Cleveland Museum of Art "Picturing Motherhood Now" -- Preconception vs. Actuality

Blog Date
Stuart O. Smith, Jr.

Not My Burden, 2019. Titus Kaphar (American, b. 1976). Oil on canvas ; 167.6 x 153 cm. © Titus Kaphar. Image courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Collection of Ellen Susman, Houston , Texas. Photo: Rob McKeever
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Not My Burden, 2019. Titus Kaphar (American, b. 1976). Oil on canvas ; 167.6 x 153 cm. © Titus Kaphar. Image courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Collection of Ellen Susman, Houston , Texas. Photo: Rob McKeever
Learn more about the artwork of Titus Kaphar at:

"... reimagine the possibilities for representing motherhood" - I had received an invitation in early October for the Thursday, October 14, 2021, preview of Picturing Motherhood Now, and started reading about and looking at photographs from the exhibition on the Cleveland Museum of Art's website. Based on what I saw, I developed a preconception about the exhibition, which I have to admit was not on target. You can't experience the depth of Picturing Motherhood Now by looking at photos on a website. You must see it in person to not only study the artwork closely, but also to read the messages that accompany the artwork. I know that I will need to return again to the museum to see the pieces I missed, and to look again at the artwork I found interesting.



Pre-Preview Excitement! Anticipating Art as a Social Experience!

I have to admit that, for me, much of the excitement of the preview event had nothing to do with the actual artwork. The excitement was about enjoying the art as part of a social experience -- being with other people at the Cleveland Museum of Art! As I wrote in my last blog post (published on October 14, 2021) about the opening of FRONT 2022 Preview Exhibition: Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools:

Since I have not attended many events this year due to COVID-19, it was great to be out again, talking to people I have not seen in person in a year and a half. I only attended the opening because I am fully vaccinated, and all attendees were required to wear masks.

While the Cleveland Museum of Art was one of the only indoor venues I visited during the pre-vaccine days of this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, my visits were normally a solo experience, or with just my wife and co-blogger, Julie. The museum's COVID-19 safety protocols and spacious rooms made it feel safe to visit, but I actively avoided visiting the museum at times it could have been crowded. As I wrote at the end of my April 27, 2021, blog post Return Visit to Stories from Storage - From the Cleveland Museum of Art, with Love:

The museum is one of only two public venues I have visited since the coronavirus crisis began in mid-March 2020.

. . .

Until the reopening of the Cleveland Museum of Art for the the second time in January 2021, many of the venues in the Cleveland and Akron area that I write about in my have been closed. Please read my "Social Distancing Series" blog posts, since they capture some of our current activities. Once the coronavirus crisis is over, it will be interesting to read these 2020 and early 2021 blog posts to see the contrast between these times and "normal life."

The opening for the FRONT 2022 Preview and Picturing Motherhood Now are not completely part of a return to "normal life," since the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, but they are a great start. The following tweets reflect the excitement of joining with others to enjoy the experience which is the Cleveland Museum of Art.


One of the people I talked at the FRONT 2022 Preview opening, who I had not seen in person in a year and a half, was Scene Magazine photographer, Emanuel Wallace (@MannyWallace - @ClevelandScene). It was good to hear that I would see him again so soon at the Picturing Motherhood Now opening.



"... new exhibition on motherhood this week"




"Picturing Motherhood Now" Media & Influencer Event and Members Preview Party!

"Picturing Motherhood Now" - Invitation to the Media & Influencer Event
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The Cleveland Museum of Art Presents
"Picturing Motherhood Now"

Exhibition examines interpretations of motherhood by a diverse array of contemporary artists
Picturing Motherhood Now brings together work by 33 diverse contemporary artists who interpret motherhood as a term with many meanings. The exhibition focuses on art created in the past two decades, including work by Wendy Red Star and LaToya Ruby Frazier, while integrating work by significant pioneers, including Louise Bourgeois, Alice Neel, Betye Saar and others, to narrate an intergenerational and evolving story of motherhood. In their art, made in a variety of media, motherhood becomes a lens through which to examine contemporary social issues—the changing definitions of family and gender, the histories and afterlives of slavery, the legacies of migration and the preservation of matrilineal Indigenous cultures. Picturing Motherhood Now is on view in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Gallery from October 16, 2021, through March 13, 2022.
. . .
“This presentation also includes exciting newly commissioned work as well, including new work by artists Wendy Red Star, Carmen Winant and M. Carmen Lane,” said Nadiah Rivera Fellah, associate curator of contemporary art.

