City Stages, the CMA’s free acclaimed summer concerts featuring the best in global music, has returned. These block parties will take place in front of Transformer Station, on Wednesday, August 18 and Wednesday, August 25 at 7:30pm. Attendees are encouraged to arrive early!
Transformer Station will remain open until 9pm during City Stages. Before the concerts, visit Transformer Station to see the CMA’s free exhibition, New Histories, News Futures, on view through September 12. The exhibition showcases work by three contemporary Black artists—Johnny Coleman, Antwoine Washington, and Kambui Olujimi—who engage both historical events and current discourse through their art.
Transformer Station is located at 1460 West 29th Street, Cleveland, OH 44113. Normal hours of operation are Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm.
City Stages Schedule:
Wednesday, August 18, 7:30 pm Angel Melendez and the 911 Mambo Orchestra Composer, arranger and trombonist Angel Melendez will lead the 10-piece 911 Mambo Orchestra in original arrangements of old-school salsa.
Wednesday, August 25, 7:30 pm Cheik Hamala Diabate The Malian singer-guitarist and n’goni player will perform the best in West African griot. The n’goni is a traditional stringed lute considered one of the ancestors of the banjo.
As a kid, Antwoine Washington spent hours drawing pictures for friends and family. But the images and messages he got from mainstream culture told him that art wasn’t a viable career path. After a life-changing incident, he’s on a mission to tell a different story. During a recent visit to Washington’s studio in Richmond Heights, he worked on a portrait of a young girl.
Washington creates the perfect pink for a daughter’s birthday dress. [David C. Barnett / Ideastream Public Media]
“You’re looking at a painting of my daughter,” he said, swirling several colors on his palette to create a special shade of pink.
He carefully added this new blend onto the girl’s birthday party dress. Washington has spent much of the past decade illustrating stories about Black family life, using a variety of styles, from photorealism, to flat, colorful abstractions.
“I think the whole premise around this piece is going to be about young people making wishes and dreaming outside of their birthdays,” he said. “I mean, you make that wish on your birthday, but do you actually really follow through with it? And do you even know how to do that?”
Johnny Coleman [J Seyfried]
Oberlin artist and educator Johnny Coleman is impressed with Washington.
“I think he’s a phenomenal painter and that’s only going to continue to get stronger and stronger,” Coleman said.
Washington’s received numerous commissions and awards in just the past five years, including a 2019 Verge Fellowship for emerging talent from the Cleveland Arts Prize. Growing up in Pontiac, Michigan, Washington had an early dream of being an artist. He said he was always drawing and doodling, often based on images he saw on TV.
“Saturday morning cartoons, that was some of my early influences,” he said. “But, as far as artists, as a kid, I’ll have to go to, like Ernie Barnes and the “Good Times” paintings.”
The celebratory paintings of African American life by artist and occasional actor Ernie Barnes were featured in the opening and closing credits of the 1970s sitcom “Good Times.”
“My grandmother used to watch that all the time,” he said. “That’s where I was first really introduced to, like, ‘Oh, Black artist painting. I would like to do that.’”
But, Washington’s artistic aspirations didn’t seem to be much more than a dream for many years.
“I knew that artists could make money, of course, but I didn’t know how,” he said. “I didn’t have that person around me to actually help guide that or even say, ‘Hey, you have a talent, you have a talent in art. Don’t you know that you can make money from this and you can make a living doing this?’ That never really ever came across my mind or even was even encouraged in my neighborhood where I was from. When you did art, you were kind of looked at as the weirdo.”
Antwoine was always working his crayons as a kid. [Antwoine Washington]
Washington said his mother recognized his talent and was always putting crayons and paper in front of him. Ultimately, the family sent him to Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he earned a B.A. in studio art. Southern was also the place where he met future wife, Carlise, and the two of them ended up moving to her hometown of Cleveland.
“My whole journey moving forward was to come here and try to find work, and knowing that me and my wife were going to get married,” he said.
She worked as a nurse. He got a job at the post office and then started a cleaning business. Once they had a newborn, he cleaned offices during the day, came home and spent time with their daughter and then stayed up until three in the morning drawing and painting. But, self-doubt started creeping in. Did he make a mistake quitting the steady post office job? He said he started having panic attacks.
Staying up late, stress and have a newborn all contributed, he said.
One day in 2018, he woke up and couldn’t feel anything on his right side. Washington was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with a brain infarction – he’d had a stroke.
“This vein was hard, like cement hard,” he said, pointing to a blood vessel in his upper arm.
Because he was young, rehabilitation pretty much restored him physically, though he said there’s still a constant tingling sensation in his arm and leg. But, that health scare had another permanent effect.
