Eichmann’s clandestine residency in Argentina at “Operation Finale.”

The Maltz Museum’s ‘Operation Finale’ captures intensity of Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s Byzantine story

Story by Carlo Wolff
Photography by Michael C. Butz

Moshe Dayan, from left, an Israeli military leader who would become defense minister during the Six-Day War of 1967, looks on as Adolf Eichmann – viewed through the bulletproof glass booth from which he testified – listens to Moshe Landau, presiding judge at Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1961.

Moshe Dayan, from left, an Israeli military leader who would become defense minister during the Six-Day War of 1967, looks on as Adolf Eichmann – viewed through the bulletproof glass booth from which he testified – listens to Moshe Landau, presiding judge at Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1961.

“Operation Finale,” the name the Mossad gave to its capture of key Nazi mechanic Adolf Eichmann, vamps on the Final Solution, the term Adolf Hitler’s regime used to prettify the extermination of the Jews the Nazis came so close to fulfilling.

“Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann,” on view at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, is an extraordinary exhibition. It engages your intellect at the start and tears your heart out by the end.

A co-production of the Mossad, the Maltz Museum and Beit Hatfutsot-The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, “Operation Finale” presents four themes, according to Avner Avraham, a career Mossad agent who curated the Tel Aviv exhibit on which the Maltz Museum’s larger exhibit is based:

• SS Lt. Col. Eichmann’s role in the Final Solution
• The identification and capture of Eichmann in Argentina
• Preparing for and prosecuting Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem
• The legacy of the case.

Another highlight of “Operation Finale” is a thicket of silhouette cutouts of the original Mossad team detailing each member’s specialty.

Another highlight of “Operation Finale” is a thicket of silhouette cutouts of the original Mossad team detailing each member’s specialty.

The idea is to present an installation so comprehensive that an alien visiting from outer space could tell this was the whole story, Avraham said.

The 4,000-square-foot exhibition, which features 60 original artifacts, 70 photographs and seven original films running a total of 35 minutes, is dense, informative and exciting. It starts as a thriller and ends as an epic. It gathers many pieces, several of which the Mossad has never shared, of a very large puzzle.

Unlike the more personal “Violins of Hope” exhibit at the Maltz Museum, which ended in January, “this exhibit touches on people’s emotions in a different way,” said Maltz Museum Executive Director Ellen Rudolph. The feeling here is more collective, and “Operation Finale” is more interactive.

It proceeds chronologically.

After establishing him as a key Nazi operator, “Operation Finale” tracks Eichmann to a prisoner of war camp where he spent 1945 to 1950, then follows him to Argentina, which he entered under a pseudonym, using a Red Cross passport.

Enter the Mossad, dedicated to bringing key Nazis to justice. Avraham, who also helped curate the Maltz exhibit, suggested that Mossad was as slippery as Eichmann. Actually, it was more slippery.

Mossad agent Avner Avraham spent five years curating exhibits on the capture of Adolf Eichmann in both Tel Aviv and Beachwood.

Mossad agent Avner Avraham spent five years curating exhibits on the capture of Adolf Eichmann in both Tel Aviv and Beachwood.

“Operation Finale” uses period photography, originals and replicas of materials including passport forging tools, license plate kits and tourist guides the 11-person Mossad team used to nail Eichmann in Buenos Aires, where he was finally identified in 1957. The father of a girl who was friends with Eichmann’s son, Nicholas, recognized the name of the elusive Nazi kingpin, alerting German law enforcement authorities and triggering the hunt.

“The Grab” would take three years, numerous identity shifts on the agents’ and Eichmann’s parts, and various automobiles and airplanes to bring down Eichmann and transport him, anesthetized, to Jerusalem. It would take close to another year and a 14-person, multilingual Mossad team to prepare for the trial, which led to Eichmann’s conviction on charges including crimes against the Jewish people and crimes against humanity. Despite protestations of innocence and a no-regret attitude, Eichmann was found guilty and hanged in 1962. His ashes were scattered on the surface of the Mediterranean Sea.

“Operation Finale” swarms with media, stressing graphics, an interactive display at the very end asking visitors to identify current hotbeds of intolerance, and, as an emotional climax, an extraordinary triptych virtually putting Eichmann on trial again.

This triptych, its centerpiece the original glass booth from the 1961 Jerusalem trial, is the display’s knockout punch. As Rudolph said, it “kind of raises you up and punches you in the stomach.”

The triptych brackets an impassive, largely expressionless Eichmann with videos of prosecutors and Holocaust survivors, many of whom told their stories for the first time there. Not only did the globally broadcast trial attest to Israel’s intelligence acumen, it also was the first time the world at large learned of the Final Solution; footage includes news clips of liberated concentration camps. This is strong stuff, and parents of children younger than 12 should take caution before exposing them to it.

