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FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art opened over the weekend in Ohio. The major exhibition, on view through September 30, brings together artist commissions, public programming, and more, in collaboration with major museums, civic spaces, and institutions throughout Cleveland, Oberlin, and Akron.
This inaugural triennial, under the leadership of director Fred Bidwell and Artistic Director Michelle Grabner, invited artists to examine the current political, economic, social challenges facing the American city. Participating artists include Nasser Al-Salem, Walead Beshty, Dawoud Bey, Beverly Fishman, Cyprien Gaillard, Sharon Lockhart, Virginia Overton, Sarah Morris, Tony Tasset, and many more.
Whitewall spoke with Bidwell, the collector, community leader, and philanthropist behind FRONT.
WHITEWALL: This is the first iteration of FRONT. What was the initial idea for this Cleveland triennial?
FRED BIDWELL: Because Cleveland is a midwestern city that is at the center of so many things that are on people’s minds today (racial equity, income inequality, immigration, de-industrialization, etc.) it seemed to me that it would be great canvas for artists. We are also endowed with an amazing array of nationally and internationally respected museums and institutions who have agreed to collaborate with FRONT. Those institutions form the backbone of the show and have given us the credibility and the resources to support a show of this scope.
WW: How does FRONT will engage with the city?
FB: Many of the artists have come to Cleveland to make new work and most of those projects directly engage the space and the history of Cleveland. It’s inspiring to see this city through the eyes of artists, many of whom are coming to this part of the United States for the first time.
WW: How do you hope to reach an audience in Cleveland outside your typical art crowd?
FB: Many of the projects are outside traditional museum or gallery settings and so it will be difficult not to notice that something new is in town. Many may bump into a FRONT project or installation unintentionally, but we hope that the experience will cause them to seek out more. Part of FRONT is a global music street dance party concert series that will take place in neighborhoods where there are FRONT projects close by. We think music is a great way to convene a wide audience and introduce them to contemporary art.
WW: Why did you want FRONT to have an international focus?
FB: Cleveland is a city that was built by immigrants and is tightly connected to the global economy and so it seemed important to me to bring artists from around the world into this exhibition and show local artists on the same stage.
WW: What are some of the unconventional spaces artists will be engaging with?
FB: Locations for installations and projects for FRONT include the cargo hold of a 1920s era ore freighter, empty lots, an abandoned factory building, walls of buildings in Cleveland’s downtown, shopfronts, an historic Frank Lloyd Wright designed home, and even the lobby of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
WW: Can you tell us more about The City as Readymade? Can you give us examples of some of the historic and significant buildings in Cleveland that will be activated?
FB: Cleveland has a marvelous architectural fabric which has been exciting for artists to engage with. Two of my favorite projects are right next to each other in downtown Cleveland. In the gorgeous beaux-arts design main hall of the Cleveland Public Library building designed by the prominent architectural firm of Walker and Weeks, we will be showing a commissioned work by Yinka Shinobare, MBE called The American Library. It’s a massive bookcase filled with 6,000 wax print cloth wrapped books each representing someone with an important American migration history. The library couldn’t be a more beautiful and relevant setting for this work.
Next door in the main lobby of the Cleveland branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, also designed by Walker and Weeks, we will be showing a 24-channel video animation by Philip Vanderhyden that deals with the risks of economies and speculation. It is a gorgeous and brooding piece that is the perfect counterpoint to the lavish marble neo-classical architecture of the bank intended to project wealth and stability.
WW: For those attending FRONT and visiting Cleveland for the first time, what do you hope people walk away with?
FB: I hope that visitors to FRONT will see it as an innovative alternative to the art fairs and proof that the center of gravity in the art world is tilting away from the traditional hub cities.