The Dazzling New MoCA Cleveland – History – Major Articles

dear reader: this is vincent johnson of fireplace chats in los angeles. i created this post as i am a clevelander by birth. my first experiences of art were in the incredible cleveland museum of art as a child. i remember going to openings at the original cleveland moca in the late 1970’s. were were young artists in training and all of the talk was of moving to nyc where the action was and that happened. yet i am as proud as can be to see cleveland thriving in its cultural sector, even as i live here in los angeles, whose art scene is expanding in an enormous way that no one here ever imagined. looking forward to visiting both moca cleveland and the expanded cleveland museum of art when visiting my family.

vincent johnson in los angeles


W Magazine

Backstory: Build It And They Will Come

  • Oct 2012 | by Fan Zhong

Architect Farshid Moussavi’s new Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art building is turning the Midwestern metropolis into a bona fide art destination—here’s what else makes the trip worthwhile.

blog-cleveland-travel-05.jpgblog-cleveland-travel-06.jpgAbove, MOCA Cleveland celebrates with an opening weekend party.

Where to Stay:
Most in-the-know Clevelanders direct visitors to Glidden House, a charming 60-room boutique hotel housed in an early 1900s French Gothic mansion, nearby University Circle’s many cultural destinations ( Located on the upper floors of the Tower City shopping center downtown, Cleveland’s own Ritz-Carlton, hotel fetishists say, is said to be a tremendous value for the luxurious experience ( Farther afield, about a 40-minute drive outside of the city lies The Inn Walden, a verdant sanctuary over 30 acres in Aurora, OH. A golf course, haute barnyard restaurant, and spa are on the grounds—which can be, and should be, explored on horseback (

blog-cleveland-travel-04.jpgThe Inn Walden

Where to Dine:
TV’s Iron Chef Michael Symon is the city’s de facto culinary mayor—his bistro cooking at Lola and Lolita is rightly celebrated (; Newer on the scene is Dante, opened in 2007 by Michelin-starred chef Dante Bocuzzi ( The stylish modern American restaurant is situated in a restored bank in the Tremont district: dine in the vault, if you wish, or venture downstairs to Ginko, Bocuzzi’s lurid, basement-level ode to the Tokyo night, where he serves inspired sushi. Downtown, chef Jonathan Sawyer’s The Greenhouse Tavern, an environmentally-minded gastropub, was named one of Bon Appetit magazine’s Top 10 Best New Restaurants in the U.S. when it opened in 2009 ( Go for the burgers.


What to Do:
The top-flight Cleveland Orchestra’s popular Fridays@7 series draws a younger, livelier crowd to classical music ( After the concert, imbibe at the cult cocktail den The Velvet Tango Room, a Prohibition-style speakeasy long before they became a tired trend ( Grog Shop and The Beachland Ballroom are two famous indie music venues (; for those who do not necessarily care for, say, the Springsteen tribute at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ( In addition to the new MOCA, artgoers should visit the Cleveland Museum of Art, which is in the midst of a $350 million refurbishment, to be completed next year ( But you can still visit its prize collection of antiquities and Old Masters.


Beachland Ballroom

Photos: MOCA: Duane Prokop, Getty Images Entertainment / Courtesy MOCA Cleveland

MOCA Cleveland: The history

MOCA Cleveland: The history

Friday, October 05, 2012 4:38 PM

Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland to open permanent home after 44 years on the move

Published: Sunday, October 07, 2012, 6:00 AM     Updated: Friday, October 12, 2012, 5:52 PM
MOCA Cleveland 2012

Enlarge Gus Chan, The Plain Dealer Despite the new Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland’s monumental shape, which resembles a pyramid from some angles, architect Farshid Moussavi said she was not interested in designing the building to resemble a static, unchanging monument. Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland: A shining new gemgallery (16 photos)

  • MOCA Cleveland 2012
  • MOCA Cleveland 2012
  • MOCA Cleveland 2012
  • MOCA Cleveland 2012
  • MOCA Cleveland 2012
MOCA opens this weekend MOCA opens this weekend David Norr, chief curator at MOCA, Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art, talks about MOCA’s new home at the corner of Euclid and Mayfield in uptown Cleveland. Grand opening parties are this weekend and the museum is free to the public on Monday, October 8. Watch video

You might call it the tale of the wandering museum. Or, with apologies to John Milton, “Paradise Regained.”

The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, which opened in a tiny storefront on Euclid Avenue in University Circle 44 years ago and then left in search of more space, has finally come back to its roots.

From 1 to 6 p.m. Monday, MOCA Cleveland will open to the general public its spectacular new building on the prow of the triangular intersection of Euclid Avenue and Mayfield Road. (Admission is free, but timed tickets are recommended. Regular hours begin Wednesday.)

The $27.2 million, 34,000-square-foot structure is a seductively mysterious four-story gemstone sheathed in reflective panels of black stainless steel. It was designed by architect Farshid Moussavi of London, a native of Iran and an up-and-coming international star. The building is both her first museum and her first assignment in the United States.

Those factors will make the MOCA building news for art- and architecture-loving media outlets from around the world. More to the point for Cleveland, the new MOCA symbolizes the view that investing in the arts is critical for a city on the mend after decades of struggling with population loss and poverty.

“I think it’s the new Cleveland,” said Stewart Kohl, a MOCA board member and co-chair of the museum’s capital campaign.”MOCA will be a kind of draw that we really haven’t had.”

Of course, the museum’s voyage can’t compare to that of Odysseus finding his way home after fighting the Trojan War, or Moses leading his people to the Promised Land, but it does have certain qualities of an epic myth.

It’s the story of an institution that has gone from infancy to maturity, and from the fringe to the center, without ever losing its edge.

It was in 1968 that Marjorie Talalay and Nina Castelli Sundell, two visionary arts advocates, launched the small, for-profit New Gallery in a former dry-cleaning storefront at 11301 Euclid Ave.

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. It’s one of many institutions like it around the world that exhibit new art while avoiding the heavy cost of building and maintaining a permanent collection.

Its wanderings took it from the Euclid Avenue storefront to a former frat house on nearby Bellflower Road and then, starting in 1987, the Galleria mall downtown. For the past 22 years, it occupied a spacious second-floor loft in the old Cleveland Play House complex at 8501 Carnegie Ave.

Over the years, it hosted some of the most outrageous, comprehensive, inspiring, shocking and all-around entertaining art exhibitions in the history of Cleveland.

Whatever its name at any particular point, the institution has been the place where many Clevelanders first encountered Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Christo, Jasper Johns and Frank Gehry.

MOCA’s main gallery
Rotate the panorama by clicking the >> and << markers, which appear when you mouse over the image. Stop movement by clicking the X.

It’s where Yoko Ono displayed smashed teacups and asked viewers to glue the pieces together, where performance artist Janine Antoni lowered herself naked into a bathtub filled with lard to make a statement about obsession with body fat, and where Red Grooms encapsulated the entire city in a raucous installation he created on-site in a four-day burst of creativity.

During many years in which the far wealthier Cleveland Museum of Art treated contemporary art with disdain, MOCA was the one place in town that reliably erased the cultural time lag between the avant-garde and the heartland.

“It was amazing to me how often I’d walk into any museum around the world and see something I’d seen in Cleveland a year or two before,” said longtime supporter Becky Dunn.

The opening of the museum’s new home marks the end of one journey and the beginning of another, as MOCA becomes one of the most visible cultural institutions in the city.

