Road Trip: Contemporary Art Museums

Don’t go big and don’t go home. Travel to these art venues instead.
Richard Mosse at iMOCA’s Alexander gallery

© Richard Mosse. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Cleveland: Transformer Station
Cincinnati’s not the only Ohio city on a renovation spree—that list includes the actual Ohio City, a neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side. Look no further than the Transformer Station, a 1924 streetcar power substation turned contemporary art hub. The original 22-foot ceilings, masonry, and ironwork were augmented with a modern—yet impressively complementary—addition. The station now houses art, as well as concerts and lectures, and it’s keeping the folks at the Cleveland Museum of Art fresh: CMA runs the station six months of each year as a laboratory and gallery space for new, significant contemporary art.

Through January 17, expect a sociopolitical commentary punch from Julia Wachtel’s cartoon and news-photography mash-up paintings, and a poetic set of sculptures from Anicka Yi entitled Death. It’s the third in her trilogy—after Denial (shown in Berlin) and Divorce (shown in New York)—looking at the “forensics of loss and longing.” Heads up: Chrome-painted dumbbells and fried flowers are involved.

The Transformer Station in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood
The Transformer Station in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood

Photo courtesy the Transformer Station.

Indianapolis: The Alexander and iMOCA
What to do when downtown’s southeast outskirts need an update from post-industrial? In Indy they built a brand new boutique art hotel and filled it with contemporary works curated by the Indianapolis Museum of Art—part of the CityWay project bringing new life to the area by way of residential and retail development. The Alexander’s halls—and lobbies and bathrooms and windows and bars—are filled with site-specific permanent installations, like Nick Walker’s stenciled graffiti art scattered throughout the “car park” (the developer’s British, y’all) and Sonya Clark’s wall-sized Madam C.J. Walker II, a portrait of the grande dame of hair products made entirely of cross-hatched black combs.

In October, the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art ( signed on too. They opened a satellite gallery at the hotel—more than doubling iMOCA’s show space—adding rotating work to The Alexander’s art offerings and keeping it free to the public. Catch the inaugural exhibition through December 20: Irish photographer Richard Mosse’s Fermata documents the topography and conflict of the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo—which he shot on Kodak Aerochrome, a discontinued infrared military surveillance film that renders the landscape in disorienting, surreal (and unretouched) hues of pink and red.

Dine with a side of contemporary design at The Alexander’s Plat 99 lounge.
Dine with a side of contemporary design at The Alexander’s Plat 99 lounge.

Photograph courtesy The Alexander

Pittsburgh: The Mattress Factory Art Museum
It may not be the Cloud Factory of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh fame, but this factory’s still got serious steam. The Mattress Factory Art Museum says it “presents art you can get into”—and that’s not figurative talk in the slightest. The museum, a collection of three buildings in Pittsburgh’s historic Mexican War Streets district, houses room-sized installation exhibitions, all created on-site by artists in the museum’s residency program, which it has been running since 1977.

Through May 31, see the Factory’s piece of the Pittsburgh Biennial, a regional survey of contemporary art. This year marks the first time they’ve participated—their artist reach tends to be more national or global—and the show, Artists in Residence, has five artists who live in the city transforming gallery spaces with a variety of media, including sculpture, video…and one circus performer. But don’t miss Chiharu Shiota’s 2013 show Trace of Memory or the many other exhibitions from years past that have found a permanent home there—like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Dots Mirrored Room (just what it sounds like, plus black light) or two of James Turrell’s works of light, including one of his first as a student.

Chiharu Shiota at the Mattress Factory
Chiharu Shiota at the Mattress Factory

Chiharu Shiota, His Chair, 2004, Aros Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark © VG Bild Kunst, Photo by Sunhi Mang

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