New curator brings New York sophistication, public art experience to MOCA

Andria Hickey arrived last month at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland where she has been named senior curator. She hails most recently from New York, wherein she served as curator for the Public Art Fund since 2011. The stint included any number of exterior installations, which gave the Canadian native a chance to experience public reactions to installations they didn't ask for.
"You learn a lot what about what people hate when installing outside," admits Hickey.
You also learn a lot about what they love, she adds, referencing Clouds, a 2014 installation she curated that debuted during an otherwise drab and gray February. The work by Olaf Breuning featured bright cartoon-like clouds that hovered over Central Park in a blast of eye-popping color. A staged photo by Breuning's inspired the work.
"It just brought such joy to New York City. It was really wonderful," recalls Hickey. "It became this kind of Internet sensation because it changed the skyline of New York."
From Image Objects, Public Art Fund installation, New York, NY curated by Andria Hickey - artist Amanda RossTransforming a photo into a giant outdoor sculpture also inspired Hickey's next foray into exterior public art: the 2015 Image Objects, which included the work of seven international artists who transformed images into sculptures that were installed around New Yorks' City Hall Park. Entries included Lothar Hempel's FROZEN, which marries ballet, a sk8ter girl and a graphic reminiscent of a Mac computer's twirling beach ball as well as two sculptures by Jon Rafman, one of which doubled as a bench for inventive New Yorkers.
Such installations delivered a multi-faceted education to Hickey. Considerations included the safety of the artwork as well as the audience. Furthermore, unlike stepping into a museum wherein a viewer expects art, outdoor art insinuates itself on the viewer.
"Wen you go to a park in the middle of New York, you're not really expecting to go to an exhibition. You may not be primed to have an art experience. It changes how an artwork stands up against the surroundings of architecture, trees, dogs, screaming kids – the things that happen in a city."
Image Objects also included Hank Willis Thomas's Liberty, which featured a purple obelisk from which a single arm emerges to elevate a basketball. That installation notwithstanding, the artist influenced Hickey in a more personal way.
"He's one of the artists that I spoke to before coming here that really encouraged me about what was possible in a city like Cleveland," says Hickey of Willis Thomas.
Olaf Breuning's installation, Clouds, Public Art Fund, New York, NY curated by Andria HickeAnd as locals know – or perhaps lament – Cleveland also happens to be in a bellwether county in a swing state. Hence, over the summer, Hickey, who was ramping up in her forthcoming position before the big move, worked with Willis Thomas to arrange a Nov. 5 town-hall style event featuring the artist and his work with For Freedoms, an artist-run super PAC that aims, per its literature, to use "art to inspire deeper political engagement for citizens who want to have a greater impact on the American political landscape."
"Museums really need to become a place for collective conversation about the important issues of our time – and this election in particular is so key to the direction of everything in the next eight years," says Hickey, adding that the forthcoming town hall and its connection to For Freedoms is a perfect fit. "Hank has been leading these conversations around the country over the last couple of months." The MOCA event will feature a panel discussion moderated by Dan Moulthrop, CEO of The City Club of Cleveland.
Behind the scenes, Hickey is also at work on her first two curated efforts slated to debut in January. They include two separate shows featuring the work of Adam Pendleton and Lisa Oppenheim.
"Adam is really engaging with some challenging content in his work," says Hickey, adding that the artist uses text in historical found images that reflect the African American experience and the Civil Rights movement. To prepare for the exhibit, which will feature large dramatic works, Hickey and Pendleton used a scaled model of the gallery and miniature versions of his pieces to determine the floor plan and "kind of play and see what really gives the impact that we want the space to have on the viewer."
Conversely for the Oppenheim exhibit, Hickey and the artist worked with SketchUp, a three-dimensional digital modeling system, to plan out Oppenheimer's efforts.
While she is in the process of creating the works for the show, it will center around the concept of the spine. Oppenheim will pair photographic prints of the interior of a tree trunk with the historical photographs of Lewis Hine, who documented the ramifications of child labor on children's health in the early 1900s. The work will also include a series of new Jacquard weavings to reflect the textile industry.
Though tight-lipped about the details of her first group exhibition for fall 2017, Hickey did tip her hand enough to offer an insight into her process.
Andria Hickey"It will definitely be an exhibit that draws on my experience working in public art and really examines the city and the way we find ourselves exploring the city and also how that connects to our experience looking at contemporary art," says Hickey, adding that the research has her exploring the history of Cleveland and its architecture as well as how it's changed over time, particularly those things that have been lost to redevelopment, highway construction, general demolition, etc.

In addition to traditional research, her preparation includes some on-the-ground investigation.
"I'm taking some touristy tours of the city to learn about its secret places," says Hickey.
All of it culminates to reveal Cleveland to this new cultural player as she peels back the layers and discovers the city while also settling into it.
"I feel like Cleveland is really unique," she says. "I've lived a lot of places and it does have this very interesting dual reality that's always at play," adds Hickey noting the city's ongoing renaissance is playing out alongside some very difficult social realities. "You hear it again and again in conversation and it's fascinating," she says.
"There's a lot of energy in that contrast."

MOCA is part of Fresh Water'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 for complete profile information.