“The biggest challenge in curating this exhibition, both in Beit Hatfutsot and in the Maltz Museum, was how to present this great drama of the abduction and the trial through objects/materials that the majority of them are old paper documents written in languages that not many can read,” Orit Shaham- Gover, chief curator at Beit Hatfutsot, wrote in an email from Tel Aviv.

“There are few 3-D objects in the exhibition and museums tell stories through objects. Telling this story via such ‘unattractive’ objects was definitely a challenge, and in this respect I think that” the designers in Tel Aviv and Beachwood “did a great job. Another challenge was how to portray the atrocities of the Holocaust without intimidating American visitors (Israelis are used to Holocaust images), but this I think is the challenge of every Holocaust museum.”

Shaham-Gover became involved with the Eichmann exhibit in its American version, and said she was pleased with it when she attended opening day in Beachwood Feb. 19.

Other “Operation Finale” highlights are a thicket of silhouette cutouts of the original Mossad team detailing each member’s specialty, the languages he and the lone female agent spoke, and a mini-biography; a room section lined with vintage radios, all acquired on eBay, broadcasting then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s address to Israelis about Eichmann’s conviction; and placards of photographs of Holocaust survivors, many of them local, keyed to audio that tells their stories.

The colors are largely red, black and white, and most of the photos are black and white, conjuring a pre-digital era in which intelligence agents had to hand-craft their tools and information had to be ferreted out in brick-and-mortar places. “Operation Finale” speaks eloquently of a time when the world was only actual and guilt and innocence seemed clearer than they do today.

Michael “Mickey” Goldman, a key figure in Eichmann’s prosecution, was 17 when a Gestapo train transported him and his family to an extermination camp in Belzec in southeastern Poland in 1942. Eichmann, who headed the Gestapo’s department for Jewish affairs, had lashed the boy in the ghetto nine years earlier.

In Jerusalem, Eichmann stuck to the line that he was only following orders, telling prosecutors that loyalty was the very highest value and a breach of loyalty was worse than murder. He asked for clemency toward the end of the trial.

Goldman summed up the situation succinctly, however, saying Eichmann was not a cog in the Nazi killing machine “but the machine itself.” It was Goldman who scattered Eichmann’s ashes over the waters.

In a telephone call Feb. 24 from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Maltz Museum founder Milton Maltz said museums in New York and Chicago, have expressed interest in “Operation Finale.”

This exhibit and “Violins of Hope,” its immediate predecessor, show “this museum is now getting national recognition for the work it’s doing,” said Maltz, adding it will also be shown in a new building at his International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Maltz said he felt it was high time the Mossad was recognized, adding it took two years to negotiate with that intelligence agency and Beit Hatfutsot, the Tel Aviv museum where he first saw the Eichmann display on which his Beachwood museum. CV

On View

WHAT: Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann

WHEN: Through June 12

WHERE: Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, 2929 Richmond Road, Beachwood

TICKETS & INFO: Free to members; $12 adults; $10 students, those 60 and over; $5 ages 5-11. Call 216-593-0575 or visit

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Feb. 24, 2016.

Xavier Cha, "abduct," video still, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Human figure no ‘Stranger’ in MOCA Cleveland exhibition, which explores interaction between art and viewer upon introduction

Story by Carlo Wolff

Images provided by MOCA Cleveland

“Stranger” is the apt title of the intellectually nutritious winter/spring exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. The decidedly mixed-media, decidedly international effort features nine artists working in various dimensions but with a common theme: the human figure.

Huma Bhabha, Untitled, 2015, ink, pastel, acrylic paint, and collage on paper, 30 x 22 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York.

Huma Bhabha, Untitled, 2015, ink, pastel, acrylic paint, and collage on paper, 30 x 22 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, New York.

The nine are Huma Bhabha, a Pakistani native living in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who blends the human and the animal; Valerie Blass of Montreal, whose work is surreal and psychological; Sascha Braunig, a native of British Columbia who lives in Portland, Maine; Antoine Catala, a native of Toulouse, France, living in New York; Los Angeles native/New Yorker Ian Cheng; Simon Dybbroe Moeller, a Dane living in New York; Cleveland native/London-Berlin resident Cecile B. Evans, whose interactive video, “Hyperlinks or It Didn’t Happen,” vamps on iconic dead actor Philip Seymour Hoffman; Georgia native/Zurich-Berlin resident Andro Wekua; and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye of London. Each has a distinct and original vision of the world.

