Five Things You Should Know About the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland

(Photo: Dean Kaufman)

With the ballots counted and the electoral votes tallied, the world can stop referring to Ohio using battle metaphors and take notice of what’s really swinging in the Buckeye State: art museums. There’s the reliably stellar Wexner Center (the first major public building designed by Peter Eisenman) in Columbus, Zaha Hadid‘s Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, and the Akron Art Museum, which in 2007 gained a soaring glass and steel structure by Coop Himmelb(l)au. But the big news is in Cleveland, where a Rafael Viñoly-designed expansion project is in full swing at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland is now welcoming visitors to its new $27.2 million home (above) by Farshid Moussavi. We paid a visit to MOCA Cleveland and have returned to offer these five informational morsels about the sleek and surprising new building–and what’s inside.

5. With six irregularly faceted sides clad primarily in mirror-finish black stainless steel, the 34,000-square-foot building’s striking exterior never looks the same twice. Moussavi happened upon the dusky Rimex paneling after her first choice (anodized gold aluminum) was nixed by the museum’s board of directors. “We discovered that this black steel acquired different dynamics when applied to our shape, with its surfaces that are tilted to different orientations and that catch the light differently,” said Moussavi during the museum’s opening weekend festivities. “It started playing with time.”

4. Visitors step inside to the “urban living room,” an airy ground floor space that includes the museum cafe and shop. Linger as long as you want: admission is only charged for those who ascend the craggy white central staircase to the exhibitions. First up, in the cozy second floor gallery, is David Altmejd’s largest vitrine piece to date, “The Orbit” (2012), a labyrinth of tumbling fruit, furry hands, and disembodied eyeballs. This marks the first time the artist has incorporated architectural elements into one of his Plexiglas-enclosed worlds. “I always deal with structures and of course I’m always confronted with their limitations,” the artist said in an interview with chief curator David Norr. “But I like the idea of constantly breaking that limitation.”

3. MOCA Cleveland director Jill Snyder had three main goals for the non-collecting institution’s new home. “What we strived for was flexibility, transparency, and sustainability,” she told us. Among the features of the soon-to-be-LEED-Silver-certified building are floors stacked to offer glimpses of usually behind-closed-doors museum functions (admin offices, the wood workshop, the loading dock), enclosed fire stairs that double as a sound gallery, and, underneath the adjoining public plaza, geothermal wells.

2. The inside of the building shell is painted dark, matte blue (think Yves Klein ultramarine at midnight). It’s the museum’s new signature color and Moussavi’s ingenious way of both eschewing the typical white box and linking the building’s eccentric exterior to the program inside–while not clashing with the art. “It is part of the dark shell. It’s the inside of it,” said Paul Westlake of Westlake Reed Leskosky, which served as architect-of-record, structural engineer, and lighting designer for the new MOCA Cleveland. “And on one reading, it’s only black. It’s just dark. And on the second reading, it’s color.”

1. Having faced and cleared the hurdles imposed by the recent global financial crisis during a six-year process of fundraising, design, and building, MOCA Cleveland is one sexy museum. “I’m reminded of the words of a friend of mine, who said that the process of doing a building like this is like having sex in the backseat of car: it’s terribly exciting, but it’s not very comfortable,” said Westlake. “That’s what this design process was like.”