When Laura Owens was growing up in Norwalk, she spent a lot of time walking through the galleries of the Cleveland Museum of Art and studying pieces in the collection.
It was time well spent for the young artist, who now has an exhibition on view with the museum at Transformer Station. She is also preparing to launch a show that opens in May titled “Laura Owens & Vincent Van Gogh” at Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles in France, a foundation to promote the legacy of van Gogh.
References to van Gogh figure large at “Laura Owens: Rerun,” the local exhibit on view through May 30. The theme of the two-room exhibit at Transformer Station in Cleveland’s Hingetown neighborhood is time travel – particularly in regard to her own life. For it, Owens collaborated with nine teenagers taking part in the CMA’s arts mastery program, Currently Under Curation.
The main room contains mixed media and works on canvas, a series of paintings that include working clocks Owens created and decorated, along with works from the CMA’s Education Art Collection including textiles, print blocks and Mexican tiles.
In the smaller Crane Gallery, Owens created wallpaper – or what curator Emily Liebert says, feels like “an immersive painting” – that includes patterns and repeated images as a backdrop. The room gives off a pastel cast overall. In a collage style, Owens employed trompe l’oeil to feature layered images.
Representations of Owens’ early works are part of the installation, along with reproductions of newspaper clippings, pages from Owens’ writing as a child and other ephemera, including a permission slip to go to the Toledo Museum of Art and Owens’ student ID card from Norwalk High School. One of the reproduced clippings shows Owens holding the charcoal drawing of a woman, as the winner of the Governor’s Art Show when Owens was a high school senior.
In fall 2019, Liebert, curator of contemporary art for CMA, says she reached out to Owens about launching an exhibit. Liebert admired her work and knew Owens had spoken publicly about how important Cleveland’s culture, and specifically CMA’s collection, have been to her.
“She didn’t want to just plunk her work down in Cleveland,” Liebert says. “She wanted to engage with the community and, specifically she was interested in working with teenagers since that’s the age she was when Cleveland was especially meaningful to her.”
Liebert says the museum staff assembled a group of teens who were already taking part in the CMA’s Currently Under Curation program. Starting in the summer of 2019, the artist and students met monthly, viewing art in the galleries, mining the CMA’s Education Art Collection and looking through the CMA’s archive at Ingalls Library.
“Over the course of time, these particular ideas were coming to the fore,” Liebert says. “So time travel was something that was really coming up a lot in conversations between Laura and the students. So that became kind of a grounding theme for the show.”
In the course of the collaboration, Owens and the students decided to include some of her high school work, and the students helped select those pieces.
“Based on this year and a half of conversation and contact and collaborative thinking, Laura developed the wallpaper as well as one painting,” Liebert says.
The students created the title for the show. They also wrote the curatorial labels for each of the objects, and their names appear with the text they wrote.
“I think it was an incredible opportunity for them to work with a living artist,” Liebert says. “She was extremely generous with her time. I know that also for her, it was extremely inspiring to work with them.”
Liebert says Owens considers the teens to be her collaborators on this exhibit, adding that the collaboration between the curatorial and education departments of CMA allowed the museum to serve the community in a new way.
“I think the content of the show is very special,” Liebert says. “It’s Laura’s high school art, her mature art, works from the (CMA’s) Education Art Collection and the new wallpaper installation, which is a site-specific installation created for this exhibition.”
“Laura Owens: Rerun” is on view through May 30 at CMA at Transformer Station, 1460 W. 29th St. in Cleveland. For gallery hours and more information, visit transformerstation.org.
The Cleveland Museum of Art will sell its first round of tickets for “Picasso and Paper,” an exhibition exploring Pablo Picasso’s lifelong engagement with paper, to museum members beginning at 9 a.m. April 20.
The exhibit will be on view from May 24 until Aug. 23 in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall and Gallery. The April 20 ticket sale is for CMA members only; public ticket sale begins at 9 a.m. April 22.
Cleveland is the only North American venue that will feature the exhibition, according to a news release from CMA.
