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Transformer Station surveys humanity’s relationship to the violin in outstanding photography show

March 7, 2022

By Steven Litt

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Visitors accustomed to seeing big, bold, up-to-the-minute artworks at the Transformer Station gallery in Ohio City may be taken aback by all the sepia flooding the walls this winter.


The gallery is awash in tintypes, daguerreotypes, albumen prints, and other forms of early photography, plus images made with everything from mid-century 35-millimeter film cameras to the latest digital devices.


The focus of this visual tsunami is an exhibition on photographs of violinists and their instruments.


Drawn from the holdings of Pittsburgh-based collector and Akron native Evan Mirapaul, the show plunges into a seemingly minor subject that turns out to be oceanic in its vastness.


With more than 250 photos hung frame to frame across entire walls, the Mirapaul exhibition is obsessively narrow but wildly broad. It’s an exercise in visual overload, a visual symphony in the minor key of an offbeat motif. It’s kooky, crazy, fantastic, and fun.


The backstory

Installation view by Field Studio.


A onetime professional musician who served as an assistant principal second violin for the Pittsburgh Symphony and as co-founder of the New York-based Elements Quartet, Mirapaul fell into photography collecting after his father put him in contact with an Akron lawyer in 1989 who needed help assessing the value of an estate left behind by a pair of local musicians, Sam and Sylvia Spinak.


The Spinaks were passionate collectors of instruments, books, documents, and photographs, including a significant number of images of violinists. Mirapaul eventually determined that the collection had little value, although it intrigued him enough to acquire it through Summit County’s probate court.


Mirapaul sold the instruments, books, and documents, but kept sifting through the photos. His interest in photography deepened after he moved to New York in the 1990s. Eventually, through discussions with contacts at the International Center of Photography, he realized he could use the images of violinists from the Spinak estate as the core of something bigger he’d assemble on his own.


As Mirapaul discovered, the prevalence of pictures in which people have posed with a violin is huge, particularly from the mid 19th century to the middle 20th century. In effect, the exhibition, on view through Sunday, April 3, doubles as an outline of the history of photography largely through that period, from high to low, professional to amateur, and elite to the everyday.


Organized by Dan Leers, the curator of photography at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the show is making its debut at Transformer Station, which houses and exhibits the photography collection of Cleveland collectors Fred and Laura Bidwell and also doubles part-time as a branch of the Cleveland Museum of Art.


(The photo collection isn’t Mirapaul’s only cultural venture. He has also created Troy Hill Art Houses in Pittsburgh, a growing collection of private houses transformed by artists into works of art that can be viewed by appointment. Details are available at


Diving in

Installation view by Field Studio.


One way to approach the photo exhibition is to seek images of famous violinists, including Fritz Kreisler, Isaac Stern, Jascha Heifetz, and Yehudi Menuhin. They’re all there, depicted in publicity photos, formal portraits, images in Life magazine, and photos plastered on Album covers.


Another approach is to seek out masterpieces by the world’s greatest photographers, including Julia Margaret Cameron, Andre Kertesz, Alfred Eisenstadt, Irving Penn, Yousuf Karsh, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, all sprinkled throughout the exhibition.


Cameron, for example, is represented by two prints of her 1868 portrait of Joseph Joachim, (1831-1907) the internationally renowned Hungarian violinist to whom Johannes Brahms dedicated his violin concerto in D major, Opus 77.


Kertesz, on the other hand, captured a famous image in 1921 of a blind Hungarian violinist dressed in tattered clothes who is guided by a boy across a dirt road in Abony, a small town near Budapest.

The violin, and the love of music, are what unite Cameron’s globetrotting virtuoso and the hollow-cheeked street musician in the Kertesz, who could be one of the bony wraiths in Picasso’s Blue Period paintings.


Such comparisons show how Mirapaul’s collection encompasses a cross-section of humanity reminiscent of the famous 1955 photography exhibition, “The Family of Man,’’ curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


But while the MOMA show highlighted photography as art produced by master practitioners, the Mirapaul collection owes much of its charm, humanism, and wit to vernacular works by photographers whose names are lost to history.


