Group Dynamics

A smart show follows CIA graduates here and in Brooklyn

Even in its now-soggy state, New York promises the most competitive and stimulating environment for graduating art students — and unlivable rents. As a result, graduates of the Cleveland Institute of Art have migrated to Brooklyn over the past decade, seeking access to the art-world hub and more affordable living. The Cleveland diaspora has formed a community, sharing history, studio space, and ties to their hometown and alma mater.

A Tale in Two Cities, ongoing at CIA's Reinberger Galleries, surveys the work of these Brooklyn emigrants and their classmates who elected to stay in Northeast Ohio. The exhibit's curators avoid the haphazard feel of many group shows by affording each contributor serious attention. CIA scholar-in-residence Mark Bassett wrote detailed placards for each artist, offering a post-graduation resume and context for displayed work. Artists are even allowed to speak for themselves through QR codes embedded on title cards.

Though some works were created for this show, each artist is very much engaged in his or her own projects. Which makes it surprising how many pieces strike up conversations with one another.

Brooklyn-based Leah Tacha builds collages in four or five rough panels, setting their tone with altered screen captures of Julie Andrews in her iconic mountaintop scene in The Sound of Music. However, Andrews now has orange-gold glitter for skin and a magenta shock of hair.

Tacha's statement discusses early struggles attempting to balance the depiction of "masculine" and "feminine" imagery, and the decision to finally forgo balance and fully embrace tropes of femininity. Besides Julie Andrews, the piece is splashed with fluorescent handbags and flowers. The affirmative piece transcends camp by making it only one component of a greater whole, dominated by white geometric juttings.

Locally based Michelle Marie Murphy also examines the trappings of women's fashion, but with a more critical and intense gaze. A series of chromogenic printed photographs capture raw makeup at distances that could only be shorter if the viewer were wearing them. After Murphy draws us in, she confronts us with the weird bodily realities of cosmetics. In "Amorphous," a used tube of lipstick bubbles like hot pink hamburger. Crumbs of flesh-colored foundation pile up like rubble in "The Origin of Pigment." One is left admiring the courage of those who would use these war paints.

While making comparisons is fun, many works speak for themselves without the help of a neighbor.

Ben Grasso of Brooklyn combines domestic architecture with crushing violence in his oil paintings. Rendered in simple colors and deliberate brushstrokes from a low angle, "Ground Rules" shows a house suspended in midair over a collapsing cliff, either about to fall on the viewer or ascend in the Rapture.

Clevelander Paul Sobota's photographs tell a brief story of a hiking trip gone wrong. "Scrape" presents a man sitting in the grass with a cut in his bare leg just below the knee, a red comet with its head just off the scene's center. "Fight for Lunch" (pictured) is an examination of shimmering: the surface of a brook, a wet hand, and the plastic-wrapped sandwich it reaches for.

Group exhibitions can be eye-glazing as the brain struggles to process so many new styles and concepts, usually of uneven quality. This one seizes attention by slowing things down, both with careful, detailed cards on the displayed artists, and the talent of the artists themselves.