The exhibit showcases more than 300 works spanning the artist’s entire career, and highlights Picasso’s desire to manipulate diverse materials.
Picasso’s exploration of working on and with paper is featured in assembled collages of cut-and-pasted papers, sculptures from pieces of torn and burnt paper, documentary photographs and manipulated photographs on paper, and an array of printmaking techniques on paper supports.
Tickets cost $20 for general admission, and $15 for seniors and groups. Guests of members, college students with ID and children ages 6 to 17 are $10. CMA members and children 5 and under are free.
The exhibition is organized by CMA and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, in collaboration with the Musée national Picasso-Paris. It is curated by William H. Robinson of CMA, Ann Dumas of the Royal Academy of Arts and Emilia Philippot of the Musée national Picasso-Paris.
What can visitors look forward to from “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders”?
Monsters have existed in every human society since ancient times. This exhibition is the first of its kind to dig deep into the way monsters functioned in medieval society, where monsters were thought to be signs of something gone awry in the social order. Illuminated manuscripts, handwritten texts that feature elaborate imagery, such as bibles, Christian prayer books and even scientific books feature monsters like griffins, dragons and sirens that may be familiar, and other less familiar ones like a gryllus or a panoti. The prevalence of monsters in these texts signals the significance of monsters in medieval society, and visitors will see that monstrous creatures played a complex role in instilling fear, promoting devotion, inspiring awe, and even legitimizing and maintaining power. What may surprise visitors is how relevant many of the societal and cultural issues of the Middle Ages are today in 2019.
This is a first-of-its-kind show in North American. What inspired its creation for the Cleveland Museum of Art?
This exhibition was organized by the Morgan Library and Museum, which houses an incredibly rich collection of manuscripts, so we are excited for Clevelanders to have an opportunity to see these amazing works of art. To the approximately 60 medieval manuscripts from the Morgan, we have added a number of objects, mostly from our own collection. The sculptures we have included from our collection ground the monsters in the Middle Ages in their ancient predecessors reinforcing the idea of the ubiquitous nature of monsters.
“Medieval Monsters” will be divided into three sections: “Terrors,” “Aliens” and “Wonders.” Will you elaborate on what will be featured in each?
The first section of the exhibition, “Terrors,” addresses the way that rulers, both religious and secular, capitalized on the mystique of monsters to maintain and enhance their power. Monsters were believed to bridge the gap between the natural and the supernatural. The monsters in this section reveal how people in the Middle Ages perceived relationships of power, whether earthly or divine, and how monsters were used to maintain the aura of authority.
Coming from the Latin word for “foreign” or exotic, an alien in the Middle Ages was a person from somewhere else. In the second section, “Aliens,” we see how monstrous images were used to stigmatize those who deviated from the “norm.” And in medieval Europe the norm was pretty much everyone besides white Christian noblemen and clergy. This section addresses the ways in which monstrous imagery functioned to marginalize women, Jews and Muslims, as well as people who were poor, mentally ill or physically disabled.
The final section, “Wonders,” features monsters that inspire awe. The monsters in this section are spectacular creatures to marvel at; they are not the scary, fear-inducing monsters of the previous sections. Wonders are by their very nature difficult to explain, and consequently it is often hard to judge whether they reinforce or disrupt cultural norms. One great example of this tangle of truth versus fiction is the unicorn — a common and popular creature even today. One view above manuscripts with unicorn imagery, we have a narwhal tusk. Narwhals, an Arctic whale that grows a spiral tusk in the place of a tooth, provided the evidence for unicorns.
Though the exhibition focuses on the Middle Ages, are there are themes or messages that apply to present-day society?
Many of the issues of othering in the “Aliens” section may seem all too familiar. The ways in which women, Jews and Muslims, as well as people who were poor, mentally ill or physically disabled, is telling about the fears and anxieties of the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, fearing the unfamiliar and unknown is part of human nature. To maintain one’s own power, we emphasize otherness. Some of the images in this section may be upsetting or even painful to some of our visitors in this way. But that is why we need to look at these images from the past and consider how we tackle these same issues today. Art gives us a window into our humanity — the good and the bad. Isolating and dehumanizing groups of people who don’t know — and often fear — prevents understanding of the individual and the dismisses commonality. Othering allows some to maintain their power, while others are marginalized, and in the case of this exhibition, dehumanized by making them monstrous.
