FRONT at CMA: In Ruins, There Are Always Possibilities
Unfortunately, I’m not very plugged into the FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art in 2022. I’m moving out of town and haven’t had the time, blah blah blah. Fortunately, my farewell ramble through the Cleveland Museum of Art brought me to the Glass Box gallery (#218) and the vast ocean of all possibilities, an electrifying installation by Firelei Baez. It was like a cattle prod for the senses, albeit in the best of ways.
When you enter it’s all what the hell is this?? And when you leave it’s more like that was an amazary—a place of true wonder. The experience is filled to the brim with shape, size and color; engagement, surprise, and delight. The sun was shining brightly through the windows, but I bet the charge would be no less under cloud cover. The piece envelops you, and you’re even allowed to wander through the arches!
The wall says this is part of a Baez’s ongoing series that is reimagining the ruins of the Sans-Souci Palace in northern Haiti, “…underscoring its position as an enduring symbol of healing and resistance.” For me it was also about hope.
Hope because ruins of a certain kind are by their existence continuing evidence of glory. And the vast ocean of all possibilities is glorious, with its painted reproductions of West African indigo printing, marine plants, and sea creatures. There are stones and dusty dirt collected on the shiny museum floor, bringing the idea of time as a constant, never-ending companion right to your feet.
I’ve never been to Haiti, but I’ve seen ruins in the Caribbean before. In St. Martin it is about the forts and the guns, the colonial battles for domination. Baez instead shows us a previous place of beauty that remains beautiful, despite its crumbling exterior.
Baez seems to be calling us to imagine for a moment the heyday of the Sans-Souci Palace, filled with people who laughed and loved. At the CMA you can walk around and through the installation, realizing that in a vast ocean there is indescribable beauty, and in ruins there are always possibilities.