Its building is the centerpiece of Uptown, an eight-acre, $150-million-plus campus-edge development next to Case Western Reserve University that includes apartments, shops, restaurants, a bookstore, a supermarket and the expanding Cleveland Institute of Art.

Once a dead zone, Uptown lies at the heart of one of the hottest centers of economic growth in Ohio, anchored by venerable institutions including the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.

In this heady mix, MOCA will have ready access to the large and steady audience of university students that it has always coveted, plus visitors who flock to other nearby museums.

A very sweet aspect of MOCA’s triumphant return to University Circle is that the once-skeptical Cleveland Museum of Art has done a complete about-face on contemporary art, at least in part in response to relentless pressure from the upstart institution it once ignored.

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.

A MOCA timeline

Follow the history of the Museum of Contemporary Art from its beginnings across the street from its gleaming new building.

Day 1 on Euclid Ave.


Marjorie Talalay and Nina Castelli Sundell open the for-profit New Gallery at 11301 Euclid Ave. in a former dry-cleaning storefront.

Move to a former frat


The New Gallery moves to 11427 Bellflower Road, a former fraternity house.

Talalay takes over


Sundell leaves the New Gallery in the hands of co-founder Talalay.

Nonprofit status


The New Gallery registers as a nonprofit.

New Gallery’s new name


The New Gallery changes its name to the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art.

Gallery at Galleria


While remaining on Bellflower, the center opens a gallery in the downtown Galleria mall.

Another move


The center moves to the Cleveland Play House complex in Midtown at 8501 Carnegie Ave.

Founder Talaly retires


Talalay retires; trustees hire Gary Sangster as her successor.

Snyder 3rd director


Jill Snyder is hired as director after Sangster’s departure in 1995.

CCCA becomes MOCA


The center is renamed the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland.

Gunds kindle building


The Gund Foundation donates $2.1 million, enabling MOCA to seek an architect and commission a design for a new building from Farshid Moussavi in 2006.

Marjorie Talalay dies


Talalay dies in New York.

Play House complex sold


The Cleveland Play House sells its complex to the Cleveland Clinic.

MOCA’s new building


MOCA Cleveland closes its final show in Midtown and prepares to open its new building in University Circle on Monday.

A gallery is born

For Roger Salomon, a key early player in the MOCA saga, the rise of Uptown and the museum’s return to University Circle have taken too long.

“I see it as 30 years of frustrated hopes,” said the retired professor of English at CWRU and honorary member of the MOCA board. But he admits the story has turned out pretty well.

“It makes me feel marvelous,” he said.

Salomon has reason to feel good, because he is widely credited for having arranged the first encounter between Talalay and Sundell, which set MOCA in motion.

Talalay and Sundell came to Cleveland in the late 1960s when their husbands’ careers brought them to the area. Talalay’s husband, Anselm, was a brilliant Russian-born scientist and inventor. He came to Cleveland from New Haven, Conn., to become a vice president of research and development at the B.F. Goodrich Co. Industrial Products Division in Akron.

Nina’s husband, Michael Sundell, came from New York to teach Victorian literature at CWRU.

Salomon, who knew both the Sundells and the Talalays, thought it was natural that Marjorie, who had already run a small gallery in New Haven, might want to start one in Cleveland with Nina.

A key factor was Nina Sundell’s extraordinary family connection to the art world through her father, Leo Castelli, the most important New York art dealer of the day, and his ex-wife, the also highly influential art dealer Ileana Sonnabend.

Talalay, a glamorous, well-dressed woman known for her sharp wit and salty tongue, had already done business with Castelli through her previous gallery in New Haven. Yet Sundell said in a 2008 telephone interview that she and Talalay at first “regarded each other with profound suspicion.” They apparently got over it quickly and exploited their access to a unique supply of cutting-edge art.

The cultural climate they confronted in 1968 was chilly. The Cleveland Museum of Art had been holding its annual May Show of regional artists since 1919, but it paid little attention to contemporary art from outside the Western Reserve.

Art dealer Howard Wise had tried to establish a contemporary gallery in University Circle, but he gave up and moved to New York.

Contemporary-print dealer Art Feldman gathered patronsincluding Peter B. Lewis, then president and chief executive officer of Progressive Corp., the fast-growing auto-insurance company in Mayfield. But Feldman sold his stock privately, without holding exhibitions.

Oberlin College art historyprofessor Ellen Johnson built a powerful collection of contemporary work at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, but Cleveland remained fundamentally insular.

Devoted supporters
but few buyers

The New Gallery shocked Clevelanders with Warhol prints of Chairman Mao, props from performances by Rauschenberg and a now-famous stunt in which Christo wrapped the storefront itself and helped launch a career that later included wrapping the Reichstag building in Berlin.

Talalay and Sundell found few buyers at first.

“Even though they had really good stuff — very good stuff — they couldn’t get anybody to buy it in Cleveland,” said Cleveland native Agnes Gund, who went on to become a nationally respected arts advocate and president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Yet the New Gallery gathered a coterie of devoted supporters that included Gund and the late Jeannette Dempsey, a sister of Philip Johnson, the famous Cleveland-born architect.

“When Nina and Marjorie came to town, we heard about the Castelli connection and we were very interested, and it became a big part of our lives,” said Hope Hungerford, a current MOCA honorary board member, who was then married to lawyer Andrew Dempsey, Jeannette’s son.

Sundell left the gallery and Cleveland in 1973 when she and her husband moved back East. In 2008, she said that her Cleveland years were “more fun than anything else I’ve ever done in my professional life, and as much fun as the best things I’ve ever done in my private life.”

After her departure, the New Gallery eventually morphed under Talalay’s leadership into the nonprofit Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art.

Talalay’s shows drew the wary attention of the formidable Sherman Lee, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. He stalked out of the gallery in a silent huff after a visit to the frat house on Bellflower Road to see paintings by Julian Schnabel and a sound installation by Brian Eno.

“He came in, looked around and left very quickly,” said philanthropist Toby Lewis, who then manned the front desk as Talalay’s director of sales. “He was always rather intimidating. Nobody knew whether to go up and say, ‘Hello, Dr. Lee,’ or stay away.”

By snubbing Lewis, Lee ignored someone who soon became a respected arts impresario in her own right — and a generous donor to artistic causes.

After a couple of years working under Talalay, Lewis was invited by her ex-husband, Peter Lewis, to become the curator of the new art collection at Progressive Corp. Under Toby Lewis’ leadership over the following decades, Progressive amassed one of the leading corporate art collections in the country — one that focused entirely on contemporary art.

Toby Lewis has since become a major supporter of MOCA and of its new building. She donated $1 million to CWRU to surround the museum with a new plaza, which the university has named for her.

As for Peter Lewis, MOCA’s impact has had global implications. It was at a reception at the institution in the mid-1980s that Lewis met and befriended architect Frank Gehry.

That encounter led to Gehry’s unrealized plans for a lakefront skyscraper headquarters for Progressive next to Cleveland’s City Hall, along with unrealized and widely publicized plans for a vast house for Lewis in Lyndhurst.

Aspects of the Lewis house live on in Gehry’s concept for the 1997Guggenheim Museum branch in Bilbao, Spain, which touched off a global boom in cultural buildings designed by star architects.

Frustrated by failing twice to bring anything to fruition with Gehry in Cleveland, Lewis came back in the late ’90s with a $37 million gift to CWRU, which bankrolled half of the Gehry-designed building for the Weatherhead School of Management on Bellflower Road.

