Arts » Visual Art

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions



"Hey!" William Schwartz: New Sculptures and Op Art The most commonly uttered phrase in contemporary art galleries is probably "I could do that," followed closely by "My kid could do that." And guess what? You probably could make the stuff in local artist William Schwartz's exhibition; "Awakening of Intelligence," for one, is just a cutout circle, painted the same color as the white wall behind it. But Schwartz's work seems to be more about the idea behind the art than the object itself. The artist describes it as "op art," a movement that has deep roots in Northeast Ohio. Artists Ed Mieczkowski, Francis Hewitt, and Ernst Benkert formed the collective Anonima Group in Cleveland in 1960, and went on to play a seminal role in the movement's development with another local artist, longtime Cleveland Institute of Art professor Julian Stanczak. The idea of op art is to challenge how people understand what they see. It often features optical illusions of three-dimensionality on a flat picture plane. But Schwartz's work isn't exactly op art. His two-dimensional works and sculptures are concerned with things other than pure form — patriotism, masculinity, and art history. "Fresh Windows #1" consists of American flags turned on their sides and repeated until the pattern resembles the windows of an apartment building. Elsewhere, he uses obvious phallic references such as golf tees, nails, balls, and titles such as "[Thanks] Viagra." So, while he claims to be making op art, Schwartz appears uninterested in the science and illusion behind what people see. He wants them to think about what they perceive, not how they perceive it. Through June 14 at Arts Collinwood Gallery, 15605 Waterloo Rd., Cleveland, 216-692-9500. — Theresa Bembnister


Bittersweet The title implies pleasure mingled with pain and conjures up associations with memory. And that's just what Margot Ecke's "archive" addresses. Ecke collects an assortment of miscellaneous objects — a used German World War II-era glass eye, Cuban postage stamps, a pinecone — and places them in tiny boxes decorated with pink and blue plaid. She arranges these packages on a table, surrounding an old-school typewriter — the one used, presumably, to transcribe the poetry that's stuck to the inside of the box lids. An exhibition checklist also details how Ecke landed each object, with methods as mundane as eBay and as personal as raiding Grandma's sewing box. The delicate packaging and hints at history spark feelings of nostalgia: These items were important to somebody somewhere at some time, and viewers are invited to fill in those blanks. The installation is paired with intaglio prints by Ecke's fellow University of Georgia printmaking professor Shelly DiCello, whose chosen medium also references memory. To create an intaglio print, an artist scratches grooves into a metal plate, which is inked and pressed against a piece of paper to make an image. Words and numbers appear throughout her prints, but are rarely completely legible beneath layers of lines and gray tones. DiCello's aesthetic is that of lyrical documentation, a tentative revelation of visual responses to ideas and emotions. Through June 14 at Zygote Press, Inc., 1410 E. 30th St., Cleveland, 216-621-2900. — Bembnister

Focus: Fiber 2008 By selecting "innovation" as the theme for this juried show, the organizers behind Focus: Fiber 2008 likely wanted to help textile art shed its rep as nothing more than macramé belts and baskets woven by aging hippies. Indeed, the works here were constructed using methods that were groundbreaking at one moment or another: weaving, dyeing, embroidery, quilting, painting, and digital inkjet printing on fabric. No real theme emerges in this disparate collection of fibrous objects. But some pieces stand out for their craftsmanship, concept, or both. Among them: Christine LoFaso's Sweatshop Worker Series, which features two glittering banners of woven metallic black and gold yarn. Each depicts a close-up of the face of a young girl or boy, cuing the viewer to consider where the garments on their own body came from. Also, Linda Ohrn-McDaniel displays an elegant jacket of raw silk, decorated at the waist with embroidered and beaded ants, calling attention to the diligence necessary to complete the labor-intensive tasks involved in textile art. Brooks Harris Stevens, meanwhile, contributes "Beginning," the most compelling of the bunch. The black and brown design, digitally printed over the entire swath of linen, resembles the lines of a topographical map, while the hand- and machine-stitched embellishments form a volcano-like protrusion on one side of the fabric, creating a literal representation of topography. Innovation indeed. Through June 21 at the Cleveland State University Art Gallery, 2307 Chester Ave., Cleveland, 216-687-2103. — Bembnister

Through Wilderness Philadelphia artist Hilary White's artwork is a mash-up of apparent opposites. Her sculptural paintings, on cut wood panel and plastic, are steeped in religious symbolism and conveyed through an immaculately crafted punk aesthetic. And you don't have to be a theologian to appreciate the creepiness of the ascending doves or circlets of golden rays that appear throughout her work. White uses this Christian symbolism to address a spiritual or mental quest; she writes that throughout the Bible, the wilderness is a place of both trial and renewal. But her paintings are full of secular symbols too. Dump trucks, toppled pine trees, and wood-chippers serve as reminders of today's shrinking wilderness, while bears and vultures are depicted feasting on smaller animals, reinforcing the cycle of life and death — a theme also seen in images representing Christ's passion, such as the dogwood branches and the crown of thorns. Perhaps most impressive, however, is White's masterful combination of dozens of tiny, delicate three-dimensional pieces, collaged together to create brilliantly colored, unified wall-hanging artworks. White, who graduated last year from the Savannah College of Art and Design, presents a body of paintings that reflects a maturity, attention to detail, and conceptual richness not commonly found in the work of artists so early in their career. Through June 15 at Front Room, 3615 Superior Ave. #4203-A, Cleveland, 216-534-6059. — Bembnister

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