Last chance to see: 20 faculty and staff members exhibit at Tri-C East
You might be served best by stopping reading this review right now and driving to Highland Hills. There, the Tri-C Art Faculty and Staff Art Exhibit 2016 closes in two days, Jan. 26, this Thursday.
Twenty artists from all four Cuyahoga Community College campuses are represented in the Eastern Campus Art Gallery. As with any group show, the subject matter and media on display are diverse, and draw on a range of traditions.
Perhaps the most far-flung is that tapped into by Brian Sarama, a ceramicist. He emulates the traditional Japanese yunomi teacup. These are not the fine artifacts of the tea ceremony, but sturdier workaday drinking vessels. Still, Sarama’s craftsmanship exemplifies the ability of utilitarian objects to hold beauty. The monochromatic cups’ chocolate brown, black, white, and tan colors are all pleasing, as is their smooth shape.
Like Sarama, Michael Kodysz reaches back in time and space for inspiration. His “Constructivist Self-Portrait” is a three-dimensional tribute to the influential Russian modernist movement, in which his face becomes an asymmetrical plane of geometric figures. The borders of only one eye are sculpted, but the other is suggested by its neighbor. It thus offers an opportunity for meditation on how viewers contribute not only to their interpretation of art, but their perception of it.
Other artists take inspiration from closer to home. Howard Collier and Barbara Vernier converge on the same local subject: Cleveland’s Flats. Collier uses a limited pallet of about a dozen oil colors to render a minimalist cityscape, dominated by a black iron train bridge. Vernier’s 3D piece uses wood, rocks, wire, and assorted other materials to make a diorama metropolis populated by skyscrapers, cranes, and factories.
Representational works range from the surreal to uncomfortably true. Chairs and lamps fly out of a house in Julie Friedman’s dreamy painting “Leaving” (see top of page). Clarissa R. Gerber exhibits four monumental-sized figure paintings, the best of which (“George Consumed”) captures a balding white man in a rage, eyes clenched, teeth bared, arms waving. Dennis Long’s charcoal studies of coat hangers embody the most controlled technique on display.
Gallery Director Blake Cook also participates with his installation work “Brownshirts.” Yes, the work’s title references Nazi Germany’s khaki-uniformed militia. And yes, it is invoked to draw parallels to contemporary America’s rightward lurch. “I don’t want to be subtle anymore,” Cook tells us.
“Brownshirts” is an installation partially composed of four muddy brown shirts tied together at the sleeves. A pair of shirts read, respectively, “I’M WITH STUPID,” and the mirrored inversion of that phrase. The other two shirts say nothing, but have an evocative backstory; they are from Goodwill. But despite any good will they might profess, they are tied to the stupid shirts, and must share in their unknown fate. All are stained with ashy handprints.
The line of shirts is linked to an array of chains snaking across the gallery floor. The chains immediately activate associations with American slavery. The association does not strike me as over-the-top. Racism still distorts the life of every one of us, and would have continued to do so even if Trump had not been elected. But Trump was elected, thanks in part to racial fear and resentment. By linking the chains of American racism with the Nazi-alluding brown shirts, Cook draws parallels between German fascists’ scapegoating of Jews and Trump’s demonization of Muslims, Latinos, and “inner cities”. Unsubtle, yes. But hyperbolic? I hope so, but am not sure. Germany itself was not a nation of genocides, until it was. And as Cook reminds viewers, the U.S. has before inflicted atrocity on a systemic scale. He warns us that we need to be vigilant in the years to come.
Though Cook’s provocation ensures that the exhibition is not escapism, the faculty show as a whole heartens viewers. Though its campuses are frequent sites of art shows, Tri-C’s instructors have few opportunities to display together. But when they do, they remind us of yet another valuable arts and education institution.
The exhibit runs through Thursday Jan. 26 at 4250 Richmond Rd, Highland Hills. The gallery is in Room 135 of the Education Center–EEC Building, off of Harvard Road. Its hours are 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. For more information, call Gallery Director Blake Cook at 216-987-2095, call Gallery Assistant Terri Patton at 216-987-2473, or go to the gallery website.