German artist Katharina Grosse talks about her four story high painting German artist Katharina Grosse talks about her four story high painting Artist Katharina Grosse of Berlin, Germany, talks about the creation of her four-story painting on the walls of MOCA’s newly completed uptown home at Mayfield and Euclid. The painting will always be a part of the building, because it will eventually be painted over. It can be seen from outside MOCA at night. Watch video

Collaboration is a family affair

Throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, Talalay ran the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art in collaboration with her husband, Anselm, in a hands-on manner that blurred work and home.Board meetings were held around the Talalays’ dining-room table in the modern-style interior of their house on Ludlow Road in Cleveland, just south of Shaker Square. After long days at B.F. Goodrich, Anselm Talalay painted gallery walls, took publicity photos or pasted up catalog pages.

“They didn’t put artists up in hotels,” remembers Kathryn Talalay, one of their three daughters, who was then visiting between semesters in college. “I would come home and expect to go to my bedroom, and my mother would say, ‘I’m terribly sorry, but an artist is in your bedroom.’ ”

Lauren Talalay, Kathryn’s twin sister, remembers coming home from college to find the freezer full of fish that were to serve as props in a performance by a visiting artist.

The children never minded. They viewed their parents’ project as a duet that lay at the heart of their romance.

The center had a chance in the late’80sto createa permanent home when Peter Galvin, a real estate executive and a MOCA board member, arranged to buy a site from CWRU on the northeast corner of Ford Drive and Bellflower Road. The center then commissioned Cleveland architect Don Hisaka to design a 12,000-square-foot building, for which it started raising money.

MOCA Cleveland: The history

Enlarge Special to The Plain Dealer Marjorie Talalay and Nina Castelli Sundell inspect Andy Warhol prints in an undated photo from the early years of their New Gallery in Cleveland. (MOCA Cleveland) MOCA Cleveland: The historygallery (6 photos)

  • MOCA Cleveland: The history
  • MOCA Cleveland: The history
  • MOCA Cleveland: The history
  • MOCA Cleveland: The history
  • MOCA Cleveland: The history

But when Agnar Pytte became president of CWRU in 1987, he nixed the deal and bought back the land, which eventually became home to the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

A struggleto pull in visitors

The contemporary-art center pivoted and quickly leased space in the Galleria downtown from 1987 to 1990, while maintaining its presence in the house on Bellflower Road. In 1990, with the help of then-board President William Ginn, the center moved a third time, into the second floor of the former Sears store at the Cleveland Play House complex.

Despite a renovation designed by Philip Johnson that linked the Play House to the art center with a long corridor from one lobby to the other, the two institutions rarely collaborated and never created a cultural center of gravity in Midtown. The Play House sold its complex to the Cleveland Clinic in 2009 and moved downtown to the Allen Theatre complex in PlayhouseSquare in 2011.

Throughout the ’90s, the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art struggled as a virtual stand-alone destination. Attendance drifted as low as 11,000 during the final years of Marjorie Talalay’s tenure, which ended with her retirement in 1993. Anselm Talalay died in Cleveland in 1994 at age 82, and Marjorie died in New York in 2008, at age 87.

Gary Sangster, an art historian from Australia, succeeded Talalay for two years before the center’s board decided the relationship wasn’t working. Sangster went on to become director of the Contemporary in Baltimore, a nonprofit producer and presenter of contemporary art.

Realization of a dream

Arriving in 1996 as director after having led the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, Conn., Jill Snyder stabilized the center, renamed it Museum of Contemporary ArtCleveland and charted the path back to University Circle — while presiding over excellent exhibitions and programs that gradually pushed attendance up to 20,000 a year.

Highlights included a major show on Israeli photography, a retrospective on the German-born American sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard and an installation in which Russian emigre artist Ilya Kabakov created a vast retrospective exhibition for a fictional 20th-century Russian artist named Charles Rosenthal and his supposed disciple, an equally fictional Ilya Kabakov.

By moving to University Circle, MOCA expects that it will more than triple its attendance to 65,000 and play a far more important role in the cultural life of Cleveland. To kick off its new home, MOCA Chief Curator David Norr has organized an exhibition of works by 16 artists from five countries, underscoring the museum’s international aspirations.

For Snyder, the opening on Monday is the realization of a hard-won dream after fighting to raise more than $30 million so far through two recessions and struggling to align Moussavi’s glittering ideas with MOCA’s financial means.

“It was hard,” she said. “It was hard because we had a noble and audacious vision — and one that many people felt we couldn’t achieve.”

Yet MOCA is now back in University Circle. If you stand in front of the museum at the corner of Euclid and Mayfield, you can look diagonally west across the intersection and see the spot on the far side of the Commodore Place apartment building where the long-demolished storefront once stood.

It’s only a couple of hundred yards away, but it took 44 years to cover the distance. Now that MOCA has made the trip, it no longer needs to wander.

Web development: Peter Zicari, The Plain Dealer. Panorama plugin by Arnault Pachot,

Special to The Plain Dealer By Special to The Plain Dealer

Marjorie Talalay and Nina Castelli Sundell inspect Andy Warhol prints in an undated photo from the early years of their New Gallery in Cleveland. (MOCA Cleveland)


Farshid Moussavi Architecture
MOCA Cleveland
Cleveland, Ohio

Photo: Dean Kaufman

MOCA Cleveland is a non-collecting contemporary art museum designed to serve as a catalyst for creativity and growth in a cosmopolitan Cleveland neighborhood, which is home to one of the country’s largest concentrations of cultural, educational and medical institutions.

Three of the building’s six facets, one of them clad in transparent glass, flank a public plaza which serves as a public gathering place and links MOCA to Uptown attractions and amenities.

Photo: Dean Kaufman

Photo: Dean Kaufman

Located on the corner of its triangular site, the building is designed with entrances on all its sides to allow it to open along its entire perimeter and be used in many different ways.

Clad primarily in mirror-finish black stainless steel, the building envelope reflects its urban surroundings, changing in appearance with differences in light and weather.

Photo: Dean Kaufman

Photo: Dean Kaufman

The four-story building rises 60 feet from a hexagonal base to a square top, where the primary exhibition space is located. The dynamic shape and structure of the building as it rises is visible on entering the building.

Photo: Dean Kaufman

Photo: Dean Kaufman

The Kohl Monumental Staircase, a dominant architectural feature of the building, is open to the atrium and views of the other floors.

Photo: Dean Kaufman

Photo: Dean Kaufman

The ground floor contains a café and shop, and a double-height multi-purpose room for public programs and events.

Photo: Dean Kaufman

Because MOCA is a non-collecting institution, one of the relatively few such contemporary art museums in the country, its new building does not need to accommodate collection galleries. Flexibility is key to enable the museum to display works in a great variety of media and genres.

Drawing courtesy Farshid Moussavi Architecture
Site Plan

Drawing courtesy Farshid Moussavi Architecture
First Floor Plan

Drawing courtesy Farshid Moussavi Architecture
Seond Floor Plan

Drawing courtesy Farshid Moussavi Architecture
Third Floor Plan

Drawing courtesy Farshid Moussavi Architecture
Fourth Floor Plan

Drawing courtesy Farshid Moussavi Architecture
Section AA

Drawing courtesy Farshid Moussavi Architecture
Section BB

Drawing courtesy Farshid Moussavi Architecture
Double Faced Envelope

Drawing courtesy Farshid Moussavi Architecture

Total Area: 34,000 square feet

Completed: 2012

Client: MOCA Cleveland
Architects: Farshid Moussavi Architecture
Executive Architect: Westlake Reed Leskosky
Engineering Services: Westlake Reed Leskosky
Facade Engineering: ARUP Facades
Photographed by Dean Kaufman

November 5, 2012

Image Image This link will launch your email client.