What programming is planned surrounding “Medieval Monsters”?
We have a number of programs this summer. For anyone interested in exploring this exhibition more with me, I am leading two gallery talks (at noon July 16 and Sept. 10). And I am also really excited about a gallery talk at 6 p.m. Aug. 23 by contemporary artist Sean Foley in which he will reflect on the works in the show through his artistic lens of “nonsense” as a way to explore the monstrous and wonder.
We are also fortunate to have Dr. Elizabeth Morrison, curator of manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum, come to talk about the bestiary, a medieval animal encyclopedia that blends real and imaginary creatures.
And for the visitors to the exhibition, we will have a glossary-of-monsters gallery guide in which we identify and define the more than 30 monsters in the show. Our fabulous docents will also be giving tours of the exhibit at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays at from July 17 through Sept. 29.
Lead image: The Taming the Tarasque (detail), from Hours of Henry VIII, c. 1500. Jean Poyer (France, Tours, active 1483–1503). Bound vellum; 25.6 x 18 cm (10 1/16 x 7 1/16 in.). The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of the Heineman Foundation, 1977, MS H.8, fol. 191v
Pick one: An art show is a hit when a) tickets are immediately impossible to get; b) you have to stand in line to get into the museum; c) once inside, you’re in a long queue to check out an installation; d) the museum is wall-to-wall crowded at an opening reception bursting with people taking selfies; or e) it’s the talk of the town or trending on social media.
Pick any or all, because at least one characterizes a blockbuster show like “Feat.,” a mind-bending show by Chicago imagineer Nick Cave running through June 2 at the Akron Art Museum, or “Infinity Mirrors,” the immersive exhibition by Japanese visionary Yayoi Kusama mounted last summer at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage hopes all of those markers come into play for “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music,” a September 2019 to February 2020 show coming to the Beachwood institution from the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, where it was organized.
While CMA and the Akron museum are more broadly based than the Maltz Museum, which is dedicated to Jewish culture, spokespeople for all three want their shows to have the broadest appeal possible.
How to effect that varies by institution, but planning years out is not only key, it’s the norm. Other variables include show availability, cost, community impact, whether the originating museum is willing to loan out the show and whether the art is sturdy enough to travel.
“We want to do shows that have broad audience appeal, shows that will be popular,” says Emily Liebert, contemporary art curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Such shows typically feature artists “who are well-known or household names or have themes with a lot of relevance to what people are thinking about, to the zeitgeist.”
Costs of a show, “blockbuster” or lesser, involves securing the loan, research, travel associated with acquiring it, programming and marketing. The process starts with a suggestion.
“Each curator in the museum has a specialty, so they propose exhibitions that fall within their specialty,” Liebert says. The museum director, the exhibition department and the curator ultimately determine the positioning of the show in the museum.
Was the success of the Kusama show a surprise? “I didn’t think at the beginning of the Kusama tour it was anticipated how popular it would be,” Liebert says.
But she also notes that the show, which attracted more than 120,000 visitors from all over the United States and 23 other countries, “was very popular” when it opened where it originated: The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. The only Midwestern museum to host the Kusama show, CMA featured seven of the artist’s “infinity mirror rooms,” including the Cleveland exclusive, “Where the Lights in My Heart Go.”
At the Maltz Museum, David Schafer, managing director, and Lindsay Miller, manager of collections & exhibitions, regularly bat around ideas for exhibitions they learn about online, through friends of the museum who act as “informal scouts,” and as Miller says, by “keeping an eye out for anything that sounds like it fits in with our mission.”
Is there an audience? Can we afford it? Those are the bottom-line questions, Miller says. Among other considerations: travel, installation, insurance and marketing. Whether originating at the Maltz Museum or not, show costs range from $100,000 for something smaller to $2 million for an ambitious show the Maltz creates, she says.
