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Issue Date: September 2013

Fall Arts & Entertainment Preview: History Channels

The first Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit at the Transformer Station asks us to reimagine how we view the past.
by James Bigley II

The Transformer Station makes an artistic statement just by looking at it. Home to two galleries, the 1924 brick building once used as a power station now serves as a physical juxtaposition between past and present with its minimalist black concrete addition.

So it's fitting that The Unicorn, the first Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit to be hosted here, will focus on reshaping the way we interpret the past.

Opening Sept. 7, the exhibit is inspired by German author Martin Walser's novel of the same title and combines the work of five contemporary artists from Los Angeles, Mexico, Germany and France.

"We tend to think of the past as something very stable and given, but that's not actually true," says Reto Thüring, Cleveland Museum of Art's associate curator of contemporary art. Thüring purposely sought out craftsmen, such as 27-year-old French video artist Neïl Beloufa, for their work across several disciplines. "The past is gone, but what we can do is reconstruct the past in very tiny entities and then try to collect these entities and put them together."

The Crane Gallery will host Beloufa's untitled 15-minute video installation, which captures a series of stories about a terrorist group that took over an abandoned Algerian villa in the '90s.

"You can immediately see that the film sets are carefully cut out from cardboard and paper, and at some point you start realizing some parts may be true and some are not," says Thüring.

This reshaping of the past will expand into the Main Gallery with an installation by Los Angeles artist Shana Lutker. In an effort to reimagine a fistfight that happened in 1923 between surrealists André Breton and Pierre de Massot, Lutker has crafted an elevated stage on which she uses a mirrored backing and sculptures to create illusions.

"It's an unusual show for Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Art because it's a show about an idea, not about a movement or an artist or a medium," says Fred Bidwell, who operates the Transformer Station with his wife, Laura.

After spending nearly $3 million on the addition and renovations for the building before it opened in February, the Bidwells, through their foundation, created a partnership with the museum by lending them the space for six months out of every year.

"The Transformer Station is the kind of space where we, as a museum, can maybe experiment a little more and show younger artists," says Thüring.

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