In Cleveland, a Flashy New Museum But an Even Better Neighborhood

In Cleveland, a Flashy New Museum But an Even Better Neighborhood
MOCA Cleveland

Next Monday, the Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art will officially move into its new $27.3 million home on Euclid Avenue. Designed by Iranian-born and London-based architect Farshid Moussavi, the sophisticated, gem-shaped museum reminds visitors that Cleveland can still build the kinds of flashy cultural toys associated with bigger, wealthier cities.

MOCA Cleveland may make the loudest design statement, but it’s far from the only symbol of bold, 21st century urbanism in the University Circle neighborhood.

The neighborhood has seen a diverse set of investments, including high density residential projects, new medical facilities and academic buildings, even multiple public transit initiatives. University Circle now stands out as a diverse hub of activity in a city clamoring for such things.

From left to right: Uptown Development, Case Western’s Gehry-designed business school, the recently opened Siedman Cancer Center. Photos by Mark Byrnes

Anchored by a stop along the RTA’s HealthLine, a bus rapid transit route that connects East Cleveland to downtown, the Uptown Development Project is a new mixed-use development with apartments and retail. Most importantly, the development gives the former food desert a full-scale supermarket. Constantino’s Market opened earlier this year on the ground floor of Uptown Development, thanks in part to a “Healthy Food Financing” grant from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Blessed by a significant cluster of university, medical, cultural, and transit facilities, it is in a fortunate position to generate private sector development (the neighborhood has grown to support around 3 million visitors, 50,000 jobs and 10,000 residents) that many surrounding communities still cannot since losing their industrial base in the last century.

From left to right: An artfully designed parking garage at the new Siedman Cancer Center, a Case Western dorm, Euclid Tavern. Photos by Mark Byrnes

In fact, it’s understood by most locals that once you’ve reached the railroad underpass and the “Gas USA” station just before E 123rd, you’ve gone too far for your own good. When I visited earlier this year, my friend, a University Circle resident, insisted we turn around once we reached the underpass. On the walk back, he regaled me with a series of crime stories passed around among his Case Western peers.

It’s a jarring realization, particularly when you pass the colorful collection of new luxury town homes near the ominous “border” called Circle 118. They are separated by only a light rail station from 27 Coltman, a similar new housing complex. Past the Gas USA however, a cemetery, empty lots, and deteriorating homes begin to tell the more familiar story of urban life in Cleveland.

Circle 118, a recent luxury housing development in University Circle. Photo by Mark Byrnes.

Besides downtown’s recently reported housing shortage, University Circle’s success feels more of an anomaly than a sign of things to come. Population loss is the norm to the immediate north, east, and west of University Circle. Few cities in America have lost more people since the 1960s than Cleveland, with an overall drop of 17 percent in the last ten years.

But that is not to say that University Circle’s evolution is in vain. In many ways it’s a Rust Belt planner’s dream of a modern-day economic hub centered around eds, meds, and an exhaustive collection of cultural facilities. Some examples:

  • Case Western maintains its high-ranking reputation around the country, emphasized a decade ago with the opening of a new business school designed by Frank Gehry. It has has also experienced one of the largest growths in endowment (393 percent) of any university in the last 20 years.
  • Medical-related businesses continue to see growth with the nearby Seidman Cancer Center as part of University Hospitals. Tech incubators like BioEnterprise, launched as a collaboration between the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals Health System, Case Western, and the Summa Health System, help generate economies of scale around its major employers.
  • Some of the city’s best public transit connections can be found in the immediate area. The HealthLine, hosting multiple stops in the neighborhood, serves as a model for cash-strapped cities looking for better public transit along its major corridors. Last month, reconstruction began at Cedar – University station and plans are in place for a new station at Mayfield and E 119th. It will replace the current station on Euclid and E 120th, bringing riders closer to places like MOCA and Little Italy and further from Gas USA.

A promotional video for MOCA’s now sold-out opening night ceremonies this weekend.

Before next Monday’s official opening, MOCA Cleveland patrons will celebrate inside the new museum Saturday night, acknowledging the new era that the museum and its eye-catching home are about to embark on. For University Circle, it’s merely one piece of a neighborhood that keeps impressing in a city that, for the most part, still struggles to fight off its decline.

Top image: A rendering of the new MOCA Cleveland building, courtesy the museum.

Keywords: Cleveland, rust belt, University, urban development, Museums, Art Museum, public transportation

Mark Byrnes is a former fellow at The Atlantic Cities and a graduate student in publications design at the University of Baltimore. All posts »

since 1999 home of design culture, leading indipendent publication for design, architecture, art, photography and graphics
farshid moussavi architecture: MOCA cleveland

original content
farshid moussavi architecture: MOCA cleveland
Oct 14, 2012

first image
‘MOCA cleveland’ by farshid moussavi architecture, cleveland, ohio, USA
image © dean kaufman
all images courtesy of farshid moussavi architecture

designed by london-based farshid moussavi architecture, the ‘MOCA cleveland‘ has just opened in a neighborhood of cleveland, ohio.
one of the few in the country, the non-collecting art museum intends to become a catalyst for creativity and growth with changing
exhibitions and displays throughout the 34,000 square foot building. eliminating the need for permanent galleries, the main priority
of the design was flexibility to accommodate a great variety of media and genres within the four storeys. resting on a triangular site,
the geometric form begins with a hexagonal footprint and rises 60 feet to the square facet for the roof. entrances at all sides of the perimeter
allows the interior to be used in many ways. upon entering, visitors are confronted with a full-building height atrium, revealing the
angled exterior walls as it spans to the ceiling. guiding towards the lobby, cafe and shop with double-storey multi-purpose room for public events.

a grand focal staircase takes visitors to the upper levels, experiencing the structural system of the building and culminating with
a 6,000 square foot gallery at the top floor. without fixed partition walls, the space may be configured as needed with views towards
the plaza below.

image © dean kaufman

mirror-finish black stainless steel reflects the sky
image © dan michaels

doorway within reflective facade
image © dean kaufman

ground floor
image © dean kaufman

grand stair
image © dean kaufman

image © dean kaufman

image © dean kaufman

ground floor commons
image © dean kaufman

interior office
image © dean kaufman

exterior facing euclid avenue
image © dean kaufman

image © duane prokop / getty images

project info:

construction budget: $18.7 million
area: 34,000 ft2
project team:
design architect: farshid moussavi architecture (until june 2011 FOA)
executive architect: westlake reed leskosky
engineering services: westlake reed leskosky
facade engineering: arup facades

lauren db

A Bold New Home for the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland

November 12, 2012
The new MOCA Cleveland building by Farshid Moussavi. Photo: Dean Kaufman

Designed by London-based architect Farshid Moussavi, the new home for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland cuts a fine and enigmatic figure. Situated at an unassuming uptown intersection, the recently opened, nearly 34,000-square-foot, four-story structure (Moussavi’s first in the U.S. and first museum commission) rises in geometric planes from a hexagonal footprint, tapering and tilting to reach a square roof.

