A First Glimpse at the FRONT Triennial, Cleveland’s Bold Play to Forge the Next documenta

Jens Hoffmann and Michelle Grabner don't want their show to be compared to documenta—at least not yet.

Michelle Grabner, Fred Bidwell, and Jens Hoffmann. Photo Kathryn Dike.

In summer 2018, a hugely ambitious contemporary art exhibition is set to open in the Rust Belt city of Cleveland, Ohio. The FRONT Triennial, founded by area collector Fred Bidwell, launches with an inaugural edition curated by Michelle Grabner and Jens Hoffmann that is set to spread across numerous venues in the Midwest city and beyond.

“An American City—Eleven Cultural Exercises,” as the show is called, will encompass projects such as a selection of online works, lectures and roundtable discussions, a daily program of film and video, a lecture tour, and a series of publications. FRONT is also spearheading the Madison Residencies, an artist-in-residence program starting in the fall of 2017. The residency program is named after Robert P. Madison, Ohio’s first licensed black architect.

Why Cleveland? Can a city of less than 400,000 (and declining) possibly metabolize such a plethora of activities?

“If a place like Münster can do the Skulptur Projekte, and Kassel can do documenta, we can pull this off,” said Hoffmann in a phone interview with artnet News.

“I don’t want to compare us to documenta,” the former deputy director of New York’s Jewish Museum hastened to add, going on to say, after a beat, “at least not yet.”

The Glenville Arts Campus will host artists in residency.

The Glenville Arts Campus will host artists in residency.

Bidwell, founder of the Cleveland venue the Transformer Station, echoed the same sentiment.

“We want to bring people here to have a multi-day experience of programming that’s at the highest level,” he said. “Our ambition is to be the most important contemporary art event in North America.”

The curators also aim to create a show that’s truly site-specific and immersed in the realities of Cleveland, once one of the wealthiest cities in the nation. That wealth endowed major cultural institutions, many of which will be acting as venues for the new triennial. These include the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Clinic.

The roster of nearly 60 artists (which appears below) ranges from emerging figures like Cui Je, Nasser Al Salem, and Asian Dope Boys to midcareer artists like A.K. Burns and Naeem Mohaiemen to elder statesmen such as Allen Ruppersberg and the late Mike Kelley. The organizing principle of the list, the curators explained, is that the participants are in various ways responding to the idea of cities today.

The Cleveland skyline. Photo Erik Drost, via Flickr.

The Cleveland skyline. Photo Erik Drost, via Flickr.

“Particularly American cities are laboratories for democracy,” said Grabner, who co-curated the 2014 Whitney Biennial and is a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago. “Really interesting things flourish at the municipal level.”

“While Cleveland is a blue city,” Bidwell added, “a 15-minute ride will take you into very Republican territory, so it’s a cool place to talk about the issues of today. It’s at the crossroads of many political, cultural, and economic crosscurrents.”

One feature of the show will take on a regional character. The curators are set to head out on a lecture tour to various heartland cities, while also spreading the word about FRONT.

An international roster of “curatorial correspondents,” such as Reem Fadda in Jerusalem, Snejana Krasteva in Moscow, Carol Yinghua Lu in Biejing, and Piper Marshall in New York, will also have input, traveling to Cleveland to conduct their own research and develop public programs.

While on paper the budget for the show is—relative to its ambition—a fairly modest $4 to $5 million, Bidwell points out that many of the participating institutions are contributing their own resources, and that, a year out, the organizers are seeking additional support.

The following is a list of participating artists. (Artists with an asterisk beside their name are selected to part of the Madison Residency program.):

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)

A.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 (New York, USA/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)

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