Anonymous power

Installation view by Field Studio.


The exhibition revels in images produced by anonymous shooters for advertisements, and publicity stills from Hollywood films such as “Intermezzo,’’ (1939, Leslie Howard, Ingrid Bergman); and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,’’ (1938, Tyrone Power, Don Ameche).


Also on view are hundreds of images by unidentified professional portrait photographers from the 19th and early 20th centuries.


Among them is a large, hand-colored 1863 tintype of an unidentified Union soldier in his uniform, shown seated while holding his violin and bow in such a way that the bow and the fingerboard create perfectly parallel lines.


Another photo by an unidentified photographer captures a disheveled Albert Einstein, sitting at a music stand in a suit with his shirttails out while practicing with his violin.


The picture, taken after Einstein fled Nazi Germany and established himself at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, is a reminder that the world’s most famous physicist loved playing Mozart because, in his words, the music was “so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master.”


But the show isn’t always so high-minded. It also includes an ad from a 1961 magazine featuring a scantily clad woman violinist who considers whether to accept a cigarette from a man whose hand intrudes from the lower-left corner of the shot, bearing smokes.


The ad copy suggestively asks, “Should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo to a violinist?” (”After all, if she likes the offer, she might start to play. No strings attached.’’)


Instrument of transcendence

Installation view by Field Studio.


Throughout the show, regardless of context, the violin emerges as a symbol of status and aspiration that transcends race and class.


When he took a picture of three well-dressed Black children practicing violin in a Pittsburgh classroom Charles “Teenie” Harris, captured an image of normal, middle-class American striving.


But the violin may also function as a symbol of cultural imperialism, as indicated by images of Indian, Chinese, and Japanese violinists, who took up the instrument during the age of European colonization.


Even so, the violin exerted a reverse flow of influence from East to West. A wonderful series of photos from Japan document the influence of Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998), the Japanese violinist who invented a method of instruction and a teaching philosophy that became wildly popular around the world.


One of the show’s more memorable anonymous photos depicts hundreds of Japanese children lined up in a massive collective performance in 1968.


Given that the Mirapaul collection thins out as it reaches into more recent decades, the show may indicate that as a cultural icon, the violin may be losing some of its clout.


Mirapaul speculates in an interview printed in a flier accompanying the exhibition that the violin has been replaced by the electric guitar as a cultural totem.


But classical music, and the violin, seem unlikely to go away any time soon. As the exhibition suggests, the bond between humanity and the violin is deep. That relationship makes it likely that anyone who masters such a difficult instrument will want to pose for a photo with it now and far into the future.


In Concert: Photography and the Violin

Transformer Station
1460 W. 29th St., Cleveland

Through Sunday, April 3


A preview at Transformer Station shows how the 2022 FRONT Triennial will focus on art’s power to heal

November 10, 2021

A still from “Dansbana!”, a 2018 video documenting an installation by the Swedish architectural collaborative which goes by the same name. The design team installed a public dance floor in Stockholm, and documented how the public used it. A similar project will be developed in Akron during the FRONT Triennial in 2022.Steven Litt,


Updated: Nov. 07, 2021, 8:33 a.m. | Published: Nov. 07, 2021, 8:33 a.m.


By Steven Litt,


CLEVELAND, Ohio — In a letter to his son in 1892, the great French Impressionist Camille Pissarro noted the miraculous nature of art as a way to create beauty with the most commonplace of tools, including pencil and paper.


“One can do such lovely things with so little,’’ he said.


The organizers of the second version of the FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art may not have had Pissarro in mind when they planned their upcoming show, scheduled to open July 16 at venues across Northeast Ohio.


WATCH: Grand, Humble Conversations: Jacolby Satterwhite, RA Washington, and LaToya Kent

November 4, 2021




Recorded as part of Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools, the FRONT 2022 Preview Exhibition, which runs from October 8, 2021 to January 2, 2022 at Transformer Station in Cleveland, Ohio.


