Arts Review: 'How to Remain Human' Enthralls at MOCA

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With August upon us and the summer winding down, time is running out to visit MOCA’s summer exhibitions, How to Remain Human and Tony Lewis’ movement pressure power nomenclature weight free (the order of the words in the show’s title is meant to be re-arranged at will).

In How to Remain Human, emerging, mid-career and established artists from Cleveland, Michigan and Pennsylvania reflect on what it means to be alive today, on both personal and universal levels. The show is a journey that is sometimes intimately quiet, and at other times, nearly overwhelmingly monumental in scale.

The exhibition’s title is a line from late Ohio writer d.a. levy’s Suburban Monastery Death Poem. MOCA selected the title because levy’s poetry articulates a raw struggle for freedom and expression during a particularly tumultuous time in Cleveland’s history. Although the works (and artists) vary greatly, they all share a desire to chronicle everyday life with an urgent need to act, experience, question and communicate.

How to Remain Human is carefully curated by MOCA Cleveland’s Deputy Director of Program, Planning and Engagement Megan Lykins Reich and Associate Curator Rose Bouthillier. This eclectic exhibition includes painting, sculpture, collage, comics, fashion design, video, sound, poetry and a large-scale installation.

MOCA’s 4th floor Mueller Family Gallery houses the majority of the exhibition’s artwork. As you enter the space, Carmen Winant’s A World Without Men, a massive wall of small, collaged photographs of women, is so large that it can encompass the viewer’s entire field of vision. This first room also includes new work by Cleveland Institute of Art alum Harris Johnson, whose work has changed quite a bit since he departed for graduate studies in painting at Virginia Commonwealth University. His painting, Black Hole, is one of the many highlights of the exhibition.

Local painter Michelangelo Lovelace is represented by a number of larger paintings. Lovelace’s expressive depictions of inner city living have won him a Creative Workforce Fellowship (2013) and one of this year’s Cleveland Arts Prize awards.

Around the corner, an entire wall is dedicated to comic pages by local cartooning legend John Backderf, aka Derf. Derf’s beloved strip The City (1990-2014) was syndicated nationally in more than 140 weekly publications, including Scene. His graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, has won awards internationally. The pages showcased in How to Remain Human are a preview of his upcoming graphic novel, Trashed, about his early days as a local garbage collector.

Through another doorway, an entire room is dedicated to the work of Jae Jarrell, one of the founding members of the AFRICOBRA socio-political art movement based out of Chicago. The room features a collection of outfits designed by Jarrell, spanning her long and impressive career. The room also includes a painting by Jarrell. Though she began as a painter, she switched to textiles to add a dynamic, three-dimensional element to the AFRICOBRA movement.

Beyond another doorway, a new installation by Christi Birchfield awaits. Its colors and form are sure to draw you in from across the room. While her wall pieces are impressive as well, the center piece is breathtaking. Its form shifts and morphs as you travel around it. Keep your eyes on it as you move around the room and watch it dance.

In addition to MOCA’s 4th floor Mueller Family Gallery, this expansive and immersive exhibition extends throughout the museum’s unique architecture.

Before you even enter MOCA, you’re sure to see Jimmy Kuehnle’s 40 ft. tall (25 ft. wide), neon pink inflatable sculpture in the Museum’s Kohl Atrium. The soft, bright form intentionally contrasts MOCA Cleveland’s cutting edge architecture. The internal components include lights, fans and timers to regulate the air pressure. This causes the form to slowly expand and contract, as if it were alive and breathing. At night, the work glows brightly, and is visible far down Euclid Avenue.

Additionally, a new sound installation by interdisciplinary, Detroit-based collaborators Ben Hall and Andrew Mehall is located inside MOCA’s emergency staircase. Fair warning: It’s loud…uncomfortably loud at times.

In a separate area, videos by the collective Dadpranks continuously loop clips featuring jokes, gags and bizarre actions done with unusual objects. There’s plenty more to see; we only covered about half of it here. Be sure to stop by MOCA Cleveland before summer is over to see it all for yourself.

How to Remain Human is a follow-up to 2013’s Realization is Better than Anticipation, MOCA Cleveland’s first regionally-focused group exhibition in its current home on Euclid Avenue in University Circle’s Uptown district. How to Remain Human is part of MOCA Cleveland’s continued effort to engage with and advance local and regional art and the artists currently making it.

How to Remain Human continues MOCA’s focused engagement with, and advancement of, art being made here and nearby. By continuing to pair local and regional artists with national and international artists, MOCA is creating a dialogue between the best artwork currently being produced in the region with current trends in contemporary art around the country and world.

The exhibitions remain on view through September 6. General admission is $8; seniors (65+), $6; students (with valid ID), $5. Admission for MOCA Cleveland members and children under 6 is free. MOCA Cleveland’s regular business hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays; closed Mondays.

The first Saturday of every month is free thanks to a gift from Medical Mutual. Plan a visit this Saturday, Aug. 1.

(MOCA Cleveland) 11400 Euclid Ave., 216-421-8671,
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