From left: Meghana Karnik, FRONT 2021 associate curator; Lo Smith, curatorial assistant; Evelyn Burnett of ThirdSpace Action Lab; Courtenay Finn, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland chief curator; Emily Liebert, Cleveland Museum of Art curator of contemporary art; and Prem Krishnamurthy, FRONT Co-artistic director, debut FRONT International’s 2021 theme. | Photo / Amanda Koehn

By Amanda Koehn

The second iteration of FRONT International, the Cleveland contemporary arts triennial that debuted in 2018, aims to explore the city’s historical struggles and its complex and winding efforts toward transformation.

FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art 2021 will be titled, “Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows,” and will run from July 17 to Oct. 2, 2021, the arts organization announced Jan. 14. Arts events and installations as part of FRONT will be distributed across Cleveland, Akron and Oberlin, and feature regional, national and international artists who will create new projects surrounding the theme and city. 

“Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows,” comes from a 1957 poem by author Langston Hughes, who moved to Cleveland as a child and embraced an artistic connection to the area. The poem is a reflection on adversity and a prayer for transformation.

As Cleveland’s social system historically is marked by economic, political and environmental conflict, FRONT aims to connect that past with the city’s attempts to reinvent itself, as well as the continuing cycle of repair, crisis and recovery. FRONT’s artistic vision focuses on the process of long-term change and continuing needs. 

During a preview event at Karamu House in Cleveland, the event’s leaders discussed the 2018 first iteration of the triennial and its impact, as well as plans for the second event next year. New co-artistic Director Prem Krishnamurthy led a panel discussion at the preview, with panelists Meghana Karnik, FRONT 2021 associate curator; Lo Smith, curatorial assistant; Evelyn Burnett of ThirdSpace Action Lab; Courtenay Finn, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland chief curator; and Emily Liebert, Cleveland Museum of Art curator of contemporary art. Co-artistic director with Krishnamurthy is Tina Kukielski, who is based in New York City.

Krishnamurthy said the 2021 event specifically aims to address industrialization-created wealth in Cleveland and how it led to “alienation and environmental degradation,” and then how the city’s latest upshot is tied to new technology in health care. In conceptualizing FRONT 2021, those themes opened up discussions around “iconic moments” in Cleveland’s history, such as the Cuyahoga River burning in 1969 and how it led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, “rewriting the relationship between humans and nature” and how artists reflect on it.

“It also led us to thinking about community and how different communities form in difficult times and these kind of communities can create sanctuaries,” Krishnamurthy said. “Whether it’s religious or spiritual communities, whether it is groups like Alcoholics Anonymous – that we discovered started in Akron, Ohio – or something like a dance club, a place that brings people together from very different backgrounds. So thinking about these different modes of how people experience the world and deal with it.”

Speaking briefly at the beginning of the preview event, FRONT founder and executive director Fred Bidwell discussed the city’s economic impact from the FRONT 2018 inaugural event. The FRONT 2018 included hubs of installations around Cleveland and surrounding cities, and collaborations between area arts institutions. It also restored The Madison in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland to house artists in residence, as well as establish Glenville as a hub for installations and programming.

“It was an outstanding critical success that brought $31 million in economic impact to Cleveland,” he said. “But FRONT 2021 will not be a repeat. Each triennial exhibition of FRONT will be distinctly different, and distinctly new, driven by the artistic vision of new artistic leadership for every edition.” 

He also noted the 2021 theme was to be announced in New York City on Jan. 15, “but tonight, Cleveland hears it first.” 

Krishnamurthy noted one aspect will include a Bluetooth-powered dance floor in downtown Akron, designed by Stockholm-based architecture collective Dansbana!.

Burnett said the event aims to demonstrate “art as action.” She also noted questions surrounding structural racism and inequality that the triennial hopes to address.

“I’m hoping that FRONT continues to serve as a vehicle and platform to have conversations that make our city better,” she said. 

