Sculptor Chakaia Booker's exhibit opens CIA Reinberger Gallery

After significant architectural investments and with its proximity to University Circle's blossoming Uptown neighborhood, the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) offers several new and compelling reasons to pay a visit to the long-standing Cleveland institution.

Bustling activity greets visitors entering the renovated CIA, which features the new home of the famed Cinematheque and  the Reinberger Gallery, housed within the institute’s new George Gund building.

Opened in October, the new gallery serves CIA students, faculty and community members. Throughout this re-envisioned space students navigate busy class schedules, faculty discuss curricula, and art enthusiasts enjoy in diverse collections. Furthermore, it presents professional artists with high-quality exhibition opportunities. 

Breaking from CIA’s traditional roots, Reinberger Gallery director, visionary and adjunct faculty member Bruce Checefsky was inspired to create a contemporary space that welcomed younger artists and professionals.

With support of CIA leadership, the new gallery complements neighboring museums and presents itself as a modern stage for unique exhibitions by significant artists.

Inaugural exhibit

For its inaugural show, the gallery is hosting Chakaia Booker's "Take the Highway,” running through Friday, Dec. 18. Booker’s exhibit repurposes discarded rubber automobile tires to portray an array of whimsical and mesmerizing forms.

Booker shreds, cuts, and sculpts the tires into various shapes and patterns – leading to a fantastical display of conceptual artistry. The exhibit invites the viewer to contemplate the concepts of environmental waste and renewal with both towering sculptures and smaller wall pieces.

<span class="content-image-text">Chakaia Booker - Handle With Care</span>Chakaia Booker - Handle With Care

Accompanied by a soaring light-filled atrium, the Reinberger Gallery runs adjacent to CIA’s art library, which decades ago served as a manufacturing facility for the Ford Model T automobile. Considering her medium in regard to this history, it seems serendipitous that Booker was selected as the inaugural showcase for the new gallery.

“I was looking for an exhibition that would be the first show in our new space and I wanted it to be a sculpture show focused on women,” Checefsky explains.

Booker received a B.A. in sociology from Rutgers University in 1976, and an M.F.A. from the City College of New York in 1993. She gained international acclaim at the 2000 Whitney Biennial with “It’s So Hard to Be Green,” a 12.5-foot by 21-foot wall-hung tire sculpture. Booker received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant in 2002 and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2005.
Booker’s hypnotizing works may be interpreted as impulsive, possessing an air of spontaneity. But in reality Booker is methodical in her expression. For instance, she uses the assistance of computer software to plan and design for the final components that are constructed of wood and steel. Using tires as her medium, she illustrates the dichotomy between wastefulness and rejuvenation.

Artistic advice

During her weeklong Cleveland residency in late October, Booker worked closely with CIA students. “She did studio visits with students where she critiqued their work in both the print making department and the sculpture department, and met with students individually.” Checefsky says. “She is a terrific artist, one of the leading contemporary sculptors.”

<span class="content-image-text">Artist Nikki Woods</span>Artist Nikki WoodsNichole Woods is a 2012 CIA graduate of CIA, an accomplished painter and the assistant director of the Reinberger Gallery. Woods interacted regularly with Booker during her stay.

She recalls Booker’s advice:  “Always treat your studio practice like it is your job – because it is your job. A lot of artists work day jobs, but you need to get back in there and treat it like it is your second job.”

Woods took Booker’s guidance to heart. “I think it’s great advice, because that is a lot of what [Booker] did and still does,” she says.

Woods also organizes the popular “Lunch on Fridays” weekly lecture series, which gives visiting artists an opportunity to share their insights, followed by an open platform to discuss leading art and design trends.

Woods invited Booker to participate. “She is a woman who knows herself, and knows what she wants out of her practice,” Woods says. “She was very open to giving women artists advice about their careers.”

A return visit

In the spring of 2016, Booker will return to the Cleveland area. Scott Mueller, CEO of Dealer Tire, has commissioned the artist to create a piece for his personal collection. Mueller, an avid art collector and a substantial contributor to the arts in Cleveland, serves as vice chair of the CIA and is co-chair of board of trustees at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA).

Upon her return, Booker will once again meet with CIA students to share skills and advice for their future projects.

Beyond her commitments in Cleveland, Booker’s installation “ANONYMOUS DONOR” (2015) is currently on display in Washington, D.C. at the Wonder exhibition of the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. The exhibit is a collection of nine artists’ works, which transform the different rooms of the Smithsonian. Booker’s larger-than-life piece is a captivating waveform of steel frame, wood, and rubber panels constructed of and adorned by shredded tires.

Booker’s work emits undeniable energy and a unique vision. She lives in Manhattan and travels frequently. The Chakaia Booker: "Take the Highway” exhibit provides visitors an opportunity to catch a glimpse of where the art world is headed.

More for the senses

Booker’s exhibit is not alone in the Reinberger Gallery. Israeli video artist Guy Ben-Ner’s captivating film installation, “Soundtrack,” is found in The Fran and Jules Belkin Media Gallery. “Soundtrack” employs the soundtrack of the Steven Spielberg film “War of the Worlds,” showcasing a scene of domestic family life.

The film takes the viewer on a journey through a day in the life of a man, using his apartment and studio to surreally pluck away at life’s mundane acts, such as cooking breakfast or finding his daughter’s lost sock. The “War of the Worlds” dialogue and sound effects play seamlessly throughout behind the scenes and engaging footage of the unexpected domestic routine. The film leaves the viewer with a sense of guilt, curiosity, and hope.
<span class="content-image-text">Artist Rose Haserodt</span>Artist Rose Haserodt 
While CIA’s Reinberger Gallery is an intriguing and welcoming space to explore, the institute still houses a significant collection of further works. Selected from its rich 130-year history, CIA collections include pieces by recent graduates, current and past faculty and prestigious professors emeriti.

One such piece currently on display is that of 2015 CIA graduate and contemporary artist Rose Haserodt. The 22-year-old from North Olmsted has already experienced a successful launch of her career. In October, Haserodt’s exhibit in neighboring Little Italy resulted in over half of her paintings being sold within the opening 45 minutes.

The Reinberger Gallery is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays; and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Rebecca Groynom
Rebecca Groynom

About the Author: Rebecca Groynom

Rebecca Groynom is a freelance writer, photographer, and resident of Cleveland Heights. In addition to writing for Fresh Water Cleveland, she has been published in several scientific journals, and her photography has been showcased in exhibitions throughout the US.