Isamu Noguchi, “Portal,” at The Justice Center
Designed by the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, Portal is a thirty-six-foot-tall black tubular steel sculpture that sits outside the Cuyahoga Justice Center in downtown Cleveland. Both reviled and revered since its installation in 1976, it has become an icon of the city’s civic core. It consists of a monumental black line that rises dramatically out of the ground, then bends and loops around, returning to the ground before climbing once again to reconnect with itself—a three-dimensional ideogram of a gateway. Its pared-down form is deceptive because it shifts constantly as you circle it, framing and reframing the surrounding structures. A model of the sculpture is on display in Julie Mehretu: Portals at the Cleveland Museum of Art, an exhibition of works selected by the artist from the museum’s collection that is also part of FRONT 2022.
Portal serves as the instrument and site for Joe Namy’s Songs for a Set (2022), a series of live music and sound performances conceived and organized by artist as part of his ongoing engagement with the life and oeuvre of legendary composer, musician, ethnomusicologist, and teacher Halim El Dabh (born 1921 in Cairo; died 2017 in Kent, OH). A pioneer of electronic music, El Dabh taught at Kent State University for many decades and frequently performed in and around Cleveland. Inspired by El Dabh’s notes describing a 1969 proposal for an interactive sound work titled Piroutte Continuum, Namy’s performances range from a selection of El Dabh’s own compositions to works developed collaboratively with local sound and movement artists, musicians, DJs, and students.
This orchestrated encounter between El Dabh and Noguchi resurrects not just El Dabh’s overlooked contributions to electroacoustic music as a composer, performer, and educator, but also the memory and potential of what Namy describes as a “collaborative communion” between El Dabh, Noguchi, and the modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, who commissioned El Dabh to write the score and Noguchi to design the sets for her 1958 ballet Clytemnestra. At the FAVA Gallery in Oberlin, Namy presents an installation that includes archival material related to this collaboration and responds to this forgotten moment in the history of the postwar American avant-garde.