MOCA Cleveland's New $27-Million Building Relaunches the Institution as a Cutting-Edge Kunsthalle

Rendering of the new MOCA Cleveland building, designed by Farshid Moussavi
(Courtesy MOCA Cleveland and Farshid Moussavi Architecture, 2010)

For many galleries, moving into a ground-floor space is a rite of passage. For a museum whose primary function is to serve the public, such a move is all the more significant. Late this summer, the staff of MOCA Cleveland will leave its retrofitted location on the second floor of a former department store and set up shop inside a brand-new, stand-alone building in the heart of the city’s emerging arts district. The $27-million Farshid Moussavi-designed, hexagonal space will be the anchor of one end of the Uptown neighborhood, near Case Western Reserve University. (The other is occupied by the Cleveland Institute of Art.) The building will be Moussavi’s first in the United States, as well as her first museum. 

“It’s a museum space that is truly an expression of our program,” MOCA Cleveland director Jill Snyder told ARTINFO. The new space is specially designed for a kunsthalle. As one of the few non-collecting contemporary art museums in the country, MOCA Cleveland didn’t need permanent collection galleries or much storage space. What it did need a whole lot of flexibility.

“I’m not a fan of galleries with irregular configurations because I think contemporary art is irregular enough,” Snyder explained. “The space doesn’t have to provide yet another element of unconventionality.” That’s why the faceted building shifts from a hexagonal shape on the ground floor — allowing visitors six different access points — to a four-sided shape on the fourth floor, which houses the main, 6,000-square-foot gallery space.

In addition to being flexible, Snyder wanted the space to feel accessible. Though the majority of the building’s exterior is covered with steel paneling, a large, triangular window cutting across one side of the building offers a peek at all four floors. “We wanted viewers to be able to see what’s going on inside from the street,” says Snyder. 

Beginning in October, passerby looking into the triangular window will see a massive painting by Katharina Grosse commissioned especially for the atrium, covering three stories of MOCA’s elevator shaft and spilling out into the stairwell. (Grosse’s project will be the first in a series of commissions for the space.) The painting is part of the museum’s inaugural exhibition, “Inside Out and From the Ground Up,” a group show exploring space and architecture, for which celebrated French-Canadian artist David Altmejd will create his largest vitrine to date — a fittingly splashy showpiece for Cleveland's new power museum.