Another view of the angular façade. Photo: Dean Kaufman

Panels of mirror-finished black stainless steel lend a smooth sheen to all of the elevations, catching reflections of the surrounding city skyline and passing traffic. One triangular side of the façade is made of clear glass, revealing a soaring three-story atrium where German artist Katharina Grosse has spray-painted vibrant graphics in purple, orange, and yellow acrylic onto the walls as part of the noncollecting museum’s inaugural offerings (one of a few such institutions in the States, the site has no need to accommodate collection galleries). Take that installation as a sign of bold exhibitions to come.

Henrique Oliveira’s Carambóxido, 2012, was commissioned by MOCA for their inaugural exhibition, “Inside Out and From the Ground Up.” Photo: Tim Safranek Photographics
The structure’s one glass wall offers views into the atrium. Photo: Dean Kaufman
click here

MOCA Cleveland Opens in Sleek New Digs

by Brian Boucher 10/10/12

Having operated in rented quarters since it opened as the commercial New Gallery in 1968, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland has constructed an impressive new building in the city’s University Circle neighborhood, home to the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra and other cultural institutions. The museum opened to the public Monday; A.i.A. attended opening festivities over the weekend.

Designed by Iranian-born, London-based Farshid Moussavi, the striking new facility resembles a gigantic chunk of a shiny mineral, resting on an airy plaza. Six sides, some triangular, some trapezoidal, rise 65 feet from a hexagonal base to form a square roof. The building’s exterior is clad with 1,354 black steel panels that create shimmering reflections. MOCA Cleveland is the first U.S. building and the first completed museum for Moussavi, who is also currently at work on the Quran Museum in Tehran, slated for completion in 2013.

View Slideshow MOCA Cleveland Celebrates New Museum Building With Opening Weekend Party Photo: Duane Prokop, Getty Images Entertainment / Courtesy MOCA Cleveland  ; MOCA Cleveland Celebrates New Museum Building With Opening Weekend Party Photo: Duane Prokop, Getty Images Entertainment / Courtesy MOCA Cleveland  ;

The 34,000-square-foot new building gives the non-collecting institution about 8,000 square feet for temporary exhibitions, with three quarters of that area on the top floor and one quarter in a second-floor project space. MOCA’s inaugural exhibition, “Inside Out and from the Ground Up” (through Feb. 24, 2013) is currently on the top floor, while a large sculpture by David Altmejd, The Orbit (2012), is in the project gallery (through Dec. 30). A spacious ground-floor area is accessible to the public free of charge during open hours; MOCA director Jill Snyder hopes it will serve as an “urban living room.”

One unusual aspect of the design arose from the necessity for an enclosed fire stair, which Moussavi placed underneath the snaking, open-topped stair that provides access to all levels of the museum. The fire stair’s interior was painted yellow; a sound work by Haegue Yang is installed inside. The open main stairway extends beyond the top-floor galleries to a landing just under the roof, allowing visitors to look down into the main gallery even while shows are being installed.

Another exceptional feature of the building is that the inner surface of the steel walls (which are visible from the ground floor and flanking the main stairway), along with the ceiling of the main gallery, are painted a dark, matte blue. At the press conference, Moussavi explained that for her, “the idea of neutrality was problematic. I did not want a cold, sterile white box.” In her view, against white walls, art “floats,” while the darkened ceiling weights the space and anchors the artwork.

The new MOCA was constructed at a cost of $27.2 million, with the lion’s share coming from the MOCA board and from foundations including the Cleveland and Gund foundations. Board chairman Scott Mueller proudly pointed out at an opening gala dinner on Friday that the building is fully paid for. At a press conference, Snyder mentioned an October 2008 board meeting, in the midst of the tanking economy, to discuss the project, which had already been in the works six years and for which only about half the money had been raised.

But the board rallied, and though 4,000 square feet and $1.5 million were shaved off of the project, Snyder maintained that this forced the design team to focus on essentials. “It made the building better,” Snyder asserted.

“Different,” Moussavi demurred.

The architect of record for the project, Paul Westlake, compared the process of designing the building to “sex in the back of a car. It’s terribly exciting but it’s not very comfortable.”

“Inside Out and from the Ground Up,” organized by chief curator David Norr, considers the ways contemporary artists deal with space and architecture. It includes three commissions: a mural from German painter Katharina Grosse, a sculptural installation by Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira and a group of photographs by Cleveland photographer Barry Underwood that document the new MOCA building during construction. Louise Bourgeois, Gordon Matta-Clark and Rachel Whiteread are also featured among the show’s 16 artists.

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.

The new MOCA is one of several new contemporary art-related developments in Cleveland, along with ongoing collecting of contemporary art by the Cleveland Clinic and Progressive, the auto insurance company, and in tandem with economic development including a new sports stadium and medical convention center. The Cleveland Museum of Art has recently increased its contemporary programming on site. Also, sharing time with Cleveland collectors Fred and Laura Bidwell, it will program half of each year at the Transformer Station, a 3,500-square-foot contemporary art venue in a former Cleveland Railway Co. facility on Cleveland’s West Side, which is due to open in February 2013.

Crit> MOCA Cleveland
Stephanie Murg reviews Farshid Moussavi’s audacious American debut.

Courtesy Dean Kaufman

Shiny and faceted, the new Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland has already been touted as “a cultural gem.” MOCA also has been likened to a massive jewel embedded—albeit at a wonky angle—in the eight-acre development known as Uptown, adjacent to Case Western Reserve University.

It would be tempting to shrug off these nicknames as snap judgments (see also: “the Gherkin” and “the Shard”) if they weren’t so apt. 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.

The sleek, surprising, and incredibly versatile new home of MOCA Cleveland is the first museum commission and first U.S.-based building for Iranian-born Farshid Moussavi, who since landing the project in 2006 as co-principal of Foreign Office Architects, has started her own London-based firm. Along the way, there was a global economic crisis (the museum’s local bank was seized on the very day the new building was proposed to the board) that put the squeeze on fund-raising efforts, the project budget, and the original design.

The tense environment that resulted made for a fragmented design process. “We had three months of design and then nothing, and then another three months of design and then nothing…six years of it,” Moussavi said earlier this month, on the eve of the museum’s public debut. She described her surprise, at how the on-again, off-again design schedule actually turned out to be a boon to the project. “We had lots of time to mature, to develop our ideas, and even to run into accidents,” she said, pointing to a window’s mirror reveal that cleverly cuts the depth of the building’s shimmering skin. “If we had rushed, we wouldn’t have thought of that.

“The project had a whole series of discoveries along the way that had to do with having that extra time.”

Moussavi the architect turns out to be something of a savant when it comes to the temporal dimension. With a total project budget of $27.2 million, her MOCA is a slow-motion spectacular that unfolds over four stories and approximately 34,000 square feet, anchored by a vertiginous central staircase. Visitors who want to climb to the very top can hover over the main gallery and take in Escher-like vistas afforded by the dramatically canted walls and zigzagging walkways below.

The building envelope, a craggy carapace that is independent of the load-bearing floors, has six faceted sides, one of them a tall triangle of transparent glass that echoes the three-cornered building site. The others are clad in panels of black stainless steel for a unique finish that is part fun house mirror, part mood ring. Moussavi was sold on the dark Rimex paneling when she discovered how its dynamics changed, based on the orientation of the surface, the thickness of the steel, the light, even the weather. “It started playing with time,” she explained. “We eventually understood the significance of that for a contemporary art museum that should play with the idea of the now and the instant.”