Also on this season’s MOCA menu: “abduct,” a 12-minute video by Los Angeles artist Xavier Cha. Where “Stranger” focuses on the body, “abduct” is about expression. There are intersections.

One can lose oneself in either “Stranger,” which occupies the white-walled Mueller Family Gallery on the top floor, or in “abduct,” mounted widescreen in a theater in the black-walled Toby Devan Lewis Gallery on the second floor.

Valérie Blass, “Je suis une image,” 2015, forton, underwear, modified hanging system, and hair extensions, 50 x 18 x 28 inches. Collection of Joe Friday and Grant Jameson, Ottawa, Canada. Photo: Blaine Campbell. Courtesy of Artspeak, Vancouver.

Valérie Blass, “Je suis une image,” 2015, forton, underwear, modified hanging system, and hair extensions, 50 x 18 x 28 inches. Collection of Joe Friday and Grant Jameson, Ottawa, Canada. Photo: Blaine Campbell. Courtesy of Artspeak, Vancouver.

One can lose oneself in both. Be ready to spend several hours — maybe even several visits — at MOCA.

These exhibitions, organized by associate curator Rose Bouthillier, are thoughtful, careful and mind-bending. They are the Alberta native’s last for MOCA; Bouthillier is returning to Canada to be exhibitions curator at Remai Modern in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She will be missed.

“The works were chosen based on the intense feeling that emerges when you ‘meet’ an artwork,” Bouthillier said in a media briefing before the show opened Jan. 29. While the art allows the viewer to project, it’s also assertive.

Not that the body is all that recognizable in “Stranger,” a term presented without context so it ripples into numerous meanings.

Sometimes that body is sheathed, as in “Ce Nobostant,” Blass’s totem/obelisk, a towering figure you want to hug — but with that weird extension, maybe not. Made of Styrofoam, foam coat, Mastic Magic Sculpt epoxy, plastic, wood, stick and oil paint, it draws one in with its cuddly abstraction, then repels with its knife. Or is that a scalpel?

Sometimes the figure is plush, as in Catala’s “Distant Feel,” a weirdly impassive triptych of a man communing with his smartphone, a man about to cry and a woman holding a child. These large works are upholstered, as much sculpture as photography. And while the Catalas draw you in, they also keep you at bay no matter how much you want to touch them.

Sascha Braunig, “Chur,” 2014, oil on linen over panel, 24 x 18 inches. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2015.86. Photo: Mitro Hood. Courtesy of the artist and Foxy Production, New York.

Sascha Braunig, “Chur,” 2014, oil on linen over panel, 24 x 18 inches. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2015.86. Photo: Mitro Hood. Courtesy of the artist and Foxy Production, New York.

If the figure is the key theme of “Stranger,” subthemes include duality and empathy. Braunig, for example, crafts haunting paintings of faces or things about to break through. The louvered “Chur,” which conjures a brain in a chemistry lab jar, is so lovingly detailed, so warmly contextualized and so three-dimensional it’s more human than clinical. Other Braunig paintings, suggesting faces peeking through curtains, speak to yearning and revelation. They’re wonderfully mysterious.

So are Yiadom-Boakye’s portraits, like “A Pedigree of Some Note,” a large oil of a boy casually sitting on the floor, eyes wide open. Again, duality: this is both inviting and off-putting. While the boy seems relaxed, the way he watches you — this Londoner’s paintings always watch you — is disquieting. Neither of you can take your eyes off the other when it comes to Yiadom-Boakye’s contextless paintings, which startle with their blend of sophistication and guilelessness.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, “Wrist Action,” 2010, oil on canvas, 98 3/8 x 78 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Corvi-Mora, London. ©Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, “Wrist Action,” 2010, oil on canvas, 98 3/8 x 78 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Corvi-Mora, London. ©Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

The embarrassment of riches that is “Stranger” also features Wekua, whose sculpture and video combine the heraldic with the cybernetic; Cheng’s artificial intelligence- and videogame-based video, “Something Thinking of You” (do not miss this philosophical blockbuster); and “Untitled (How does it feel),” Dybbroe Moeller’s eerie cybernautical video about consumerism and style.

And there’s “abduct,” Cha’s meditation on expression. Commissioned by MOCA in collaboration with Frieze Films, “abduct,” like several other works here, brings the otherworldly down to earth. It tracks actors overcome by emotion, using the close-up to effectively get inside their heads (and ours). As they cycle through anger, joy, sorrow, delight, disgust and fear, they express what all of us feel. They also resist the takeover.

