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    A Musical Momment with Dave Cole

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    Music Box sculpture by Dave Cole installed at the Cleveland Institute of Art

    Music Box. Dave Cole. 2012.

    The Reinberger Gallery currently plays host to something quite different. The giant working Music Box by Dave Cole seems unlike anything else ever to have graced the gallery. Dave Cole, a contemporary artist known for pieces examining American culture, hits home with a modified CAT roller-compactor pinging off the Star Spangled Banner. Two identifiably American elements come together in a big way, in the sense of the size of the piece and the uncontrollable volume of the music. The sculpture expresses an underlying ideal of American culture with patriotic and rustic rudiments.

    On opening night approaching the entrance to Reinberger one could hear something out of the ordinary but that certainly did not prepare the viewer for what lay ahead. The roller-compactor, a story tall motion sensitive piece, takes up a good portion of space and the loud noise it makes shakes the rafters. The experience of seeing this machine in the middle of a white walled gallery, accompanied by the music and the effect it has on the space, leaves one awestruck. The roller, a large-scale version of a music box that many could recognize from childhood, has large steel pins protruding from the cylinder. The usual single steel comb with tuned teeth transforms into a set of individual metal teeth plucked by the massive steel pins. The whole piece, lifted off the ground in order to not simply roll away, plugs into a socket on the floor.

    I got a chance to speak with Cole about his piece, and the man commands as much interest as his work.


    Robin Miller: What were some of your inspirations to make the giant machines that are your work, especially the Music Box?

    Dave Cole: I have loved these machines since I was a little kid. Really, there is not any sarcasm in my choice of materials; I really do just love these big trucks. Plus they are so ubiquitous, so accessible, that it gives the viewer a starting point to begin engaging with the work. I see so much art that appears to try to validate itself by being either offensive or intentionally obtuse. I guess I just got tired of art that makes folks feel bad about themselves for not knowing enough about art.

    Can you talk about the strong message of America and the homespun your pieces give off? Are they a comment on certain values of the country?

    As for the theme of America, and, more specifically, American-ness, I think that is mostly just me making things that express how I see the world. Me trying to negotiate the contradictions inherent in figuring out what it means to be whom and what I am. I mean, the four branches of my family came here over three centuries from four countries, all to escape religious persecution. My grandfather was a traveling salesman with a seventh grade education, yet I get to make art for a living. It would be absurd for me not to be grateful every day to have been born where and when I was. At the same time, I am an educated person, and aware that there are things done in my name as an American that I find inexcusable. By holding both of those truths at the same time, and for me, making things that express some small part of that experience, somewhere in that ferment of contrasting truth, is the thing that I hope my work communicates.

    What does the use of the big machines (the steamroller in this piece) bring to your work that you could not if you were using anything else?

    The scale and power, the sheer wonderment inherent in what those machines are, it is just magnificent. It is precisely that sense of awe in the face of power that is so meaningful to me.

    Assistants install a large wheel of a roller-compactor donated by Ohio CAT at the Cleveland Institute of Art

    Music Box. Dave Cole. 2012. (Installation Shot)

    What was the process like in getting the steamroller donated to you?

    The credit for that really goes to Bruce Checefsky at CIA. He was able to begin a relationship with Ken Taylor at Ohio CAT. Ken proved receptive to the idea, and so I came out to discuss the project further. Ken really jumped right in, he was excited about the piece, and before I knew it a full size roller-compactor was being delivered to my studio.

    [In his studio, Cole disassembled and reassembled the roller-compactor, getting ready to be able to reassemble it in the Reinberger Gallery with help from his assistants.]

    Is Cleveland the most ideal place for the Music Box to be debuted?

    Absolutely. I could not imagine a more perfect city for the piece. All of the ferment alive in the work is represented here, from a legacy of heavy manufacturing, to trying to come to terms with a post-industrial identity, to the aesthetics of the place, to it being the birthplace of rock and roll. Perfect.

    Is there anything new that you are working on? Any more homespun things done or expressed using American machinery?

    Well… I did recently figure out how to tune jackhammers to play specific notes, and I am kind of wondering what a player piano made from three dozen tuned jack-hammers might sound like. There is also the plan to teach a backhoe to do a hand-stand on one of its out-riggers. Do not forget the long-term plan to build a mobile using eight fully functional vintage pickup trucks.


    The show, Scale + Form, also features a retrospective of sculptures by Barbara Stanczak, a prolific artist who taught at CIA for over 30 years. The show runs through May 19th in the Reinberger Galleries.

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