While driving toward Cleveland's "main," Euclid Ave., the landscape was grey-on-grey, Saturday. An abundance of industrial buildings mixed with highways and both freight and transit train tracks made for a gloomy scene. Luckily for all the guests in attendance at the grand opening of MOCA Cleveland's new $27.3 million museum, the dull outdoor 'scape was no indication for what the bright prism stored inside.
The new MOCA building, designed by Iranian-born and London-based architect, Farshid Moussavi, stands sleekly angular and reflective, and marks the most recent addition to one of the highest concentrated districts of museums and cultural organizations in the United States. The 34,000-square-foot glass structure was celebrated with a weekend-long opening and an inaugural exhibition titled "Inside Out and from the Ground Up." With over 5,000 people in attendance, and a collection of lauded artists and philanthropists present to cut the proverbial tape, MOCA's celebration rose to its building's impressive heights.
Among the international roster of artists included in the exhibition (many of whom were present at the opening), the most immediately visible of their works was the mighty-sized Katherine Grosse commission, a painted mural running several stories tall, and on view from the street through the building's winking triangle cut-out. The abstract forms, color, and grandeur of the piece provided an excellent backdrop for the equally colourful crowd that littered the museum floors.
The VIP fete boasted a few local luminaries, including Helen Forbes-Fields, a board member with both MOCA Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Joanne Cohen, executive director and curator of the impressive Cleveland Clinic Art Program. The architect herself turned heads, donning a dress made entirely of combs, opening night, and on Saturday, a patchwork top made of leather pink hearts.
The new pavilion’s central staircase is distinctly M.C. Escher-esque with its crisscrossing walkways and perspectives. A long tent extended from the lobby and housed trays of canapés and sparkling wine, and a DJ had everyone dancing by 9pm. Chief curator David Norr and assistant curator Rose Bouthillier happily discussed the many hands and hours involved in the fairytale sculpture by Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira, and the mythological painting and collage works by Brooklyn-based artist William Villalongo. Their efforts had obviously run right-up to the opening, as had the artists': four large Jacqueline Humphries still smacked of wet oil paint.
French-Canadian artist David Atlmejd’s most recent and largest-to-date vitrine, “The Orbit” (2012), was on full view, a highlight among the exhibition's wares. As Norr told ARTINFO Canada in August, “David thinks about space in a very specific way. And what’s special about this piece is that it seems like a culmination of the best aspects of his vitrines in general, which capture this state of transformation so well. This state of frenetic, almost destructive energy -- of something coming into another.”
MOCA Cleveland follows the European Kunsthalle model, where it don’t actually house a permanent collection – an oddity in the American museum model. The new building’s hexagonal space – which is anchored in one end of the city’s up-and-coming arts district, the Uptown neighborhood – certainly presented its challenges to Norr’s chosen artists.
Moussavi’s first building in the United States, as well as her first museum, prompted Norr’s curatorial response, which “invited artists to really initiate a more intensive dialogue with the new building.” He said, “with the idea of introducing thousands of people – what could be 65,000 in our first year -- to contemporary art, the idea was to introduce them to a broad perspective and diverse work.”
As MOCA Cleveland director, Jill Snyder, reflected of the new museum, “it truly is an expression of our program.”
"Inside Out and from the Ground Up" is on view until Feb. 24, 2013.