New Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland shines

The new MOCA Cleveland, designed by an up-and-coming architect and displaying a strong first exhibition, turns this Rust Belt city into a cultural destination.
Written by Laura Shin, Contributor

The new Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, which opened in October, is another reason this Rust Belt city is on the culture map.

First of all, the new MOCA Cleveland is in a gorgeous gem of a building designed by an up-and-coming architect, Farshid Moussavi, an Iranian native of London.

The other things that will attract the art and architecture crowd are the facts that the $27.2 million, 34,000-square-foot, black stainless steel structure is Moussavi's first museum and also her first work in the United States.

But the biggest reason that Cleveland can now consider itself part of the culture circuit is that the new MOCA Cleveland is good: And when I say that, I mean both building and art.

What MOCA means for Cleveland

Already, the museum's mere existence sends the message that Cleveland is intent on revitalizing itself after having been sapped by population loss, job declines and poverty. And the financial crisis of the past few years has hit the city hard, with a foreclosure rate that was among the highest in the country.

"I think it's the new Cleveland," Stewart Kohl, a MOCA board member and co-chair of the museum's capital campaign, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer."MOCA will be a kind of draw that we really haven't had."

The irony is that this "new Cleveland" is being built with the old: MOCA Cleveland is actually the newest incarnation of a 44-year-old art center, initially called the New Gallery when it was founded by Marjorie Talalay and Nina Castelli Sundell, who were both connected to famed New York art dealer Leo Castelli. (Talalay, who had previously owned a gallery in New Haven, had done business with him, and Sundell was Castelli's daughter.) The Plain Dealer reports:

Since then, the institution has had three directors,three namesand four rented homes across the city. It evolved from a for-profit gallery to a nonprofit, noncollecting museum.

But now? Now it's the main event of a new eight-acre, $150 million development called Uptown that could spur some economic growth in a beleaguered city. Next to Case Western Reserve University, Uptown will feature apartments, shops, restaurants, a bookstore, a supermarket and another art institution: an expanded Cleveland Institute of art.

Surrounding Uptown are some of the other city's cultural landmarks: The Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Clinic.

MOCA, sitting amidst these other attractions, will easily pick up a culturally interested crowd, as well as university students.

"But more than anything, perhaps, MOCA's re-establishment in University Circle epitomizes the transformation of Cleveland from an aging blue-collar factory town into a city that is eager to embrace innovation and forward-leaning creativity, no matter what the field," says the Plain Dealer.

Its impact so far

Though the building hasn't even been open two months, it is already seen as a success. In its first five weeks, the museum attracted more than 10,000 visitors; in its old location, it got only 20,000 annually.

Critics have already praised the building -- and we don't just mean the Plain Dealer (which did that too). Art in America called the building "striking," and praised the stair as well as the matte blue walls. ArtInfo named it "Cleveland's new power museum."

And Archpaper said, "The bold new building not only resembles a dusky diamond on its surface but also shares with the gemstone a remarkable intensity that is the product of a lengthy incubation under high pressure."

But while the building will initially draw people to the museum, the strength of the first exhibition should keep them coming back. As Art in America describes:

[Henrique] Oliveira's installation is a highlight of the show. Carambóxidois a roughly eggplant-shaped form, about 50 feet long, that rests on the floor, clad in scraps of wood, with a stem that seems to burst through a neighboring wall. One side of the sculpture, turned toward another wall, is open, revealing a cave-like interior lit with bare bulbs and lined with scraps of rubber and wood, bits of rusty metal and other refuse. The exterior wood scraps come from Oliveira's native Brazil; the interior materials were salvaged from the streets of Cleveland. The biographical note was fine, but for me the smell of rubber, the invitingly disarrayed interior and the sense of looking into an exploded Lee Bontecou sculpture was sufficient to create a compelling piece.

And the rest of the exhibition was compelling, showing that both inside and out, Cleveland has, in MOCA, a cultural attraction to draw both local and out-of-town visitors.

Some photos of the exhibition:

Caramboxido by Henrique Oliveira

Zebra by William Villalongo

Fourth floor gallery

Related on SmartPlanet:

via: Cleveland Plain Dealer

photos: Top two: Exterior and interior of MOCA Cleveland (Dean Kaufman/Courtesy MOCA Cleveland); Third: Opening night in the main gallery. (Getty Images/MOCA Cleveland); Final three: author's own.

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