The Black Box

Radical statements set the tone at MOCA's new home

After years of wandering and rentals, The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland finally has a permanent home in University Circle. It has already reshaped the neighborhood — or at the very least, its walkability, via the enigmatic, five-sided, highly reflective new building.

The $27.2 million facility was designed by world-renowned British-Iranian architect Farshid Moussavi. Encased in a shell of 1,300 steel panels, the five-story structure is impregnably black on the outside.

Just as when the museum occupied the former Cleveland Playhouse, the main gallery is installed on the fourth floor. This can also be surveyed from a fifth-floor perch on the building's winding, dipping staircase. The stairs lead museumgoers into unexpected corners, or to open spaces where adjacent offices, classrooms, and atriums can be surveyed.

In general, navigating the building subverts architectural convention and spatial intuitions. The inaugural exhibition, Inside Out and From the Ground Up, aims for the same goal, bringing together 16 artists offering radical statements on constructed environments.

A number of the works are commissioned. Local Cleveland Institute of Art instructor Barry Underwood was allowed to play with the building's unique topology during its construction, installing and photographing temporary light sculptures. Neon yellow and green stalagmites jut out from the rooftop, and pink lightning shoots from a point behind construction beams, transforming a cityscape into an arena of myth.

Brazilian Henrique Oliveira's "Carambóxido" (pictured) draws upon the physical aspect of Cleveland's industrial legacy. In the hollow of a massive gourd erupting from the gallery wall, steel barrels, rubber tubing, and other debris evoke images and scents of the Rust Belt. It is weirdly homey.

Outside the main gallery, Katharina Grosse's "Third Man Begins Digging Through Her Pockets" installation drips fluorescent orange and purple paint down three stories of sheer wall near the elevators. The work's scale encourages viewers to trek around the museum again by a different route. Wanderers are bound to come across the sole piece currently occupying the secondary street-level gallery, David Altmejd's "The Orbit," a sort of frightfully suggestive assembly line disassembling cherries.

With over a dozen artists who have varying techniques and goals participating, the opening show is a lot to take in. However, given the number of years it has taken MOCA to find a permanent home, the museum has earned viewers' patience.