Read the full Press Release (305KB PDF File) here.

. . . challenges familiar archetypes of motherhood -- here are tweets with photos from the evening:


Even before you enter exhibition in The Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Gallery on the lower floor, visitors will see spider sculptures by Louise Bourgeois in the Ames Family Atrium.


Thank you to the Cleveland Museum of Art for having live music in both the Ames Family Atrium and at the entrance to the exhibition.


Be sure to read the "Community Voice" messages that accompany some of the artwork, since they add personal, local stories.

Evelyn Burnett (@evburnett), who added her insight to Not My Burden, is the Birthing Beautiful Communities board chair. I wanted to be sure to include information in this blog post about the lifesaving work of Cleveland's Birthing Beautiful Communities:

Birthing Beautiful Communities (BBC), a 501c3 non-profit, is a community of birth workers, or doulas, primarily providing social support to pregnant women at highest risk for infant mortality during the perinatal period.
. . .

Birthing Beautiful Communities seeks to educate, support, and empower expectant mothers at every stage of their pregnancy and postpartum transition. Four domains of service are offered to BBC clients: Labor Support, Life Goal Planning, Childbirth and Parenting, and Support Groups.

Please learn more about their work on the Birthing Beautiful Communities website at:


Before attending the exhibition, I had seen online a photo of one of Alison Saar's three sculptures, and did not think I would be interested in the piece. The photo did not do it justice. Seeing them in person (I liked the way they were displayed ) and then reading the description about their connection to Uncle Tom's Cabin made me interested in learning more about the three sculptures.


More spiders...











Spiders Return to Cleveland

When I saw the spider sculptures by Louise Bourgeois, I immediately thought they looked familiar. It was not until I read Lillian Kuri's (@lilliankuri) "Community Voice" message that I remembered that there was a very large spider sculpture in Cleveland many years ago. When I got home after the opening, my wife, Julie, said she also remembered the spider, and we figured out that we had seen the large spider sculpture at Playhouse Square.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find any of my photos, but I did locate a Scene Magazine "best of Cleveland" article that confirms that the year was 2002:

It was great to have Lillian Kuri's (@lilliankuri) reply to my tweet about the spider sculpture with "One of my favorite projects I have worked on to date!!!"



Completely off topic, but I found it interesting that while searching for the spider photos in Playhouse Square (which of course I did not find since I joined Twitter 7 years after they were in Playhouse Square), I was reminded of good times when there were two bloggers' groups in Cleveland. One of the bloggers groups, the Lake Erie Moose Society Blogger Meetup, met at the Barking Spider bar. I look forward to the time after the COVID-19 pandemic when people in bloggers, social media, and tech groups can meet in person again. I used to be very active in attending these types of gatherings.

Coincidentally, at exactly the same time I was doing my Twitter search for the word "spider," I saw that John Skrtic (@SkrticX) shared a photo the Barking Spider bar and music venue. I let him know that I appreciate him sharing the photo, since it brought back great memories.



The Photography of Emanuel Wallace

Opening this Saturday, Picturing Motherhood Now brings together works by a diverse range of contemporary artists who reimagine the possibilities for representing motherhood. The exhibition runs through March 13, 2022.

It was great to talk to Scene Magazine photographer, Emanuel Wallace (@MannyWallace - @ClevelandScene) a second time in one week, after not seeing him in person in a year and a half. (Read details and see a link to his photography from last Friday's Transformer Station art exhibition opening in my FRONT 2022 Preview Exhibition: Grand Prototypes, Humble Tools blog post which I published the same day I attended the "Motherhood" preview.)