Inside the eccentric exterior, which culminates in a square top, is a more conventional orthogonal plan atop a squat hexagonal base. The contrast between inside and outside could have been jarring, but Moussavi proposed the bold move of lining the building shell with color: a matte blue that suggests Yves Klein ultramarine at midnight. “Artists gave us feedback about the intensity of the blue paint,” she explained. “They said that if it was dark enough, it would recede and give this sensation of a boundless space”—an effect that is heightened by the diagonal zips of glass that are the building’s windows.

Allowing the dark shell to infiltrate what would have been a basic white- cube gallery on the top floor is just one of the invasions—and innovations—evidenced at MOCA. Floors deliberately alternate between public and nonpublic museum activities, affording visitors glimpses into the wood workshop or the loading dock.

The enclosed fire stairs, painted bright yellow and locked in a helical embrace with the main staircase, double as a sound gallery. With entrances on all sides, the double-height ground floor can be configured as a gallery, performance venue, or, in the words of MOCA executive director Jill Snyder, an “urban living room” (admission is charged only if visitors wish to ascend to the exhibitions). Even the museum store floats, thanks to collapsible fixtures that can make way for private events.

The sculptural force of the new MOCA, which had long operated out of a second-floor space in a former Sears, demands an equally challenging exhibition program, and chief curator David Noor appears up to the task, with a debut show that engages directly with architecture, including everything from the usual suspects like Rachel Whiteread and Gordon Matta-Clark to an atrium wall spray-painted by Katharina Grosse and Henrique Oliveira’s site-specific Caramboxido, a giant plywood gourd that bursts through a gallery wall.

Future exhibitions dedicated to artists such as Corin Hewitt and the collaborative duo of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are sound choices to make Moussavi’s dark gem shine.

Stepahanie Murg

See the slideshow

Moussavi at the west entrance to MOCA Cleveland.

Farshid Moussavi at the west entrance to MOCA Cleveland.

Build It and They Will Come

With Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Farshid Moussavi is reinventing the exhibition space as we know it. Alice Rawsthorn takes the tour.

By Alice Rawsthorn
Photographs by Dean Kaufman
October 2012

There’s a new kind of theater in Cleveland: If you stand outside the city’s just built Museum of Contemporary Art, you can watch its walls change color with the light. When the sun shines directly onto their black mirrored steel, the six walls will look blue—the brighter the sun, the more vivid the hue—but if the sky clouds over, they will darken to black, just as they will when the sun moves around the building. And as each of them stands at a different angle, each reflects a different image of what is happening around it. “It’s as if the building is performing for you,” says Farshid Moussavi, the ­museum’s architect. “There are some amazing moments, when the distorted reflections produce a kind of new reality.”

A petite, vivacious Iranian who lives and works in London, Moussavi, 47, is one of Europe’s most innovative and influential architects and theorists. Her books are practically required reading in the industry, and the exhibition she curated on the cultural impact of architecture is a highlight of this fall’s Venice Architecture ­Biennale. “Farshid is impossibly gorgeous and devastatingly smart,” says Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “She looks like an anime heroine and speaks with the intellectual power and authority of a pillar of contemporary architectural culture.”

MOCA Cleveland, which opens to the public on October 8 with surveys of the work of the German artist Katharina Grosse and the Canadian sculptor David ­Altmejd along with a group show featuring pieces by David Hammons and ­Gordon Matta Clark, is Moussavi’s first building in the United States. Though her constantly morphing museum has been eagerly anticipated by architecture buffs, it should prove equally compelling to the art world—after all, she’s done nothing less than create a radically new type of contemporary-art space that’s neither a stereotypical white cube nor a monumental museum in the traditional mold.

While the tone is set by the building’s constantly changing facade, there are playful touches inside, where visitors are invited to ­observe the daily life of the museum and its staff in a series of impromptu performances: They can peek through glass walls into the art-handling area, delivery bay, and other behind-the-scenes spaces usually hidden from the public. If they walk to the top of the spectacular steel staircase, they can look down into the main gallery to catch an aerial view of the artworks or watch the installation of new shows. But the grand finale is the ceiling of those galleries, which is painted in the same deep blue as those of ancient Egyptian tombs. It resembles the night sky, with the gallery lights shining like stars.

“We want the building to be an experience in itself and to reflect the role of the museum,” Moussavi says. “MOCA Cleveland isn’t a grand museum with a historical collection; it’s all about temporary exhibitions, which change constantly—so does contemporary art, and so should the architecture.” Luckily, Moussavi was blessed with an empathic client in Jill Snyder, the museum’s director. “I have learned so much about architecture from her,” Snyder says. “And I believe she has learned more about contemporary art and museums from us.”

farshid moussavi

Farshid Moussavi

Moussavi’s love of architecture goes back to her childhood in Sari, a city by the Caspian Sea in northern Iran, where her parents, both academics, commissioned a local architect to construct their family home. She remembers going to design meetings as a toddler and watching concrete being poured for the foundations. During her early teens, Iran was convulsed by revolution. In 1979, when she was 14, the family traveled to England to visit Moussavi’s brother, who was at boarding school there; her parents enrolled her, as well, in an English school rather than risk taking her back home. “At the time, I just got on with it,” Moussavi says. “But looking back, it was really tough. Having to start from scratch like that makes you strong, because you lose the fear of change.”

Her mother and younger sister moved to England a year later, followed by her father. Moussavi went on to study architecture at the University of Dundee in Scotland—where one of her professors suggested she pursue an internship in the then tiny London office of the Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid—and at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. She spent two years at Harvard, where she was taught by Rem Koolhaas, who offered her a job at his practice, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA).

While at OMA, Moussavi began a relationship with the Spanish architect ­Alejandro Zaera-Polo. In 1993, they ­married and set up a firm in London, choosing Foreign Office Architects (FOA) as a suitable name for a partnership between an Iranian and a Spaniard working in England. Together they won a series of prestigious international commissions, including Japan’s Yokohama International Passenger Terminal, and emerged at the forefront of the post-Koolhaas-and-Hadid generation of architects, whose work is defined not by an identifiable style but by experimenting with design technology to produce structures that are specific to their location and purpose.

Moussavi has developed the theoretical side of her work at Harvard, having returned there to teach in 2005 and becoming a tenured professor a year later—and in a series of books based on research conducted with her students. Each publication ­explores an aspect of digital technology and environmental concerns relating to architecture: The Function of Ornament was published in 2006 and The Function of Form in 2009; The Function of Style is due out next year.

When Moussavi and Zaera-Polo divorced in 2011, they dissolved FOA and set up separate offices. Zaera-Polo has since been appointed dean of the architecture school at Princeton University, and Moussavi has stayed in London, where she lives in Belgravia with the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Mina.

Farshid Moussavi Architecture got off to a spectacular start by winning a commission for a major housing project at La Défense in Paris, followed by the critical coup of the Venice show (which draws on the research for the three Function books), and now, MOCA Cleveland’s opening. “It has been exciting,” Moussavi says. “First time around, you set up an office instinctively. Second time around, you are more conscious of how it should be.”

Until recently, architecture was largely a man’s world. But together with Hadid and Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA—the Japanese firm behind the design of New York’s New ­Museum—Moussavi is one of a handful of women who have joined the trade’s elite band of world-class practitioners, with major commissions and prestigious academic posts. And she has done so on her own terms. In The Function of Form, she compares the impact of Gyrotonic exercises on the body with the fluid forms of contemporary architecture, and she draws similar parallels with the work of fashion designers Azzedine Alaïa, ­Miuccia Prada, and Hussein ­Chalayan, all of whom she admires for their innovations with shape and structure.