She and Schafer both hope “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music” is a smash hit like the massively collaborative “Violins of Hope” in late 2015, the ecumenical “A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People” (most of summer 2012) and the internationally planned “Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann” (late February to late July 2016). “Violins” drew more than 15,000, the Eichmann show drew 15,000, and the pope exhibit drew 11,000.
“‘Violins of Hope’ captured the imagination of Northeast Ohio,” Schafer says. “We knew it was going to be a successful show, but it exceeded our expectations, with people coming back two and three times to see it.” A first for the Maltz Museum, it originated there and involved collaboration among the museum, Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Orchestra.
Another totally unexpected blockbuster, says Schafer, was “Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People,” a show originating from Xavier University in Cincinnati. It had been traveling for seven years and the Maltz Museum was contacted to be the last U.S. venue to host it; it’s now in Poland, “gifted to the people of Poland.” It had broad appeal, drawing from all over the Northeast.
Like “Violins,” “Operation Finale,” which focused on the capture of key Nazi mechanic Adolf Eichmann, joined various parties, including the Maltz Museum; Beit Hatfusot – The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, where it originated; and the Mossad, Israel’s security force. The Maltz Museum customized it.
There is no in-house curator at the Maltz, so it turns to different ones depending on the project, Schafer says. The National Museum of American Jewish History is curating the Bernstein exhibition, which was on view there last year. The Maltz will be its third showing. Miller says the installation will require the construction of interior walls, something that also had to be done for the Eichmann exhibit.
Like CMA’s Liebert, Ellen Rudolph, chief curator at the Akron Art Museum, wants to present shows with broad appeal, but that also speak to social issues.
“While potential attendance numbers are an important measure in considering an exhibition, we don’t differentiate between blockbuster and non-blockbuster exhibitions,” says Rudolph, who joined the Akron museum in 2017 from the Maltz Museum, where she had been executive director. “We always seek to present the most relevant, interesting and high-quality work for the community we serve.”
A long-time fan of Cave, Rudolph learned his show was available while discussing the possibility of another one with the chief curator of the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, where “Feat.” was on exhibit for nearly eight months starting in late November 2017.
“We felt Nick Cave’s work was the right fit for the Akron Art Museum because it combines visual wonder, found objects that are familiar and personal to many people, and an immersive experience for viewers. And the social justice aspect of the work offers the opportunity to utilize the art as a catalyst for conversation, so it’s visually exciting, speaks to Akron as a maker community and has deep meaning that relates to our world today.”
Cost is always a major factor, and Akron “can’t show three very expensive shows in one year, so we have to spread out that resource investment,” says Rudolph, who worked with the museum director and the design and marketing departments to position the Cave show within the museum’s overall program.
“We tease out themes of the work, identify potential stakeholders and look at how we can best engage our community through a variety of programs including talks, performances and hands-on activities.”
All these executives suggest locale also influences the decision to mount a show, and they hope an exhibition plays well to the hometown crowd – and beyond. Still, as places vary, so do the marketing and programming of art.
“A blockbuster for The Met (The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City) is very different for the Akron Art Museum,” Rudolph says. “Blockbusters are typically associated with household-name artists that have worldwide appeal and are expected to bring in masses of audiences, and in turn, profits from admission fees, memberships purchased, store merchandise (sold), and food and beverage sales.
“Publicity certainly goes along with that – both in the media and in social media. Today, it’s the cachet of posting selfies in front of – or inside – certain artworks. Attendance and publicity go hand-in-hand and are key to defining the success of an exhibition for sure, but so are other variables, such as the imprint an exhibition leaves on the community.” C
Ongoing exhibitions attracting large audiences and upcoming exhibitions expected to make a big splash include:
Akron Art Museum
“Nick Cave: Feat.,” on view through June 2
“Dread & Delight: Fairy Tales in an Anxious World,” opening June 29
Cleveland Museum of Art
“Shinto: Discovery of the Divine in Japanese Art,” on view through June 30
“Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders,” opening July 7
“Michelangelo: Mind of the Master,” opening Sept. 22
Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage
“Israel: Then & Now,” on view through May 12
“Leonard Bernstein: The Power Of Music,” opening in September
“Shinto: Discovery of the Divine in Japanese Art,” a major international loan exhibition that will be on view from April 9 to June 30, will feature a selection of rare works that possess high historic, artistic and academic value and are designated by the Japanese government as Important Cultural Properties.
