Dan Tranberg, who died of heart failure after a struggle with leukemia at age 53 this week, was an incomparably valuable human being. I can’t begin to imagine how many real tears are being shed over him now, how many people felt that he was close to them, that whatever warmth or insight he shared with them was among the most important, memorable events of their lives.
He published the better part of a thousand art reviews in the Plain Dealer and elsewhere, quite widely around the nation but especially in and for the people of his adopted region and city (he was born in Newark, NJ and earned his MFA at Purdue), addressed to the museums and art schools and galleries of Cleveland, Ohio. He also was an instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Art for a decade and more. He practiced and taught a close, sympathetically intelligent reading of artworks based as much in love as in knowledge, an intuitive method that educated the heart as well as the mind and hands. His students tended to be crazy about him.
Many of the places where Dan Tranberg exhibited his own elegant abstract paintings, and many of the galleries and small institutions that he wrote about have long since disappeared from the city. Even the journals that printed his clear, insightful accounts are often a nearly forgotten part of Ohio’s history and the history of art. The Free Times was one such place, which printed several art reviews in the course of every month, and Dialogue, the Columbus-based arts magazine. I mention these places and journals precisely because they are now gone and were a large part of Tranberg’s life while they lasted. But he also enjoyed a higher profile and more widely-noted success as a reviewer for Art in America and Bomb, as well as the Plain Dealer, and as an exhibitor at Bonfoey Gallery, Cleveland’s most enduring commercial art space.
On top of his out-size talents he was charming and kind, tall and good-looking, with a stylish swoop of black hair and a nose just pronounced enough to be critical. It would be hard to find an actor who could play him in the movie, but I hope they make that movie. Did I mention he had a deep, warm voice? Most importantly he cared about people, and dogs, about art and life. There could never be a fitting time for such a person to die, yet he was too young by far. I am among those weeping for his loss.
As both artists and writers, Utter and Tranberg crossed paths in the Cleveland art world for decades, both writing for the Free Times among other publications, often critiquing each other’s shows. Together with Amy Sparks, they were co-founders of Angle Magazine, a beloved journal of art and culture in Cleveland.