Being there: MOCA's fall exhibits ignite all senses

The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA) reopened its doors last Friday after a short hiatus following the wildly successful Myopia exhibit. While completely different in tone from the Mark Mothersbaugh show, the new installations reflect a unique and unexpected study in contrast that stimulates every sense.
 
Visitors are well advised to start at the top, as it were, in MOCA's fourth floor galleries, wherein Wall to Wall: Carpets by Artists unfurls. The contents are aptly described by the title – these are carpets, which sounds mundane at first blush. The content is anything but, with lush and gorgeous images that are beautifully served by the textile medium.
 
A sampling of the 30 works: Faig Ahmed's Oiling (2012) literally melts the concept of a traditional middle eastern rug design while Deep Purple, Red Shoes (Polly Apfelbaum, 2015), invites visitors to walk upon it, provided they remove their shoes. Nautilus shells notwithstanding, Infinite Carpet (Pierre Bismuth, 2008) recalls the golden rectangle of geometric fame. And speaking of arithmetic, Joseph Kosuth's L.W. (Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics), 2015, will have viewers indeed believing that "2 + 2 + 2 are 4."

Deep Purple, Red Shoes (2015), Polly Apfelbaum
 
Traveling to the next component of the 2016 show sounds benign enough, but – as regular visitors have come to expect – MOCA's Stair A refracts the experience. While attendees navigate the twisting stairs, Anthony Discenza's audio installation A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats advises them thusly:
 
"Think Suicide Girls meets the Pillsbury Dough Boy."
 
"Think Baywatch meets the Cuban Missile Crisis."
 
"Think Jersey Shore meets Stephen King."
 
The deep resonant voice, which is fitting of any voice-over John Q. Public is fed by media sources at every turn, is so convincing, attendees may indeed be inclined to plop down and listen to all the suggestions within the 23-minute installation.
 
"Think art deco meets Jurassic Park."
 
Once visitors right themselves from that experience, they're met with a simple, albeit somewhat distressed, closed door in the second floor Toby Devan Lewis Gallery, which is the entrance to Anders Ruhwald's Unit 1:3583 DuboisPer MOCA, "The exhibition presents several life-sized rooms and corridors based on a permanent installation that Ruhwald is creating in one apartment of this building." That building is in Detroit. Ruhwald searched for the appropriate spot for his evocative project for more than a year before settling on it. The MOCA installation is a test run of sorts; it will be dismantled after the exhibit closes on Jan. 8 and permanently installed in the Detroit location (scheduled opening, May 2017). In addition to Unit 1, the building will also include a community space in the basement and living quarters for the artist. 

For now, the door to Unit 1 in MOCA gives way to a completely different world from which visitors have emerged. Void of color, sound and very dimly lit, the interior of the exhibit is populated by the artist's imposing ceramic sculptures, bathroom fixtures and, among other random objects, a 1941 photo of a beach by Diamond Head on Oahu, Hawaii, that was taken just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
 
Unit 1 does include two sensual components the other exhibits lack. Not only does it smell of charred wood evocative of campfires as well as arson, visitors are encouraged to do something that might otherwise get them asked to leave a museum: touch all the interior components of the mysterious space, some of which offer a primal element of life: warmth.

Anders Ruhwald
 
Lastly, in the museum's first floor Gund Commons, which, along with the MOCA Store, is always free and open to the public during museum hours, Liz Magic Laser's nine-minute The Thought Leader (2015) will play through Oct. 19.
 
If the satin-voiced announcer in Stair A, with his Banana Republic and Rocky Horror Picture Show, fails to challenge one's sense of order, the main actor of The Thought Leader will surely do so. He's a young boy, perhaps age nine or ten, speaking Ted Talk style to an audience. His text, however, is gleaned from an 1864 work by Dostoyevsky.
 
"Can the decision to be less selfish ever be anything other than a selfish decision?" poses the young Alex Ammerman. "What you'll realize is that you actually enjoy feeling like there is no escape – that you'll really never change anything. Even if you could, you would do nothing because perhaps there's nothing actually there for you to change.
 
"The reality is that it is better to do nothing. This is my conviction."
 
Ammerman, incidentally, performs a more successful Ted Talk delivery than many adults giving actual Ted Talks. The result is a dizzying ping-pong game of age, content and expression.
 
The offering is the first of four segments of Acts of Speech. After Laser's showing concludes, Gund Commons will feature Yael Bartana's 51-minute True Finn (2014) Oct. 20 through Nov. 15. Metahaven's 11-minute City Rising (2014) will play from Nov. 16 through Dec. 12 and AH (2016), an 18-minute effort from Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries, will run from Dec. 13 through the show's close on Jan. 8.
 
The scale, size and diversity of all the works amid MOCA's fall 2016 offerings begs an in-person visit. For instance, the giant Maurizio Cattelan's selections from the 2016 Seletti Wears Toilet Paper collection in the main lobby alone is reason enough to step inside the beautiful structure on the corner of Mayfield and Euclid. It demands that viewers rethink the chorus line and, among other things, evokes the landline phones of yesterday, however anxiously.
 
Furthermore, the exquisite contrast between installations truly serves. Standing amid Ruhwald's giant (and oddly friendly) sculptures in "The Library" in Unit 1 makes the candy-like colors and airy positioning of Wall to Wall that much more pronounced and vice versa, while the video and audio installations serve as perfect connective tissue.
 
The fall 2016 MOCA show promises to turn your world inside out, if only for an hour or two. This is art as it should be.
 
The stunning 152-page companion catalog to Wall to Wall by exhibit curator Cornelia Lauf includes photos of all the carpets featured in the show as well as informed commentary and meticulous details on the featured works. It also expands the show with carpets designed by an array of other artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Chuck Close. Available in the MOCA Store, $40.
 
MOCA is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and closed most major holidays. General admission is $9.50, with reduced rates for seniors and students. For those on a budget, admission is free at MOCA for all visitors on the first Saturday of every month, courtesy of PNC Bank. Admission is always free for active military members and veterans, kids under five and museum members.

MOCA is part of Fresh Water Cleveland's underwriting support network.

 

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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