- Eastern State Penitentiary, Infirmary Courtesy of the Masumi Hayashi Foundation
Everyone has a story about a teacher or professor that was instrumental in shaping and influencing the person they have become. From kindergarten through grad school, educators are vital to critical thinking; this is especially true in the visual arts. My own high school art teacher had a hand in my early development as an artist. Later on, my Intro to Photography professor at Cleveland State University would be the individual that taught me how to see and pull ideas together.
As school is back in session, here are two exhibitions you need to view before they are de-installed on October 6 and 7 — the retrospective of artwork by the great Masumi Hayashi at Tregoning & Co. and the 2018 faculty show, Critical Feedback, at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
The photo collages by the late Masumi Hayashi, beloved professor and photographer whose life was cut short in 2006 by a senseless act of violence, still pulsate in this highly moving exhibition. By taking photographs using a tripod and moving around in succession, Hayashi would develop smaller prints that she would tile out to create large scale panoramas. These artworks depict places that spark deeply important social conversations such as prisons and the internment camps used to corral Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II, which is still a contemporary subject as our country participates in heated discussions on immigration.
The power of Masumi’s early work lay not only in her subject matter, but that they are void of people and yet full of ghosts.
As we enter the gallery we are overwhelmed by Gila River Relocation Camp, Foundation, Gila River, Arizona. It should be noted that Masumi Hayashi was born at this particular relocation camp in 1945. The stark white frame, columns and stone floor expose the desert sky as well as the ugly, racist side of America and the many atrocities done to our citizens filed falsely under the guise of protecting the majority.
In Eastern State Penitentiary, Infirmary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we can almost inhale the crumbling asbestos hovering above. The peeling paint is audible and the cold steel bed frames are bent like accordions in pain. The room wants us to update our tetanus shot. Septic blue and rust riddled pipes race up and down the walls, pulling our eye throughout the piece. It is a cold place and the grays, whites and aquamarine colors exploit that to the max. This completely contrasts the warm Palace Theater, Cleveland, Ohio with its ultra plush interior. The lush, leafy red carpet and wallpaper are sectioned by marble and gold ionic columns. Icy chandeliers and clean lines clip a sterile environment with lyrical swoops of drama from the opulent staircases.
In the adjoining room we are greeting with a hauntingly serene The Flats in the Fog, Cleveland, Ohio that anchors the spiritual works that follow. Here the collages begin to populate with individuals and groups. The contemplative Man and God, Hall of a Thousand Pillars, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, India gives us pause. The solitary, standing man could be a pillar himself as stares directly at us. He seems to pop out from the scene as a reclining god relaxes to the left. It is calming and unsettling at the same time.
Over at CIA Critical Feedback gave us some great cud to chew. The 2018 faculty exhibition is smartly installed throughout the building near the Reinberger Gallery where it spans the student lounge, the atrium, the alumni gallery and an area referred to as the media mesh.
Petra Soesemann, professor and chair of Foundation, presents Refugee Trilogy: Mediterranean Crossing; a pensive, undulating wall piece in black and red that is perfectly titled. It is created with natural and synthetic fabrics and machine sewn, which is mind-boggling. Reds fade to black and fade to red as our eye swims throughout the artwork. We could have stared at it for hours.
In the student lounge is the deceptively shy polyptych, Season of Home and Courage by associate professor/chair of Printmaking, Maggie Denk-Leigh. Recreated in cast pulp is the forget-me-not hand sewn across the five panels, it is a field of nostalgia and the now that Denk-Leigh breaks down in an essay next to the artwork.
On the facing wall looms professor of Photography & Video, Mary Jo Toles’ mega modular HV-CVCSCF  that is keenly balanced with professor of Foundation & Drawing, Christian Wulffen’s polished graphite on canvas drawing titled For Blinky 1/2-9/18. At the top of the north stairway we are engaged with associate professor of Painting, Lane Cooper’s powerful installation that includes the pieces titled Shimmer, Strong Female Lead: Simone and Strong Female Lead: Eartha.
There is such a rich number of faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Art that we regrettably can’t fit everyone into this review. Both exhibitions are strong showings of creative muscle that demonstrate critical thinking and encourage artistic and intellectual exploration. Definitely make it your business to check them out.
Masumi Hayashi Panoramic Photo Collages 1976-2006 is on view at Tregoning & Co. through October 6, 2018. 1300 W78th Street, Cleveland, Ohio www.tregoningandco.com
Critical Feedback is on view at the Cleveland Institute of Art through October 7, 2018. 11610 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio www.cia.edu