Exhibit of the week
Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art
Multiple metro Cleveland venues, through Sept. 30
“The art world loves to flock to exotic locales,” said Hilarie Sheets in The New York Times. But “will it come to Cleveland?” The organizers of the first Front International Triennial have made a $5 million bet that it will. Tapping the talents of more than 110 artists, the summer-long festival aims to change perceptions of the Ohio city, which has made vast investments in the arts in the decades since its industrial base collapsed. Seeing all of Front, the largest show of its kind in North America, would take two or three days plus short drives from Cleveland to Oberlin and Akron—“which is precisely the idea,” said Steven Litt in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The art is spread across 28 sites, including museums, churches, and a historic steamship docked on Lake Erie. And unlike commercial fairs that glamorize spending by the rich, this venture, which brings together work by local artists as well as such international figures as Britain’s Yinka Shonibare and Venezuela’s Juan Araujo, aims for the mind and heart instead of the wallet.
There could hardly be a better backdrop for socially conscious art, said Alexxa Gotthardt in Artsy.net. The triennial’s strongest works draw connections between global issues and those that reverberate with metro Cleveland’s history or present challenges. Race and migration are popular themes: At a church that was a final stop for slaves escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad, recent MacArthur grant recipient Dawoud Bey has hung a series of large nighttime photographs that evoke what the fugitives saw as they moved through dark forests and skirted moonlit Lake Erie near the journey’s completion. Wisconsin-born artist Philip Vanderhyden has colonized Cleveland’s Federal Reserve Bank with a long, accordion-like video display that snakes across the bank’s floor and shows fractals twisting and spinning, suggesting a graphic depiction of financial markets operating beyond human comprehension.
No one festival can change how the world sees Cleveland, said Tim Schneider in Artnet.com. But at Oberlin’s Allen Memorial Art Museum, Barbara Bloom’s The Rendering (H x W x D =) offers a potent metaphor for how such a shift begins. The commissioned work has two main elements. The New York artist chose 20 works from the museum’s collection that she’s hung together, but white boxes cover all but select architectural details in the pictures. Nearby, she’s done almost the inverse, taking 2-D images of structures and exploding them into 3-D models that invade the viewer’s space. The one group shows how a complex world can be flattened by single-minded focus; the other shows how attention can reveal unseen depths. Front might just do the same for Cleveland, “reverse-rendering a flat image of the city” so that we all can see it for what it truly is: “a rich, fully formed environment worth exploring again and again.” ■