“I damn sure know that life is short and I could have died, you know? So, I was like, ‘Yo, I got to be fearless in this,’” he said. “I’ve got to live life like any moment it can be over. And so, I just started just painting what I felt, saying what I felt and going after what I wanted.
Transformer Station in Cleveland [David C. Barnett / Ideastream Public Media]
The latest example of that is on display at the Transformer Station gallery on Cleveland’s Near West Side. Washington is part of the exhibition, “New Histories, New Futures,” that he shares with New York artist Kambui Olujimi and Oberlin’s Johnny Coleman.
“When I look at Antwoine, I see a brother who’s young enough to be my son, who is actively engaged in the lives of his children,” Coleman said. “And it affects me on a personal level.”
Washington created four paintings that celebrate Black fathers who love, protect and provide for their families. One of the standout images in the series features a bearded man embracing his wife, daughter and son. It’s called “Black Family: The Myth of the Missing Black Father.”
“Black Family: The Myth of the Missing Black Father” [Antwoine Washington]
“What inspired this one actually was the whole notion and myth that Black fathers aren’t present in their children’s lives,” Washington said. “It was a lie to me because, growing up, I saw different. In my neighborhood, even though we were poor, fathers were always around. Even though I had my father alive and in my life, I had many other fathers, coaches and different people within the community that acted as father figures.”
“He’s a narrative artist,” Coleman said. “But the nature of the story, the quality of the story and his relationship to it, he’s not trying to construct the narrative that he heard about. He’s sharing his life. And it deeply resonates with me.”
Because Washington’s life was almost cut short and because the potential of art was downplayed when he was a child, the 40-year-old said he feels like he’s on a mission.
“[There’s] a lot of opportunity out here in the arts for people that look like me,” he said. “And we just don’t have access to it, because no one is exposing us to it or even telling us about it. And so, I’m like, let me create something or let me get in front of these young people and let them know this opportunity here.”
Michael Russell and Antwoine Washington founded the Museum of Creative Human Art [Antwoine Washington]
Washington and his childhood friend, Michael Russell, also created an art project, “The Museum of Creative Human Art.” They don’t have a permanent gallery right now, and it’s more of a pop-up experienece. But, the larger agenda is to offer art classes and character education for underserved young people. And to demonstrate some life options over and above TV and Tik Tok.
“You don’t have to run, jump, dribble the basketball, or catch a football, or rap, sing and dance all the time,” Washington said. “This is another way that you can express yourself.”
The Washington family as rendered in this detail from “Black Family: The Provider” on view at Transformer Station.
Together, they discuss how contemporary artists both engage with concepts of the past, present, and future and create artworks to revise history, combat stereotypes, and give image to new political possibilities.
All exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art are underwritten by the CMA Fund for Exhibitions. Major annual support is provided by the Estate of Dolores B. Comey and Bill and Joyce Litzler, with generous annual funding from Mr. and Mrs. Walter R. Chapman Jr., the Jeffery Wallace Ellis Trust in memory of Lloyd H. Ellis Jr., Janice Hammond and Edward Hemmelgarn, Ms. Arlene Monroe Holden, Eva and Rudolf Linnebach, William S. and Margaret F. Lipscomb, Tim O’Brien and Breck Platner, the Womens Council of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Claudia Woods and David Osage.
All education programs at the Cleveland Museum of Art are underwritten by the CMA Fund for Education. We recognize the inaugural supporters for the CMA Fund for Education, with generous annual funding provided by an anonymous supporter, the M. E. and F. J. Callahan Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Walter R. Chapman Jr., the Sam J. Frankino Foundation, Florence Kahane Goodman, Janice Hammond and Edward Hemmelgarn, the Lloyd D. Hunter Memorial Fund, Eva and Rudolf Linnebach, Dr. Linda M. Sandhaus and Dr. Roland S. Philip, the Veale Foundation, and the Womens Council of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The Cleveland Museum of Art is funded in part by residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.
This exhibition was supported in part by the Ohio Arts Council, which receives support from the State of Ohio and the National Endowment for the Arts.
CLEVELAND — In a recent conversation with French writer Édouard Louis, artist Laura Owens recounted her adolescence in Norwalk, Ohio, a small town about an hour west of Cleveland. She described a town overtaken by evangelical churches and right-wing conservatism, an environment that was “very heavy, and very super racist.” “I felt like I was a bit of a Cassandra,” she said, cursed like the Trojan priestess of Greek mythology to a life of uttering the truth and not being believed. “In that situation, when you are that person, you are ridiculed and hated. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I felt like I had to get out and it was [about] figuring out how to do it.”
