Intrinsic Momentum at Gallery W

Isabel Farnsworth, image courtesy of Bruce Checefsky

In 2016, American Greetings opened a new world headquarters at Crocker Park. The five story, 160,000 square feet building housed about 1700 employees. Developed by Stark Enterprise of Cleveland, the interior was designed to promote collaboration and promote a sense of community among its many designers and artists. Plenty of artwork and murals grace the hallways and common areas both as a way to inspire their own associates and recognize talented local artists.

Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson, image courtesy of Bruce Checefsky

Gallery W, a 4,800 square-foot gallery located on the ground floor of the building, is a unique extension of American Greeting creative and innovative culture. It’s mission is to foster and build relationships with the regional community through exhibiting diverse and inclusive works. Since opening, the gallery has featured more than 15 exhibitions of Ohio artists with shows that remain on view from a few weeks to a month or two.

“Intrinsic Momentum” features the work of three prominent regional artists – Rebecca Cross, Isabel Farnsworth, and Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson – in a dazzling display unlike any other corporate art gallery setting in the region. It is dominated on the walls by Jónsson’s hypnotic meditations on her native Iceland. Her weaving-infused paintings are based on photographs she takes while hiking through the baffling and raw Icelandic landscape. With a cool hue that intensifies the further you stand away from her work, her hand-dyed, woven silk threads are abstracted as though caught in a blur, or a slightly out-of-focus picture taken from an airplane window thousands of feet in the air. Jónsson has received numerous grants, commissions, and awards, including a 2016 commission from the Hilton Hotel at the Convention Center and several fellowships, grants, and awards from the Ohio Arts Council. In her artist statement for the show, she says, “Details of [the] photographs, from mountainous silhouettes to glacial crevasses, become isolated, cropped, and enlarged as I transfer the imagery to woven paintings in my Cleveland studio.”

Isabel Farnsworth, image courtesy of Bruce Checefsky

While Jónsson calculates the distance between two vast points in space, Farnsworth dives below the surface of poetic metaphor to wrestle meaning from dream-like narratives. We’re immediately immersed in her buoyancy of tactility and pattern, and float effortlessly in a physical experience. Her floor sculpture, first molded in clay then cast in Hydrocal gypsum cement, transcends the lure of interpretation and like fishing sinkers, anchors us in place. Her print-based works are embellished with a sense of timelessness, unfolding like a spring rain, until we’re drenched to the bone. “As a maker, I am after a felt experience rather than an intellectual or conceptual one,” she writes. “I think of the work as a kind of visual poetics, imbued with touch rather than words.” Her works combine and unfold with the contemplative melody of a well rehearsed musical performance, one that you want to see again and again. In Buoyancy (dreaming of light) 2017, we’re reminded of Sea Shanties, songs sung on a ship during the age of sail. The visual rhythm of the mixed media piece parallels the synchronized movements of swimming in a lake or pond. Farnsworth, an associate professor of sculpture at Kent State University, has been the subject of exhibitions at Austin College, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Cleveland State University, Riffe Gallery and others. She is recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Grant.

Rebecca Cross, image courtesy of Bruce Checefsky

Rebecca Cross tests the range of works from small intimate ‘exprints’ to a large ceiling to floor installation titled Raining Fire (2018), in which she comments on climate change and the destructive potential of humans on a sociopolitical scale. Derived from patterns of memory and human experience, Cross creates a landscape of transformed materials that act as extinct plant species from a world long lost to corporate greed and political self-service. Once the Rain Forest disappears, our collective memories will cast shadows on a plausibly dim future. For Cross, we’re already there.

Cross formally trained as a bel canto singer at the Oberlin Conservatory, in Oberlin, Ohio. There’s an obvious connection between the Italian-originated vocal style of beautiful operatic singing with the delicately constructed floral exprints in a palette so tranquil, even the concentrated spirituality feels right. The pieces in this series tend to push back against quiet formality, a reminder that there’s intelligence and purpose in how much feeling Cross has invested in her delightful sensibility.

Rebecca Cross, installation view, photo courtesy of Bruce Checefsky

Her work has been exhibited internationally including shows in Sweden, France, Hungary, and Japan. Recent local solo shows include Morgan Paper Conservatory, Hedge Gallery, The Sculpture Center, and 2018 CAN Triennial, where she won the Massillon Museum Exhibition Prize.

In February 2018, Clayton, Dublier & Rice of New York, purchased a 60% ownership stake in American Greetings Corp. The private investment firm laid off hundreds of employees in June 2018, and by January 2019, American Greetings Corp.’s world headquarters was up for sale. As the Plain Dealer reported, American Greetings has a very secure lease through August 2031.  And as Crain’s Cleveland Business reported, the value in rent outweighs the value of an empty building. Whether the extraordinary gallery space and its public programming are affected at all remains to be seen, but the real estate transaction would seem to have nothing to do with it.

Robustly attended by the public during opening receptions, Gallery W foot traffic dwindles significantly (as it does in just about any gallery) over the weeks of the exhibition. Hours are generally 10AM – 5PM, Monday through Friday, reduced from six days a week because of low attendance, according to staff at the security desk. Ultimately, limiting daily access to a gallery that’s already out of the way for most people interested in art only compounds the attendance challenge.

I asked a seasoned contemporary artist from Cleveland if he had ever been to Gallery W, and if he had, what he thought about their exhibitions.

“I’ve never been there,” he replied. “Not even once.”

This coming from someone that travels internationally to see art.

“Why?” I asked.

“I never heard about it,” he said.

George Berkeley, a 17th Century empiricist posed the following question in 1710: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Berkeley believed that nothing is real but minds and their ideas. Not only is sound not heard, but according to Berkeley, there is no tree.

If American Greetings were to continue downsizing, it may only be a matter of time before Gallery W closes for good, leaving one to wonder if the gallery would be missed at all.

Probably not, if you asked Berkeley.

And that would be a shame.


Upcoming at Gallery W:
Libby Chaney & Alice Kiderman, March 7 – April 25
Stephen Yusko, Dana Oldfather & Jen Craun, May 2 – June 27


The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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