Be sure to see all his photos in his online slideshow from the preview:



Cleveland Museum of Art's Blog Post: Before the Debut of an Art Exhibition

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in preparing for a new exhibition? This fall is full of exciting new shows, and Picturing Motherhood Now, an exhibition that brings together works by a diverse range of contemporary artists to narrate an intergenerational and evolving story of motherhood has given the #CMAConservation team a lot to think about.

As in every exhibition, we collaborate closely with our colleagues in many different departments in the months and weeks leading up to installation. Let’s look at a few highlights.

Read this interesting behind-the-scenes article about the Picturing Motherhood Now exhibition:



Steven Litt's October 17, 2021, Review of Picturing Motherhood Now

“Picturing Motherhood Now,’’ . . . focus on slavery, racism, stereotyping, environmental justice, undocumented immigration, and multiple waves of feminism.

The show also includes powerful affirmations of Native-American, Palestinian, queer, and transsexual identity, as well as encomiums to the power of women to bear and nurture children and to transmit matrilineal heritage down through generations.

Message: This is no longer your grandmother’s art museum. It’s a place willing and eager to step out of its comfort zone.

The first words I wrote when I started writing the blog post was that I had "...a preconception about the exhibition, which I have to admit was not on target." I read Steven Litt's article as I was working on this blog post. I loved where he wrote "Motherhood might sound like a sappy, apple-pie topic . . .  but in the hands of the Cleveland Museum of Art, it’s an incendiary bomb."  The exhibition did not fit my preconception, because, as Steven Litt wrote: "This is no longer your grandmother’s art museum."

I had read about the exhibition before attending, and read descriptions of the artwork while attending, but Steven Litt's article takes it to the next level. As I wrote above, I know I need to see the exhibition again.

If you can only attend once, I highly recommend reading Steven Litt's review of the exhibition before you go. But what I really recommend is to see the exhibition first without reading his article, and then read it closely before you visit the exhibition a second time. You may see it from a different perspective!

I know that members receive free tickets to visit, but I want to encourage the Cleveland Museum of Art to allow non-members to return for a second visit with their original ticket and a photo ID. (I sent an email to a staff person at the museum with my suggestion.) This exhibition warrants a second visit.



More . . .



Community Voice!

"Picturing Motherhood Now" Community Voice Contributors
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I loved the community voice features for the pieces - it enhanced every piece  . . .

— joecimperman (@joecimperman) October 18, 2021

During the exhibition opening, I took a photo with the names of the "Community Voice" contributors. I had planned to share the photo after the event on Twitter to thank them for sharing their great insight about the artwork. I was glad to see on October 18, 2021, that Joe Cimperman (@joecimperman) had the same idea, so I added my thank-you tweet with the photo under Joe Cimperman's tweet.



Related Blog Posts

I always like to end my posts with a list of related blog posts, but I have written so many blog posts about the Cleveland Museum of Art, that it is best that you just see them all by pulling up all the posts tagged with:

Also, if you are interested in reading more art related blog posts, please see my 75 other blog posts tagged "Art"

I mention above how the exhibition opening represents the beginning of "normal life." If you are interested in how I spent my time while all the venues that I normally visit were closed, please see my "Social Distancing Series" blog posts.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You can learn about my travel journeys with my wife and co-blogger, Julie, and the venues we explore in Cleveland and Akron at:



"Picturing Motherhood Now" - Media & Influencer Preview Event FREE Drink Ticket
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Disclosure: I received an invitation to attend the Thursday, October 14, 2020, Media & Influencer Preview of Picturing Motherhood Now, which included admission to the Fall Members Party and two free drink tickets. As a member of the Cleveland Museum of Art, I was already entitled to free tickets to Picturing Motherhood Now as well as admission to this special preview and members party.

The invitation to attend came as a result of my support of the Cleveland Museum of Art via my @sos_jr Twitter feed and blog posts. I enjoyed the event, and wrote this blog post to share my experience at the Picturing Motherhood Now preview at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I plan to use my membership benefit to return to see the exhibition again.