FRONT 2022 Artistic Director Prem Krishnamurthy talks with RA Washington, LaToya Kent, and Jacolby Satterwhite about their process of collaboration on Satterwhite’s commission for Cleveland Clinic’s BioRepository in collaboration with FRONT International and Fairfax neighborhood residents. Satterwhite asked Fairfax residents to draw and describe their visions of utopia. Washington and Kent, who connected with over one hundred Fairfax residents, describe the “class weight” they felt as they interacted with each contributor, and how their feelings deepend and evolved as the project continued. Satterwhite details his intentions for the project, where drawings that were quickly made—intentionally, to access people’s authentic feelings—would have long afterlives, first taking different digital shapes in Satterwhite’s hands, and then persisting as a public “monument” to the moment in which they were created.


Transformer Station

1460 W 29th St
Cleveland OH 44113




Produced By:
Rafeeq Roberts
Third Eye Productions
Cleveland, Ohio

Sneak peek: Cleveland claims its position FRONT and center in the international art world

November 3, 2021

Nov. 01, 2021





Painting by Dexter Davis.Textiles by Loraine Lynn. Furniture by SO-IL.
Painting by Dexter Davis.Textiles by Loraine Lynn. Furniture by SO-IL. Courtesy of FRONT Triennial

A lot can happen in four years, and for many of us, 2018—the year that FRONT Triennialmade its colorful debut across Cleveland—feels like a lifetime ago. As the triennial event prepares to yet again position The Land at the epicenter of the global art world next summer, FRONT plans to explore much-needed themes of healing and transformation.


“Believe it or not, this idea of art as a mode of therapy and agent of healing was developed even before the pandemic,” says Fred Bidwell, owner of Transformer Stationand executive director for FRONT Triennial. “But COVID and all of the social unrest that has happened has made it even more relevant. We firmly believe art can be an agent for change because it’s a safe place to have difficult conversations and bring people together.”


A rendering of the exterior community plaza that will surround Transformer Station during FRONT 2022

FRONT will bring that to life through the theme “Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows,” a nod to a 1957-written Langston Hughes couplet: Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, help us to see that without the dust the rainbow would not be. That theme will guide the 2022 rendition (postponed from its original 2021 date)—slated to take place from July 16-October 2, 2022 with a compelling array of programming, performances, and artwork across Cleveland, Akron, and Oberlin.


The return of FRONT is an exciting prospect—especially in light of the 90,000 visitors from 25 countries and $31 million in economic impact generated by the first installment. And for those who can’t wait until next summer, Bidwell and his colleagues have a sneak peek in store. This Friday, October 8, a ribbon-cutting ceremony and free opening reception will be held at Transformer Station to kick off the FRONT festivities and the preview exhibition, “Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools” (a title also inspired by Langston Hughes).


“The show opening this weekend will be a really unusual exhibition,” says Bidwell. “We don’t see it as a finished, polished presentation—it’s really a peek into the process of making a show. What you’ll see are works by artists who are developing new commissions for next summer, and you’ll be able to get a feel for what kinds of artists they are.”


Blue wall sculpture by Paul O’Keeffe and furniture by SO-IL

According to Bidwell, the preview showcases an eclectic mix of media from virtual reality video to textile art to hard-edged sculpture to art furniture. Locally-focused works include Jacolby Satterwhite’s Dawn (a CGI fantasy film created in tandem with Fairfax residents and the Cleveland Clinic) and seating prototypes by SO-IL (the architecture firm designing Martin Luther King, Jr. Library on Euclid Avenue).


While the exhibition and triennial event will feature artists from around the world, Bidwell is energized by the prospect of raising the profile of local artists such as Dexter Davis and Paul O’Keeffe. “FRONT positions Cleveland as a player in the international art world,” says Bidwell. “We’re bringing renowned artists to Cleveland, but also putting local artists on the same level. Ultimately, our dream is that one or two local artists will gain the attention of the international art world and build careers around that. “


The Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools preview exhibition runs from October 8 – January 2, 2022 at Transformer Station (1460 W. 29th St., Cleveland). The opening reception is from 6-9 p.m. on October 8, featuring music by DJ Red-I and live screen printing of artist-designed t-shirts from nyceCO Prints. Refreshments will be available. For more information, email

e-flux Announcements: Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools

November 3, 2021

October 27, 2021

Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools
FRONT 2022 preview exhibition
October 8, 2021–January 2, 2022


FRONT International launches a preview exhibition that introduces processes, themes, and artists for its second edition.


Since its announcement in January 2020, the second edition of FRONT International—entitled Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, after a couplet by Langston Hughes—has explored art’s role as an agent of healing, a theme that has become ever more urgent in the subsequent phases of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing social crises. This preview exhibition, whose title also takes inspiration from Hughes, points both to the boldness required to envision change and to the everyday tools that might help to enact it.


You may carve a dream
With a humble tool.
—Langston Hughes, “Ballad of Booker T.”


How can the everyday processes of artmaking be transformative for artists and their communities? How can art catalyze healing?


To explore these questions, the first exhibition of FRONT 2022, Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools, will embrace a uniquely transparent and iterative curatorial approach: existing artworks will be exhibited alongside projects still in development for next summer, and the show itself will undergo changes as artists add to, revise, and reconfigure the works being displayed.


By previewing the curatorial methods of the show in this way, Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools intends both to pull back the curtain on the triennial-making process and invite participation directly from Cleveland-area communities. Visitors will be asked to engage in activities related to each project, and the open-ended installation—which will extend across both galleries of Transformer Station and include a range of media—will also be a site for diverse public programs.


Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools includes: Jacolby Satterwhite’s Dawn, a utopic CGI fantasy film developed with residents of the Fairfax neighborhood and Cleveland Clinic; Dansbana!, a Stockholm-based architectural trio, creating a Bluetooth-powered open-access dancefloor in Akron; Leigh Ledare’s The Task, a discomfiting film that emerged out of close involvement with the Tavistock therapeutic community; Sarah Oppenheimer’s I-001-7070, a participatory sculpture that explores the potential for visitor input in gallery display structures; seating prototypes by architecture firm SO-IL, who are designing Martin Luther King, Jr. Library on Euclid Avenue; tufted sculptures by Loraine Lynn, whose work expands on the idea of gathering; as well as work from other FRONT 2022 artists such as Dexter Davis and Paul O’Keeffe, who both live and work in Cleveland, and Asad Raza, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, La Wilson, Renée Green, Tony Cokes, Wong Kit Yi, and others.


Art Therapy Studio, participatory workshops
October 10, November 14, and December 5, 2021 at 1pm EST
Transformer Station, with pre-registration


Grand, Humble Conversations
Premiering every month through December on FRONT’s website


October 29, 2021: Jacolby Satterwhite in conversation with RA Washington and LaToya Kent
November 19, 2021: Sarah Oppenheimer in conversation with Tony Cokes
December 10, 2021: Asad Raza in conversation with Loraine Lynn


Moderated by FRONT 2022 Artistic Director Prem Krishnamurthy.


Saturday film program
Saturdays, 3–5pm EST, October–December 2021
Transformer Station, Crane Gallery


Asad Raza, Minor History, 2019
Renée Green, Come Closer, 2008
Wong Kit Yi, A River in Freezer, 2017


Launched in 2018, FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art is a free, public, contemporary art exhibition. Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, the second iteration of FRONT International, launches with a preview exhibition in fall 2021, and the main exhibition will run from July 16 through October 2, 2022. Building on the success of FRONT’s first edition, FRONT 2022 furthers the Triennial’s commitment to the belief that by supporting creative communities and stimulating new cultural encounters in the region, contemporary art can be an important catalyst for positive social change.


Press inquiries: Dushko Petrovich Córdova, FRONT Director of Communications,


Click Here for e-flux Announcements Website

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