Antonelli remembers trekking around Venice with Moussavi in scorching heat four years ago when the two were members of the Architecture Biennale jury. “Farshid did so in platforms, balanced by a structured, deceptively sensuous Alaïa skirt and a Chalayan straw hat with aviator sunglasses built into the brim,” ­Antonelli says. “She was an eye-popping vision.” (Moussavi had persuaded Chalayan to make the hat for her trip after seeing it in his show.) “I often wear skirts, and I always wear heels,” Moussavi says. “The older I become, the more determined I am not to compromise the fact that I am a woman working in a male profession. I feel stronger and more confident by insisting on who I am.”

Read more:

Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland Announces Opening Date of New Building and Inaugural Exhibition
Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA) new building rendering. Shot from Euclid Avenue. Courtesy MOCA Cleveland.

Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland Announces Opening Date of New Building and Inaugural Exhibition

Innovative Structure Designed by Farshid Moussavi

Public Opening October 8, 2012, Features 13 International Artists on Themes of Space and Architecture

The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA) will hold a public opening in celebration of its new building in the emerging Uptown district of University Circle on October 8, 2012. The inaugural exhibition, Inside Out and from the Ground Up, features an international roster of artists at all points in their careers and provides an in-depth look at how they engage with architecture and concepts of space.

Organized by David Norr, Chief Curator at MOCA Cleveland, Inside Out and from the Ground Up will feature sculpture, painting, installations, photography, and video.

The exhibition will bring together significant works by pioneering figures, such as Louise Bourgeois, David Hammons, and Gordon Matta-Clark, alongside works by established and emerging artists, including David Altmejd, Walead Beshty, Katharina Grosse, Jacqueline Humphries, Corey McCorkle, Henrique Oliveira, Barry Underwood, William Villalongo, Rachel Whiteread, and Haegue Yang. The works will create an expanded dialogue on contemporary art and space, approaching this central theme through a range of tactile, visual and conceptual means.

Many of the artists will exhibit new works. Featured in MOCA’s Toby Devan Lewis Gallery, David Altmejd will create his largest vitrine piece to date. In addition, Altmejd will create a new series of figurative plaster works, which will be embedded in the gallery’s walls, drawing viewers into the artist’s unique vision of entropy and regeneration.

MOCA has commissioned three of the artists to question the logic of the building itself through deliberate additions, subtractions or alterations to the architecture. Berlin-based Katharina Grosse will create a vibrant, massively scaled painting in the Donna and Stewart Kohl Atrium, covering three stories of MOCA’s elevator shaft and spilling out into the adjoining museum store and stairwell.

Henrique Oliveira will create a cave-like environment made from materials gathered from the streets of São Paulo, suggesting organic growth or parasitic invasion. Barry Underwood is photographing MOCA’s new building throughout its construction, staging temporary light installations to reveal the building in a dynamic process of becoming. These commissioned projects will reframe MOCA’s architecture, drawing the institution itself into a dialogue on the phenomenology of space.

About the New Building
The nearly 34,000-square-foot structure, which is 44 percent larger than MOCA’s current rented space, will demonstrate that a museum expansion need not be large in scale to be ambitious in all respects.  Devised for both environmental and fiscal sustainability, the design is at once technically inventive, visually stunning and highly practical.

The dynamic structure was designed by Iranian-born Farshid Moussavi of London, formerly with Foreign Office Architects (FOA) and now principal of Farshid Moussavi Architecture (FMA). This is her first U.S. commission and her first museum.

The four-story building, which anchors the Uptown district, rises 60 feet from a hexagonal base to a square top, where the primary exhibition space is located. All four floors contain areas for either exhibitions or public programs.

Clad primarily in mirror-finish black Rimex stainless steel, the façade will reflect its urban surroundings, changing in appearance with differences in light and weather. Three of the building’s six facets, one of them clad in transparent glass, will flank a public plaza.

Upon entering the building, visitors will find themselves in an atrium where they can see the dynamic shape and structure of the building as it rises. This space leads to MOCA’s lobby, café and shop, and to a double-height multi-purpose room for public programs and events. From there, visitors may take MOCA’s monumental staircase, a dominant architectural feature of the building, to the upper floors. On the top floor the 6,000-square-foot gallery space has no fixed dividing walls, allowing for a variety of configurations. This floor also contains a gallery designed for new media work and a lounge with a view of the plaza and Uptown.

For additional information:

Press Contact:
Justin Conner
212-627-1455 x233

Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland Announces Opening Date of New Building and Inaugural Exhibition

In Progress: Cleveland Museum / Farshid Moussavi

MOCA / . © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky

Nearly two years ago, we introduced Farshid Moussavi’s first major US building – a sleek geometrical design for ’s Museum of Contemporary Art.  With its strong formal moves, the museum intends to aid the city’s urban-revitalization efforts by shaping an iconic cultural destination alongside its neighboring concentration of museums, such as the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.   MOCA Executive Director Jill Snyder says, “We believe MOCA is contributing a great building to  Cleveland, one that will stimulate critical thinking and animate social exchange. MOCA is expanding its scope and activities on all fronts, supported by new architecture that allows for flexibility, unconventionality, and technological capacity in the presentation of contemporary art.”  The 34,000 sqf building is nearing completion, and a public opening will be celebrated in early October with the inaugural exhibition, Inside Out and from the Ground Up, featuring an in-depth look at how international artists engage with architecture and spatial ideas.More about the project, including facade photos, after the break.

MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky

Moussavi, formerly with Foreign Office Architects and now principal of Farshid Moussavi Architecture, explained, “Our design for MOCA Cleveland aims to provide an ideal environment for artists and visitors and to foster creativity and variety in exhibitions and programs.”

The museum takes its shape from a hexagonal base which ends as a square top, and the faceted volume is clad in a mirror-finish black Rimex stainless steel.  As construction progresses on the façade, Moussavi’s intentions of allowing the urban environment to be reflected in the building’s wrapper is coming to fruition.  And, because MOCA is a non-collecting institution, Moussavi’s design can capitalize on the notion of flexibility, as the building does not need to support permanent collection galleries.  Snyder added, “This building’s design is a perfect expression of the museum’s philosophy and programs. Flexibility is key to a program like ours that embraces aesthetic, conceptual and cultural diversity, and displays works in a great variety of media and genres.”

MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky

Organized by David Norr, Chief Curator at MOCA Cleveland, the inaugural exhibition will have particular resonance in MOCA’s new building, as the architecture creates striking effects through transparency, openness, and scale. “The artists in our inaugural exhibition prompt us to consider how we physically and psychologically relate to the built world – layered with all of its cues and miscues. A common thread in the exhibition is vision and the body:  being immersed in or excluded from spaces; the tenuous boundary between inside and outside, self and other; and the disorientating effects of shifting perspectives.”

MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky

Within the exhibition, three artists (Katharina Grosse, Henrique Oliveira and Barry Underwood) have questioned the logic of Moussavi’s creation through deliberate additions, subtractions or alterations to the architecture, to strengthen the viewers’ connection and awareness to their spatial surroundings.  For instance, Underwood’s addition will include a series of photographs documenting the building’s construction process with temporary light installations; Grosse will create a three-story tall massively scaled painting in to cover the MOCA’s elevator shaft; and Oliveira will create a cave-like environment made from materials gathered from the streets of São Paulo, suggesting organic growth or parasitic invasion.