On view only in Cleveland, the exhibition presents artworks exemplifying Shinto, Japan’s unique belief system focused on the veneration of divine phenomena called kami. The exhibition is an expression of the everyday engagement of people with divinities in their midst. About 125 works in different media — calligraphy, painting, sculpture, costume and decorative arts — assembled from more than 20 religious institutions and museums in Japan will be featured.
The Japanese government requires works designated as Important Cultural Properties be shown for no more than several weeks each year to balance accessibility with preservation. Because of this and the sensitivity of other works on view, “Shinto” will be shown in two rotations: April 9 to May 19 and May 23 to June 30. Approximately 80 percent of the works on view during the first rotation will be replaced with new works for the second rotation.
Nonmember tickets purchased during the first rotation (April 9 to May 19) can be redeemed to view the second rotation for free starting on May 23. Ticket holders should present their original tickets or order confirmation receipt on site to redeem. CMA members may reserve their free tickets if their membership is current.
Tickets are $10 for adults; $8 for seniors and college students; $7 for the adult group rate (groups of 10 or more); $5 for children ages 6 to 17 and member guests; and free for children 5 and under and CMA members free.
Tickets can be reserved online at cma.org/exhibitions, by phone at 216-421-7350 or in person at the museum’s ticket center. Advance sales are highly recommended. Groups may secure tickets by calling the ticket center at 216-421-7350 or emailing email@example.com for more information.
Lead image: Seated Tenjin, 1261. Kamakura period (1185–1333). Wood with pigments; h. 83.5 cm. Egara Tenjinsha, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. Important Cultural Property. Photo: Nara National Museum
As Alex Katz began his career in the 1950s, contemporaries and institutions largely shunned his artwork because it was a distinct departure from the abstract expressionism – think the emotive splatters of Jackson Pollack or the forceful tension of Willem de Kooning’s “Woman” series – that defined the era.
Some 60 years later, however, Katz’s artistic persistence is rewarded in the form of a comprehensive exhibition of his early work. The featured art – figurative in nature, lush with pastels and cream colors – is immediately impressive and puts on display the shortsightedness of the prevailing mid-century mindset.
“Brand-New & Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s,” which derives its name from Katz’s early manifesto announcing his intentions to invigorate traditional artist subject matter and showcases more than 70 loans from public and private collections, is on view from April 30 through Aug. 6 in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Hall.
The exhibition was organized by the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine, where it was first on view in late 2015, and curated by Colby’s Katz curator, Diana K. Tuite, who says the context in which he made his art is important to consider while taking in the show.
“Especially in the early years, it was so unfashionable – this was the kind of painting that could get you in trouble,” she says. “It was radical to be painting in a more traditional style, in some respects. It was seen as backwards, or regressive – and it meant he didn’t get many exhibitions, except at artist-run galleries.”
So was Katz a triumphant underdog? Perhaps in some ways. But the larger narrative of “Brand-New & Terrific” is one of the Brooklyn-born and Queens-raised artist developing and mastering his craft.
Entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted by early ’50s works Katz finished not long after completing studies at The Cooper Union in New York (1949) and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine (1950).
For these figurative paintings, Katz worked from black-and-white photographs rather than with models, and as he translated the photos to canvas, he added colors, blocked out figures, and omitted certain details and features.
The scenes – family gatherings, busy street vendors, neighborhood kids on a sidewalk, groups of adult friends – are all vaguely familiar. Combined with the curiosity the figures’ featureless nature elicits, viewers are naturally drawn in to Katz’s world. “Four People” conveys a sort of stoic melancholy but leaves viewers to ponder the mood and occasion. Further, it’s inadvertently nostalgic. One can easily envision a Studebaker Sky Hawk parked next to the house behind the four figures.
Katz’s use of color is extraordinary. Inspired in part by his surroundings and influenced by works from French artist Henri Matisse, he sophisticatedly harmonizes hues – eggshell blues, goldenrods, grassy greens, peaches-and-creams, burnt oranges – and drops viewers into dreamy landscapes. The soft pink sky and waterfront depicted in “Camden, Maine” transport viewers to an enchanting seaside twilight.
By the mid ’50s, Katz started experimenting with small-scale collages. Inspired further by Matisse, who’d been working with cut paper since the late 1940s, Katz explored the way shapes could inform his art.
Katz transferred lessons learned from his collages to his paintings, which were growing larger in scale. “Lincolnville Beach,” which demonstrates his use of structures and color to produce his scene, superbly captures this moment in the artist’s development.
In the latter half of the decade, Katz shifted his focus to portraits. Facial features make their way into the work, but the scenes behind the figures slowly fade away – to the point where he dispenses with them altogether in favor of freestanding wood cutouts, or “flat statues,” as they were called at first.
By this time, he’d stopped using photographs and instead used people as models. “Track Jacket” is a self-portrait, but otherwise he relied on friends and creative colleagues. Katz’s most frequent muse for portraits was his wife, Ada del Moro, a research biologist he met in 1957 and married in 1958.
The solitary nature in which Katz depicts his subjects is reminiscent of portrait photographs from a bygone era – and at times invites psychological interrogations from viewers. But that isn’t the only reason they’re engaging. Katz’s use of color again draws attention, providing intriguing consonance between subjects more complex than in his earlier works and backgrounds equally more muted.
In 1959, Katz completed “Ada Ada,” which as the name implies, depicted his wife twice in the same painting. Tuite points out that in this piece, the “one-for-one concept gets confounded” by Katz, thus raising questions regarding the intent of portraiture. Further, some consider “Ada Ada” a precursor to the Pop Art movement and Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans.”
“Brand-New & Terrific” concludes with a gallery that’s unique to the Cleveland iteration of the exhibition: ’60s- and ’70s-era Katz works that are part of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s permanent collection. In fact, Tuite says CMA’s possession of these pieces made it a natural fit for this show.
“We had thought of Cleveland very early on,” she says, adding she’s “excited” that the exhibition is showing at CMA. “It’s such a major museum, and it has a great collection of American art.”
Anchored by “Impala,” a monumental 1968 canvas that approximates Katz’s quick sideways glance at Ada immersed in thought during a drive through the Utah mountains, CMA’s collection serves as a fitting coda to the main attraction.
If widespread praise eluded Katz – who’ll turn 90 during the run of “Brand-New & Terrific” at CMA – decades ago, it shouldn’t now. This exhibition is a delight, and it showcases why Katz’s early artwork deserves recognition equal to that earned by other artistic heavyweights of the ’50s. CV
WHAT: “Brand-New & Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s”
WHEN: April 30 through Aug. 6
WHERE: Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd.
TICKETS: $12 for adults; $10 for seniors and college students; $6 for children 6 to 17; free for museum members and children under 5
MORE: “In Conversation: Diana Tuite and Alex Katz” at 7 p.m. Friday, May 12, in CMA’s Gartner Auditorium. Join Katz and Tuite for a discussion about Katz’s career and works in the exhibition. Free; ticket required.
INFO: Visit clevelandart.org or call 216-421-7350.
Examples of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s masterful wordplay and the peek into his artistic process on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” are unquestionably — and rightfully — the exhibition’s main attractions. The largely untraditional works, many of them torn-out pages from composition books, offer a rarely seen roadmap of the late Neo-Expressionist’s artistic genius.
But an additional draw, adding even greater weight to these pieces, are the ways in which Basquiat creatively dissects race, culture and class — issues he contended with regularly in 1980s New York as he ascended to the top of the art world — and how his critical commentary still reverberates in present-day America.
“The Unknown Notebooks,” eight notebooks with more than 140 pages of poems and drawings as well as 50 related works on paper and large-scale paintings, runs through April 23 in CMA’s Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Gallery. It’s the last stop for the show, which was organized by the Brooklyn Museum and stopped in Atlanta and Miami before arriving in Cleveland.
In the first half of the exhibition, viewers are surrounded by a log of Basquiat’s artistic musings and observations. Framed single-page notebook tear-outs line the walls, and long, glass-encased tables in the center of the room showcase yet more notebook compositions.
Noting the way in which his writing — largely in black and mostly in block capital lettering — mimics his artistic beginnings as a graffiti artist, and noting the carefully crafted positioning of words on his paper canvas, it becomes evident what Basquiat meant when he said he used words like brushstrokes.
He also employs scratches and crossed-out words, the visual meant to draw eyes and thoughts closer to the affected text, and his use of single words and fragments of phrases is meant to pull people in, leaving them to speculate about meanings or associations.
While these notebooks have remained under wraps all these years, this intentionality suggests they were always meant to be seen.
Images also appear in Basquiat’s notebooks. The most notable are a crude version of the crown symbol that would become synonymous with his work, the copyright symbol he used to express reclamation and ownership, and a tepee to signify a kinship he felt with Native Americans also subjected to racial inequality.
Additional autobiographical elements are on display, perhaps most significantly in a series of five untitled works that share a “Jimmy Best” theme. Though not on notebook paper, they mimic the style of such entries, and the pieces have been interpreted as suggesting a young African-American down on his luck due in part to childhood adversity, and in one, a car crash is depicted.
The son of a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, who grew up in a broken home in 1960s and ’70s New York, Basquiat was hit by a car when he was 7, sending him to the hospital for a month. In addition, as a high school dropout who for a time made a living by selling T-shirts and postcards on the street, Basquiat very easily could’ve pulled from his own experience to tell Jimmy Best’s story — but he also touches on a narrative that plays out to this day.
Upon entering the second half of the exhibition, viewers encounter more traditional Basquiat works — oilstick-on-paper pieces, collages and wood-mounted canvases — that demonstrate how he ultimately expressed the ideas and wordplay with which he experimented in his notebooks, thus bringing the experience full circle. Among them is a piece exclusive to the Cleveland iteration of “The Unknown Notebooks” – “Untitled” (1982), on loan from The Progressive Corporation.
These works are filled with expressive imagery representative of Basquiat as an adroit cultural observer. “Famous Negro Athletes” consists of four African-American faces over a baseball and the phrase from which the piece gets its name. That it’s unclear who the “famous” athletes are is an acknowledgment of racism inherent in the cultural equation, and the graffiti-like way in which the title is scrawled across the bottom provides a tangible edginess.
In “Famous Negro Athletes,” the illustrations and words are equally important — and equally powerful. One gets the same impression when viewing “Untitled (Titian),” “All Beef” and “Famous.” Basquiat expertly juxtaposes the give and take of words and images with the social dichotomies he examines, inviting viewers to explore the many layers of meaning in his art.
That type of dynamic is found throughout “The Unknown Notebooks,” which indeed makes it an exhibition worth knowing. Those drawn to the intersection of contemporary art and contemporary issues, as well as Basquiat fans in search of a deeper understanding of the late artist, will all take something away from this show. The pages and other works on view give a glimpse of Basquiat not only as an artist but also as a person, and it’s a mesmerizing glimpse. CV
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
CMA provides magnifying glasses to help visitors see the finer details of some of the pieces in “Art and Stories from Mughal India,” like this one, “Shamsa Shamsa with portrait of Aurangzeb” (1618-1707). PHOTO | Michael C. Butz
This architectural panel from the 1700s or early 1800s speaks to the highly refined aesthetic sense of the Mughal court. PHOTO | Michael C. Butz
A pendant, bracelet and ring of gold, emerald, diamonds, enamel and pearls, all from the 1700s, on display at “Art and Stories from Mughal India.” PHOTO | Michael C. Butz
WHAT: ‘Art and Stories from Mughal India’
WHEN: Through Oct. 23
WHERE: Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Blvd., Cleveland
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 clevelandart.org