Staff report

FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, a Cleveland art program that will bring together international artists, named 57 artists from around the world who will participate in its first multi-part, curatorial program from July 14, 2018, to Sept. 30, 2018.

The program, “An American City: Eleven Cultural Exercises,” is based on developing partnerships at Cleveland sites and institutions, exploring artistic collaborations and intellectual exchanges, and connecting the region to broader international, political and economic networks. The program will integrate critical approaches to museum exhibits, public and educational programs, residencies, publications and research strategies.

The result will be a citywide art festival, rooted both in Cleveland’s history and universal contemporary issues.

Selected artists work in a variety of mediums and disciplines, and 18 will join The Madison Residencies, an artist-in-residency program starting this September.

The participating artists are as follows:

  • Asian Dope Boys (Beijing, China)
  • Nasser Al-Salem (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
  • Juan Araujo (Lisbon, Portugal)*
  • Dana Awartani (London, United Kingdom/Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)*
  • Eric Baudelaire (Paris, France)
  • Dawoud Bey (Chicago, USA)
  • Barbara Bloom (New York, USA)
  • Candice Breitz (Berlin, Germany)
  • Nicholas Buffon (New York, USA)
  • K. Burns (New York, USA)*
  • Gerard Byrne (Dublin, IRE)
  • Sean Connelly (Honolulu, USA)*
  • Sarah Crowner (Los Angeles, USA)
  • Abraham Cruzvillegas (Mexico City, Mexico)
  • Marlon de Azambuja (Madrid, Spain)
  • Casey Jane Ellison (Los Angeles, USA)
  • Harrell Fletcher (Portland, USA)*
  • Claire Fontaine (Paris, France)
  • Simon Fujiwara (Berlin, Germany)
  • Cyprien Gaillard (Berlin, Germany)
  • Dani Gal (Tel Aviv, Israel)
  • Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster (Paris, France)
  • Maryam Jafri (Copenhagen, Denmark/New York, USA)
  • Cui Jie (Beijing, China)
  • Hao Jing Ban (Beijing, China)
  • Li Jinghu (Dongguan, China)
  • William E. Jones (Los Angeles, USA)
  • Alex Jovanovich (New York, USA)
  • Lin Ke (Beijing, China)*
  • Mike Kelley [deceased]
  • Luisa Lambri (Milan, Italy)
  • Guillaume Leblon (Paris, France/New York, USA)
  • Adriana Martínez (Bogotá, Colombia)*
  • Laura Huertes Millán (Bogotá, Colombia)
  • Adriana Minoliti (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
  • Sarah Morris (New York, USA)
  • Naeem Mohaiemen (Dhaka, Bangladesh)
  • Kirsten Pieroth (Berlin, Germany)
  • Michael Rakowitz (Chicago, USA)
  • Cheng Ran (Beijing, China)
  • Jennifer Reeder (Chicago, USA)
  • John Riepenhoff (Milwaukee, USA)*
  • Kay Rosen (New York, USA)
  • Allen Ruppersberg (Los Angeles/New York, USA)
  • Tino Sehgal (Berlin, Germany)
  • Indre Šerpytytė (London, United Kingdom)*
  • Yinka Shonibare, MBE (RA) (London, United Kingdom)
  • Katrín Sigurdardóttir (New York, USA)
  • Cally Spooner (London, United Kingdom)*
  • Julian Stanczak [deceased]
  • Martine Syms (Los Angeles, USA)
  • Zhou Tao (Guangzhou, China)
  • Jim Trainor (New York, USA)
  • Philip Vanderhyden (New York, USA)
  • Jan Van der Ploeg (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
  • Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Búrca (São Paolo, Brazil)
  • Carey Young (London, United Kingdom)

* Indicates artists selected to participate in FRONT’s artist-in-residence program, The Madison Residencies, at the newly developed Glenville Arts Campus in Cleveland. The Madison Residency program includes six international, six national and six local artists. It is supported by Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion program.