We look forward to seeing the completed building later this summer, and hope that all in the Cleveland area will be able to enjoy the inaugural exhibition tied so harmoniously with the museum’s architecture.

1 MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
2 MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
3 MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
4 MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
5_2_12_MOCA Cleveland[1] MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
5_2_12_MOCA Cleveland_Cladding MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
MOCA / Farshid Moussavi. © Dan Michaels/Westlake Reed Leskosky
ARTFORUM magazine

Hot in Cleveland


Left: Artist David Altmejd (left) and Teneille Haggard (middle). Right: Architect Farshid Moussavi, Cleveland MoCA director Jill Snyder, and collector Agnes Gund. (All photos: Allese Thomson)

CLEVELAND IS A SLEEPY gray city that curls around the edge of Lake Eerie and is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; three sports stadiums; one very popular casino; a sprawling world-class medical center; a car insurance company; an art museum with a glass atrium the size of a football field (“I feel like I’m in an airport—but in a good way,” said a friend as we glided down the escalator); one greeting card company; countless charming clapboard-and-brick homes that retail at less than $100,000; a large city park divided into ethnic zones (“Can you imagine if they did this in Central Park?” asked a New York dealer. “There would be an ethnic war,” said another); the nation’s most-frequented Starbucks; and, as of earlier this month, the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art, a 34,000-square-foot hexagonal building that reaches sixty-five feet into the air and is lined with over thirteen hundred black steel panels that send the city’s reflection shimmering over its surface.

“It’s a fat building. And I like its fatness,” said Agnes Gund, sitting amid an audience of collectors, dealers, philanthropists, journalists, and artists the morning after the museum hosted its VIP opening reception. (“Black Tie—have fun with it!” the invitation announced.) There was laughter. The building’s architect, Farshid Moussavi, a fiercely self-possessed woman, dazzled Clevelanders and New Yorkers alike with her fashion choices throughout the weekend—Friday night: a dress made of combs (“It’s Maison Margiela. I almost bought the same one,” said Carol Greene. “But Bergdorf ran out.”); Saturday: a pink foam tunic that vaguely resembled the top of a cupcake (“Comme des Garçons,” said Angela Robins of Honor Fraser). At Gund’s comment, Moussavi made a small smile that could be read alternately as amused or piqued.

Left: Collector Toby Devan Lewis. Right: Greene Naftali‘s Jeffrey Rowledge with artists Jacqueline Humphries and Teresita Fernandez.

Gund is one of the museum’s most significant backers, having gifted $1 million in 2006 following a 2005 donation of $2.1 million by the George Gund Foundation, which was established by her father. These funds gave director Jill Snyder the means and confidence to hire Moussavi and begin the process of building a new home for a museum that previously occupied the second floor of an abandoned Sears department store and, prior to that, a former fraternity house. As a Cleveland native, Gund possesses a certain parental sense of propriety over the city—on the flight from New York en route to the opening, rumor has it that she marched up and down the aisle of the plane handing out Obama/Biden buttons.

“I’ve seen a lot of these buildings and so often they’re narrow, people smashed up against the wall,” Gund continued. “The design makes for an experience that goes beyond art.”

“I like to think of it as engagement,” said Moussavi. “Every floor is designed so the public and the art spaces invade each other.” For the inaugural exhibition, “Inside Out and from the Ground Up,” chief curator David Norr selected sixteen artists whose work negotiates boundaries between spaces that often oppose the other—for example, artificial and natural environments, light and dark, physical and metaphysical worlds. Haegue Yang, Jacqueline Humphries, Henrique Oliveira, Walead Beshty, Oliver Husain, and David Altmejd were among those with works in the exhibition that attended the opening—each presenting pieces that explore the liminal space that opens when conflicting forces collide.

Over the weekend, Cleveland-based collectors opened their homes for the slew of out-of-town visitors that descended upon the city to celebrate the big launch. Collector Scott Mueller passed out flutes of champagne to buses unloading dealers including Laurel Gitlen, Gary Snyder, James Cohan, and Janine Cirincione. (“The champagne’s flowing, so drink up!” he said merrily.) There was a visit through the collection at the Progressive Insurance campus, which has been amassed over the past several decades with an eye toward social disruption. “If a work doesn’t hum on the wall, if it doesn’t arouse conversation, then it’s not a good fit for Progressive,” said cofounder and former curator Toby Devon Lewis. We followed with curator Joanne Cohen’s tour of the Cleveland Clinic, where we wandered past operating rooms and works by Sarah Morris, Jaume Plensa, and Catherine Opie. “We had to install benches near some of our most popular pieces because people kept moving chairs out of waiting rooms so they could sit in front of the art,” Cohen told us. “Art is very restorative after the end of a long day or an open heart surgery.”

Left: Artist William Villalongo. Right: Collectors Dick and Doreen Cahoon.

“Restorative” can be thematized more broadly, too: As several trustees share, fifteen years ago Cleveland was in a severe slump and could have easily followed the tracks of Detroit. “Just to give you a sense of the drama around our fund-raising for the museum,” said Snyder, “the day the board met to decide whether or not it would commit to the new building, the primary bank in Cleveland was taken over by the government. It was October of 2008. The board could have said, ‘Scrap the design and build a shed. Do something simple that we can afford.’ And they didn’t.”

The board did state that they refused to break ground until all the necessary funds were raised. The museum, which clocked in at $27.2 million, is entirely debt free. On Saturday night, MoCA Cleveland hosted a party for its public opening. The event sold out completely. In the bathroom, I was struck by a very short conversation. Two women stood in front of the mirror applying lipstick. “I don’t get half of the art here, but I’m excited for what this museum means for Cleveland and for our kids, and their kids’ kids,” said one.

“Anyone can build a sports stadium,” the other responded. “But it takes a real force to build an arts center.”

Allese Thomson

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited at Soho House, Los Angeles, Palihouse, West Los Angeles, Las Cienegas Projects, LAXART, the P.S. 1. Museum, the SK Stiftung, Cologne, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Adamski Gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen, Locust Projects, Miami, the Sacramento Center for Contemporary Art, 18th Street Arts, Santa Monica and the Boston University Art Gallery. His photographic works engage both significant and neglected historical and contemporary cultural artifacts and is based on intensive research of his subjects. Upcoming are projects in Europe and Los Angeles. His most recent work, a series of nine grayscale paintings, was shown at the Beacon Arts Center in Los Angeles in the group show entitled The Optimist’s Parking Lot. He recently participated in The Bearden Project at the Studio Museum in Harlem. He also participated in the inaugural edition of Pulse Fair Los Angeles with Las Cienegas Projects. Johnson will show a selection of his photographs at Another Year in LA gallery, Los Angeles, in January, 2013. Johnson is a member of the Advisory Board of THE WINTER OFFICE, Copenhagen.

Two at Night (2012) from the Cosmos suite of paintings, 30×40 inches, Oil on canvas

Golden Dream (2012), part of the Cosmos Suite of paintings, 30×40 inches, oil on canvas

California Toilet, Filthy Light Switch (2010) by Vincent Johnson. Archival Epson print (Private Collection, Miami, Florida)
Vincent Johnson, Nine Grayscale Paintings (2011), Beacon Arts Center, Los Angeles

Vincent Johnson, born in Cleveland, Ohio. Lives and works in Los Angeles, California

Vincent Johnson – first stage of grayscale paintings – studio view, Los Angeles, 2011

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: