Having just had a great free viewing experience at the Cleveland Museum of Art, I set out to explore other free art options here in my hometown. While not all museums have the luxury of an endowment that allows for free admission all the time like the Cleveland Museum, most museums do have free hours if one just does the research and has the right free time. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe opens its doors at no charge on the first Friday of each month, and the New Mexico Museum system is free on Sundays to New Mexico residents. Even the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is almost free, if one understands that the admission fee is a recommended price and not a required one, meaning that struggling artists who love the Met can enjoy hours of museum-going for whatever they can afford.
My sojourn in Ohio has been enhanced by the need to stay right downtown, which sent me out to explore some things in the city that came to pass long after I left. A warm and sunny day led me to the Oldenburg-Van Bruggen sculpture that echoed my hunt for free art and was located right in the heart of the city. This oversized piece has all the humor and craftsmanship for which these artists are known. My mission to see for free was hereby officially rubber-stamped and approved!
On a fresh spring morning, by driving a short distance from the Public Square area, I ended up at the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art, conveniently at no charge on Fridays. I had known about this museum for many years, but despite many trips “back home,” I had never taken the time to visit. On this occasion, I am very glad I did! You never know when you are going to encounter a fresh artistic vision, but when it comes, it’s a treat! And when the artist works from an entire personal mythology, it’s even better. Having enjoyed the flat, deceptively complex quality of Native painters for years (which you can see in the Wheelwright Museum‘s current exhibit), I was captivated by a show of paintings which also had the same flat brightly-hued qualities. The work was by iona rozeal brown (sic), and what an inventive world she has created!
brown’s spirit beings begin their existence in a metaphysical realm in which they receive their purpose, then enter a pod that will transport them to be incubated and developed before birth as saplings and transport to HEZ (the humanic enterprise zone). Once in HEZ, the saplings are plagued by villains that use materialism and sex to coax them away from their principles. Deities watching from above dispatch various warriors to help the saplings stay firm and cling to a purposeful existence.
Her triptych “all falls down,” from 2008, introduces us to E.I.N. (Everything I’m Not), a ghostly presence that receives orders from unseen dark powers and colludes with demons to tempt and bully female saplings into materialism and promiscuity. Sound familiar? E.I.N. was once a woman and is much like the character of Tolkien’s Gollum, a creature who is transformed into a grasping fiend. E.I.N.’s dark transformation occurred through her insatiable yearning for material goods – this is a mythology for today! In another painting, “amidst black flowers and honky tonk angels, sphinxes run amok,” brown depicts Kaede, a sapling who has sadly fallen off her path and thus, without spiritual guidance or purpose, is alone, miserable and in desperate need of help.
In this exhibition, we also meet the good spirits, such as the Unnamed Aid, a warrior who lives on HEZ and watches over the saplings as they mature. The Unnamed Aid resists the material concerns and superficial cravings of everyday life. Kaatchi, the incubator, watches over the saplings as they are injected with “the blues,” which help them resist the adversity and sorrow they are sure to encounter; some saplings receive more or less of these blues, depending on the difficulty of their path.
ana rogu, sentinel, decked out in headphones to silence noise and improve focus, is an elite divine being who, in a surging pool of water, a “wall of black creativity,” creates the pods that grow and transport spirits to HEZ. And the warrior Yoshi (yo, she!), is a feisty scrapper in sunglasses and a massive Afro, riding her Big Wheel and projecting the confidence, courage and commitment that brown hopes to impart to her younger viewers.
These helpful beings exist to aid the newborn spirits who are present in paintings like “…hold on..” from 2009, where we meet ana mei (anime?), a young sapling, i.e., a teenager, who is born with the knowledge and ability she needs for success, but who is inexperienced and easily led astray by dark forces like E.I.N. On first observance, this painting, in particular, reminded me not only of the Japanese art that brown obviously admires, but also of a katchina.
The last part of the exhibit demonstrates how brown puts her mythology to use in her own life, with a residency project she organized in summer 2009. Eight students from the Progressive Arts Alliance RHAPSODY Summer Camp and Shaw High School’s Visual Communications Class worked together to create a mural depicting Yoshi, the hip-hop warrier, clothed in a flowing cape, parts of which were painted by the individual student artists. The detailed landscapes and thoughtful portraits they created are a vivid depiction of the visual interests and cultural life of Northeast Ohio teens.
So my search for the free led me to a free-spirited vision of the world, courtesy of this talented artist who shares her vision with museum-goers and artists-in-training alike! It’s a good thing to take time to discover places that were always in your own backyard! There’s no place like home, eh, Dorothy?