American Dream, Constant Sun illuminate MOCA

Wall clocks that tell stories, but not time; TRUTH from Detroit; an embarrassment of pickles.

That trio of amuse-bouches, however unlikely, is a fitting prelude to the feast of offerings amid MOCA Cleveland's summer 2017 exhibition, which opened last week and is on display through September 17.

This season, the museum challenges the viewer in every gallery with quirky immersive installations and devastating social commentary told via visuals and text. Also, the myriad postcards from Detroit and Southern and mid-Ohio are a welcome and appropriate component to this Cleveland venue, almost like a sibling checking in.

From BHO and RFK to Snoopy and Frankenstein

Seeing that everything inside the iconic building at the corner of Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue is disorienting, perhaps the best place to start is on the second floor, wherein Keith Mayerson's My American Dream unfolds. The show transforms the Toby Devan Lewis Gallery into a riveting cathedral with images of cultural and political figures standing in for the stained glass windows — more than 180 of them. Even the artist and his family grace the walls, essentially tethering regular Americans to all of the things that have shaped the country in a visual explosion of color and content.

<span class="content-image-text">My American Dream exhibit by artist Keith Mayerson</span>My American Dream exhibit by artist Keith Mayerson

Charlie Brown tees up a softball to James Dean. Barack Obama smiles next to Mr. Smith on his way to Washington. Expansive panoramic views of New York and Cleveland are nestled amid LeBron, Bobby Kennedy (styled à la Lichtenstein) and Captain Kangaroo. One entire wall is a recreation of a display from Mayerson's parents' bedroom, with dozens of family portraits, evoking the scent of Chanel No. 5 and neat dresser drawers lined with white gloves and handkerchiefs.

In addition to the content, the tight spacing of the works makes for an intensely intimate experience. The viewer is literally surrounded from floor to ceiling with images that challenge one another and evoke the personal. The side-by-side pictures of Mayerson and his husband as young boys, for instance, immediately recall the viewer's own childhood. That it all spills out next to the likes of Streisand and Frankenstein stretches Dream from coast to cultural coast and beyond.

Lastly, the abstracts that pepper the exhibit, from colorful whirling discs to Jackson Pollack-inspired efforts, act as would-be scoops of sherbet, cleansing the palate between the kaleidoscope of offerings.

<span class="content-image-text">Danielle Julian Norton's invitation to talk to plants</span>Danielle Julian Norton's invitation to talk to plants

Constant Sun illuminates all points

Save for a video installation in the Rosalie and Morton Cohen Family Gallery (Lu Yang: Delusional Mandala consists of four works, Krafttremor, Uterusman, Wrathful King Kong Core, and Lu Yang Delusional Mandala that play consecutively on a single-channel video with sound), the rest of the museum is under siege by the expansive Constant as the Sun.

<span class="content-image-text">Tyree Guyton, The Love Show</span>Tyree Guyton, The Love ShowFollowing Realization is Better than Anticipation (2013) and How to Remain Human (2015), Constant is the third biennial effort of the museum's group exhibitions that train a keen eye on points across the region, with this collection including artists working in Cleveland as well as Detroit, Pittsburgh and Columbus.

Tyree Guyton's wall clocks, festooned with trophies, electrical tape and a shoe, greet visitors in the Donna + Stewart Kohl Atrium, as does a mural from Darius Steward. From there, it's impossible not to step into the MOCA Store, if only to place your hands on the five-foot inflatable BIG LOVE BALL that's on display and defies anyone not to smile.

Next it's the Gund Commons, in which the first of three efforts from Institute for New Feeling (IfNf), a three-artist collective out of Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, is on display. This is Presence, a 2016 single channel video that runs 17 minutes and features surreal images such as an object (hatpin?) caressing a human foot, (what might be) raw chicken, and rotating mechanical orbs (robotic eyes?). The film is part of the group's collective effort to "probe ideas of health and well-being in the digital age."

IfNf's contributions extend to the fourth floor Mueller Family Gallery as well, where visitors are confronted with six identical perfume bottles, each containing a different color liquid. Sample strips similar to those offered by smartly dressed clerks in gleaming department store cosmetic departments invite museum-goers to experience each scent. The notion is completely unremarkable.

Until it isn't.

The offerings include selections such as Hit Song (Ingredients: wintergreen, waffle batter, lip gloss, bandaid, nail glue, cheap tank top, air conditioning, chlorine), and Privacy (Ingredients: cumin, cement, lubricated condom, new lumber, breath, wet sweater, crisis in the bathroom at Foret National). What's most remarkable about the installation is that each scent is disturbingly evocative of its name and purported elements.

Got bouquet?

The whimsy of IfNf's installations and that of UNREST from Transformazium, which yells "pink dorm room" louder than an actual pink dorm room, or Danielle Julian Norton's invitation to talk to plants (literally) sits in stark contrast to the most commanding display in the main fourth floor gallery.

<span class="content-image-text">Do Not Consider Us Forgotten</span>Do Not Consider Us Forgotten

Do Not Consider Us Forgotten by acerbic is a devastating installation including three massive black and white photographs by Donald Black Jr. and Gariel Gonzalez alongside texts by Ali McClain such as KINSMAN.

Consider this brief excerpt:

"the day after the baby is killed
by a gunshot wound to the chest"

The viewer reads those words as they float on clear Plexiglas in front of Let's Ride, a staggering image of a group of motorcyclists. A description that adequately captures its content, size and composition is beyond this author's skill set (read: you really need to see this one in person).

The remainder of the gallery features a host of installations including selections from Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg Project; a full-sized nuclear fallout bunker for someone with a great affinity for pickles courtesy of Angela Beallor and Kate Sopko; and a healthy sampling from Liz Maugen's The Artists' Trust: A Portrait of the Artist in Cuyahoga County. Photo essays include one depicting rural Southeast Ohio communities from Matt Eich; one created by twin sisters Kacey and Lacey Sellers, both deaf, who use photography to comment on the world around them; and yet another of Detroit residents from Corine Vermeulen.

<span class="content-image-text">The Artist’s Pension Trust: A Portrait of the Artist in Cuyahoga County from artist Liz Maugans</span>The Artist’s Pension Trust: A Portrait of the Artist in Cuyahoga County from artist Liz Maugans

In MOCA, all things are connected via Stair A, which challenges and seduces visitors with soft whispers whether they're coming or going and into which IfNf has also spilled.

Considering a handful of amuse-bouches launched this article, there is no better place to end it than here, with a sample lifted from that twisting set of portals.

Single-channel sound installation, 00:10:05 
Excerpt posted courtesy of Institute for New Feeling artists Scott Andrew, Agnes Bolt and Nina Sarnell.

All of the summer exhibits will be on display through September 17.

For those on a budget, admission is free at MOCA for all visitors on the first Saturday of the month, courtesy of PNC Bank. Gund Commons and MOCA Store are always open to the public during regular museum hours.

This story is made possible through a partnership with MOCA, which is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.

Erin O'Brien
Erin O'Brien

About the Author: 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.