These people — men and women, black and white, dressed artlessly and defensively — morph before our eyes, never settling down to any one emotion, let alone to composure. Perhaps their very restlessness is another of this show’s themes. Here, such restlessness can be disturbing, but it makes for art of a high order. CV


On View

WHAT: Stranger/abduct

WHEN: Through May 8

WHERE: Museum of Contemporary Art, 11400 Euclid Ave., Cleveland

TICKETS & INFO: Members free; general admission $9.50; seniors, $6; students, $5. 216-421-8671 or


Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Feb. 2, 2016.

Lead image: Xavier Cha, “abduct,” video still, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

The Apollo’s Fire Sephardic Troupe | PHOTO / Gary Adams

‘Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews’ comes back to Northeast Ohio for second stint

By Carlo Wolff

Part of Nell Snaidas’ family is from Uruguay. She’s part Jewish, too. So it makes sense to Snaidas, a soprano for the acclaimed baroque revival group Apollo’s Fire, that Sephardic song appeals to her.

Snaidas and Jeannette Sorrell, Apollo’s Fire artistic director, put together “Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews” over the past three-plus years and are bringing it to the Cleveland area for its second run Feb. 4-7.

One of these concerts will be the first public performance at the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel on the Case Western Reserve University campus in Cleveland. Others will be staged in Akron, Cleveland Heights and Berea. The run coincides with the release of a recording of “Sephardic Journey,” which will be available at the shows.

In recent telephone interviews, Snaidas and Sorrell explained their commitment to this unusual and rarely presented musical canon. Snaidas spoke from Kona, Hawaii, where she’s part of a musical group providing live accompaniment to classic silent films. Sorrell spoke from the Apollo’s Fire office in Cleveland Heights.

When Snaidas studied with the famed diction coach, Nico Castel, at the Mannes School of Music in New York City, she discovered he was a Sephardic Jew steeped in the tradition of Ladino song, a form that, she said, “felt like home to me.” She began to research it by bringing it up in conversation, discovering a rich tradition of folk song and art song.

She also worked with the Gerard Edery Ensemble for some 15 years, touring the world “singing Sephardic music with the drummer I brought into Apollo’s Fire,” Rex Benincasa. Edery is a contemporary composer of Sephardic song and, like Snaidas, a classically trained singer. Along with the Bosnian native Flory Jagoda, Edery is one of the foremost exponents of Sephardic song.

Snaidas and Sorrell began to develop “Sephardic Journey” in 2012.

“Whenever I have a chance to program music myself, I program that,” Snaidas said of the Sephardic canon. It offers people “a new face of Jewish music,” a Latin face distinct from the dominant European, Yiddish tradition.

“It’s a beautiful experience to sing Sephardic music for a group of Ashkenazi Jews who had no idea. I love to bring that out into the world,” Snaidas said.

According to Sorrell, who founded Apollo’s Fire in 1992, “even when we’re playing straight baroque music by Bach or Vivaldi, I give it some sort of thematic program.”

Developing a program of Sephardic song was a natural for Apollo’s Fire, she said, “particularly since two of my dear friends and colleagues” – Snaidas and Jeffrey Strauss, a baritone of cantorial power — “could bring such a deep understanding of Sephardic and Jewish music.”

Sorrell is particularly excited about playing at the new performing arts center at CWRU, inaugurated on Sept. 27 with an invitation-only Violins of Hope concert.

The landmark has “the important amenities of a concert hall but it also has the character of a historic synagogue,” Sorrell said, making it “a perfect setting for this program.”

“Sephardic Journey” is divided into sets including O Jerusalem!, Love and Romance and The Temple. It will blend secular and liturgical strains and be both moving and entertaining, Sorrell suggested. It ends with Feasting and Celebration, a set that includes a recipe for making burmuelos. These Sephardic doughnuts, made with jam and honey, will be available at the Afterglow parties. CV

On Stage

WHAT: “Sephardic Journey: Wanderings of the Spanish Jews”

WHERE AND WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4, Fairlawn Lutheran Church, 3415 W. Market St., Akron; 8 p.m. Feb. 5, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2747 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland Heights; 8 p.m. Feb. 6, Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel, Case Western Reserve University, 1855 Ansel Road, Cleveland; 4 p.m. Feb. 7, Baldwin Wallace University Gamble Auditorium, 96 Front St., Berea. “Afterglow parties” Feb. 5 and 7; pre-concert talks with Dr. Daniel Shoskes, lutenist, an hour before each show.

Apollo’s Fire Artistic Director Jeannette Sorrell and three Apollo’s Fire members will discuss creation of this program in a free, half-hour event at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood at 10:45 a.m. Jan. 30. The address is 26000 Shaker Blvd.

TICKETS & INFO: 216-320-0012 or


Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on January 21, 2016.

Lead image: The Apollo’s Fire Sephardic Troupe | PHOTO / Gary Adams