October 3, 2017 - Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland - A Poet*hical Wager
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October 3, 2017

Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland

Design: Michael Aberman.

A Poet*hical Wager
October 7, 2017–January 28, 2018

Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland
11400 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44106
United States
Hours: Tuesday–Thursday 11am–6pm,
Friday 11am–9pm,
Saturday–Sunday 11am–5pm

T +1 216 421 8671
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A Poet*hical Wager explores the ethical dimensions of works that use abstraction, minimalism, and assemblage to approach complex ideas that cannot be addressed through representation. Emblematic of an increasing global dependence on transactions that occur largely outside of our vision and comprehension, the works in the exhibition manifest the complexity of modern life in both form and process. Through the lens of eleven international artists working in a wide variety of media—sculpture, painting, film, installation, and performance—the exhibition probes how subjects born of changes in our international social, political, and economic contexts inhabit non-representational forms.

The title of the exhibition references The Poethical Wager, a book by American poet and scholar Joan Retallack. As Retallack states, “A poetics can take you only so far without an h. If you’re to embrace complex life on earth, if you can no longer pretend that all things are fundamentally simple or elegant, a poetics thickened by an h launches an exploration of art’s significance as, not just about, a form of living in the real world." 

Like the abstract conditions of contemporary life, the relationship between the socio-political landscape of late capitalism and individual experience is complex and often indirect. The word “poethical” inserts the notion of ethics, or responsibility, into aesthetics, providing a framework for understanding how artists navigate this abstract space and extend the hermeneutics of the art object to real world subjects.

Bringing together works that point to places and situations beyond the walls of the museum—from New York City on 9/11 to the Museum of Ctesiphon in Baghdad, the site of the Berlin Wall, and the ruins of utopian architecture in Santa María Ahuacatitlán, Mexico—the exhibition suggests that understanding the complexity of abstraction in contemporary art now lies as much in the subject matter of the work as it does in its formal considerations. Decidedly non-representational, the works in the exhibition bring together a constellation of sources and facts with poetic license. Information is transformed into concrete decisions about materials, color, surface, texture and scale. The resulting aesthetic gestures provide alternative readings and reposition the subject, and the work, as a site for open dialogue.

The exhibition features existing work, newly commissioned pieces, and site-specific installations that respond to local circumstances. Abraham Cruzvillegas's large-scale hanging sculpture, Definitely unfinished poethnical self portrait (with a rusty belt) (2017), was made on-site from found objects gathered from demolition sites in Cleveland. Rashid Johnson has realized Shea Wall (2015) for the first time in a gallery space. The wall of cinderblock and shea butter is a re-imagining of Alan Kaprow’s Sweet Wall, originally erected near the Berlin Wall in 1970. Iman Issa presents three works from her ongoing series, "Heritage Studies" (2015–ongoing), two of which have been commissioned for the exhibition. Abbas Akhavan's Study for A Blue Shield (2011) is installed on the roof of the Museum, alongside two recent works that examine absence, loss and love with references that range from the AIDS epidemic to human impact on the environment. Oscar Murillo site-specific installation transforms the gallery architecture using painted black canvas, alongside a presentation of works from his Frequencies archive. The archive is comprised of canvases that were placed on the desks of high school students at schools throughout the world; several high school classes in Cleveland will participate in the global project over the course of the next year. Lara Favaretto’s Momentary Monument: The Library (2012), installed in the Museum’s publicly accessible Cahoon Lounge, redistributes 2200 deaccessioned books from a local library, now transformed with images inserted from the artist’s own archive as takeaway objects for visitors.

A Poet*hical Wager includes works by Abbas Akhavan (b. 1977, Tehran, Iran); Doug Ashford (b. 1958, Rabat, Morocco); Abraham Cruzvillegas (b. 1968, Mexico City, Mexico); Lara Favaretto (b. 1973, Treviso, Italy); Iman Issa (b. 1979, Cairo, Egypt); Rashid Johnson (b. 1977, Chicago, IL); Jumana Manna (b. 1987, Princeton, NJ); Oscar Murillo (b.1986, Valle del Cauca, Colombia), Tariku Shiferaw (b.1983, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia); Mario GarcÍa Torres (b. 1975, Monclova, Mexico), and Emanuel Tovar (b. 1974, Guadalajara, Mexico). 

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