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CMA hosts first exhibit at new Transformer Station

9/19/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Shana Lutker’s “The Bearded Gas” is on view in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s The Unicorn exhibit at Transformer Station.
Photo: Robert Wedemeyer; courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Cleveland Museum of Art
CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) has a heady and contemporary exhibit of basically installation pieces at its new Transformer Station, a contemporary art venue owned by the Bidwell Foundation. The exhibit, called The Unicorn, will be on display through Nov. 30.

According to CMA officials, The Unicorn gets its name from a book by Martin Walser, an author whose work often questions how humans continually reshape the past. The works in this group exhibition of five internationally renowned contemporary artists share the processes and practices involved in the construction and reconstruction of the past.

“For the Cleveland Museum of Art’s first exhibition at Transformer Station, we brought together international artists that have been producing compelling work for some time,” said Reto Thüring, associate curator of contemporary art. “The Unicorn is clearly conceptually driven, touching on a fundamental idea: that the past can only be a reconstruction and we encounter recollection as fragmentation, patchwork, kaleidoscope or dissonance. Memory is merely an impression conceived from the present.”

True enough. We don’t remember things exactly, nor necessarily sequentially. That’s what the featured artists — Neïl Beloufa, Martin Soto Climent, Shana Lutker, Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer — take on in their rather large-scale installation pieces. According to CMA officials, the unicorn as a mythical creature also serves as a metaphor for the creative vitality of memory and points to artists exploring the line between documentation and art, truth and myth, fact and fiction.

Fortunately, CMA has prepared rather lengthy didactics that are on walls close to the installations, for, were you to simply encounter them, they would not be all that easy to intuit what is going on. The explanations help.

Take Beloufa’s “Untitled.” It is a film based on a story the artist heard about a property near Algiers, abandoned by its owner during political unrest in the 1990s and subsequently occupied by a terrorist group. Through projections on the wall of the Transformer Station, we hear recorded interviews the artist conducted with the former owner of the villa, the gardener and others who, in recalling their experience, imagine what happened there. It’s pretty interesting to hear their takes on people they didn’t even know over the course of a three-year period. Fact and fiction merge.

Beloufa’s work is in a room of its own off to the left of the facility. The remainder is together in a much larger room off to the right of the entrance.

Climent’s work is one done specifically for this exhibition. Titled “A Mon Seul Desir,” it presents small frames of collages of 108 photographs on fine paper that present the same images over and over again, some smaller then larger in different sections. As you walk along the display of conjoined frames that wind the floor and walls of the room, you start seeing repetitions.

This new work, we are told, references the famous 16th century Flemish series of six tapestries called “The Lady and the Unicorn.” The first five tapestries are meant to depict the five senses, while the meaning of the sixth tapestry, which bears the inscription “À Mon Seul Désir” is essentially unknown.

Lutker’s work takes on art history, and a violent incident within it, as the topic of “The Bearded Gas.” All the trouble began July 6, 1923, at Tristan Tzara’s final Dada event, when André Breton jumped on a Paris stage and broke Pierre de Massot’s arm. Lutker’s intensive research on the Surrealists’ fistfights has culminated in a new group of sculptures that relate, in form or idea, to the places where the disputes took place.

There’s a ladder hanging suspended in mid air above a few constructed steps to represent the climb one artist took to break the arm of another with a cane.

However, the large installation has a clean (with white glossy paint and mirrors) look about it that goes against the grain of the violent incident it reveals.

Epaminonda’s and Cramer’s work plays off of written literature and the history of ideas, and how they change over the course of publication history. In a series of display cases much like you’d find in a library, we see a series of books that explore the idea through the title “The Infinite Library,” whereby the artists have dismantled and rearranged picture books they have rebound into new volumes. They take apart one book and rearrange it, or two books and splice them together, sometimes simply different editions of the same work that change significantly in content or presentation as a published work.

The new works as such are new content in a way. Doing something like this defies traditional presentation of information and how knowledge is transferred.

The Transformer Station, 1460 W. 29th St., is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from noon to 9 p.m. Admission is free.

 

Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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