Owens did get out, and the exhibition Laura Owens: Rerun, on view at Cleveland’s Transformer Station, marks something of a homecoming. Revolving around the theme of time travel, the show spans two galleries: one features a number of Owens’s mature paintings alongside objects from a study collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), while the other, more intimate space is completely lined with a dizzying, site-specific wallpaper peppered with all sorts of amusing Owens juvenalia and playful references to the objects in the first room. It is a show so incredibly dense with details that point elsewhere that it feels a bit like an elaborate inside joke, to which the ordinary visitor is only partly privy.
In many ways, Rerun is exactly that, minus the punchline. Though the show originated in conversation with Emily Liebert, the curator of contemporary art at the CMA (which has a partnership with Transformer Station), it is also the product of a rather unusual collaboration with one of the CMA’s teen programs.
From the start, Liebert says, Owens “didn’t want to simply exhibit her work in Cleveland, she wanted to use the exhibition as a vehicle for engaging with the local community, and she was especially interested in working with teenagers, because that’s the age — she herself was a teenager — when Cleveland’s culture and the CMA in particular were so meaningful to her.” Liebert, who saw Owens’s request as a ripe opportunity for interdepartmental collaboration, arranged for Owens to work with a select group of high school students culled from a program called Currently Under Curation, co-directed by Sabine Kretzschmar, manager of the CMA’s Education Art Collection, and artist and educator Darius Steward.
Beginning in the summer of 2019, the students met monthly with Owens and Liebert to explore the CMA’s archives and collections, and to have wide-ranging discussions that are reflected in nearly every aspect of the exhibition, from its theme and title to the take-away newspaper that the teens, inspired by Owens’s use of newsprint in her paintings, wrote and designed. The students also weighed in on which paintings would be borrowed for the show and wrote the wall labels for those works, drawing on research they had conducted (guided by Kretzschmar and Steward) on Owens’s oeuvre and its place in art history.
I spoke with two of the teens involved in the project, Jamal Carter and Arica McKinney, both rising seniors at Cleveland-area high schools. Neither had known what to expect when they first met Owens, but reported that after some initial awkwardness, she put them at ease. “She wound up being, like, a really cool person,” Carter said. “I guess my expectation wasn’t for her to be so down to earth, because of her platform. […] But she communicates just like a normal person and she talks to us just like we’re normal to her.”
The teens, in fact, developed a texting relationship with Owens, asking questions both personal and curatorial. Carter described feeling overwhelmed when tasked with writing about Owens’s spare 2001 painting of a pair of monkeys in a floating landscape, and texted her directly to ask for help. Owens responded with a “long gigantic paragraph,” Carter explained, and “I had to break it down, deconstruct it, and make it into my own piece” — resulting in a concise wall label that elucidates the work’s many references, including 17-century fabrics, Chinese painting, and a kimono with images of gibbons.
Though the exhibition is clearly the product of many voices, it still reads, unequivocally, as a “Laura Owens” show. The teens contributed ideas, opinions, images, and texts, all of which were funneled through the artist into work that is distinctly her own. But that isn’t necessarily a criticism of the project. What I initially saw as a strange proposition — having a group of high school students help curate a monographic exhibition alongside the artist herself — struck me as obvious, inevitable even, by my third visit, because of how deeply aligned it is with Owens’s point of view. Her work captures countless references, high and low, functioning like a kind of sticky fly tape for bits and bobs of visual culture; her paintings have an inherently open posture, absorbing and assimilating a cacophony of inputs. With fresh, digital-native eyes, the teens became Owens’s partners in that process of mining sources, and ultimately became sources themselves, much to the exhibition’s benefit.
Carter and McKinney both expressed pride in the show and awe at Owens’s work, especially its larger-than-life scale. “It consumed me,” Carter exclaimed, whistling to emphasize how “blown back” he was by the exhibition. But Carter and McKinney also both indicated that the curatorial experience left them wanting more. Teens have a lot to offer the museum, they told me, including diversity and new perspectives, some of which they hope will come through in Relapse, a book project they have initiated in response to their work on Rerun. What the teens really want, though, is the opportunity to curate the art of their peers—and to see it given the same exposure typically reserved for internationally-recognized artists like Owens.
Laura Owens: Reruncontinues by appointment through May 30 at Transformer Station (1460 West 29th Street, Cleveland, OH). Organized by Emily Liebert, the show was developed in close collaboration with the artist as well as Jamal Carter, Xyhair Davis, Skylar Fleming, Yomi Gonzalez, Joseph Hlavac, Agatha Mathoslah, Arica McKinney, Maya Peroune, and Deonta Steele.