Artsy | Alexxa Gotthardt  |  July 17, 2018

6 Must-See Works From the Front Triennial, Cleveland's Answer to the Art World's Coastal Bubble

The late, legendary chef Anthony Bourdain and Milwaukee-based artist John Riepenhoff have something in common. They've both spent a whole lot of time in Cleveland's West Side Market, a sprawling, 106-year-old labyrinth of food stalls hawking everything from fresh Ohio peaches to the city's famous brats.

Bourdain descended on the market in 2007 to taste its rainbow of pork offerings; this year, Riepenhoff landed there to transform Cleveland's sausages into art. For the next several months, brats seasoned with a rich spice blend inspired by the cuisines of Cleveland's many immigrant communities will be sold through West Side Market's meat vendors. To conceive of, create, and sell the sausages, Riepenhoff worked with a vast network of local immigrants, refugees, farmers, and butchers.

The project, Cleveland Curry Kojiwurst, is just one of many site-specific artworks unveiled this past weekend across Cleveland-area art spaces-as well as an abandoned warehouse, a century-old bank, two churches, one very large cargo ship, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, and more. They're all part of Front Triennial, the inaugural edition of an exhibition that aims to be the Midwestern answer to Documenta.

Founded by Ohio-based patron Fred Bidwell and curated by Milwaukee artist Michelle Grabner, this year's debut installment comes with the apt title "An American City." The duo invited artists to respond directly to Cleveland, a city Bidwell refers to as a "Ground Zero for the issues of our time."

"In the past couple of years, I think we learned that we need to look beyond coastal-city bubbles to better understand America; that the towns and cities in 'flyover country' are facing very different ideas, issues, and conflicts than those on the coasts," Bidwell told me. "We need to deal with that."

Many of Front's 100-plus artists-hailing from places as far-flung as Beijing and as close as Chicago-embedded themselves in Cleveland. Other artists are decidedly more local; Johnny Coleman lives in Oberlin, Ohio, while Kelley O'Brien and Lauren Yeager hang their hats just minutes from some of the show's venues. Indeed, the triennial's strongest works acknowledge this midsize, middle-American metropolis's history, landscape, or contemporary culture, while also questioning (or in some cases, celebrating) conditions that reverberate across the country and world.

"Worldliness, locality, and regionality together shape the cultural character of American cities, and they shape this exhibition," Grabner said during Front's press preview last Friday. Below, we highlight six must-see works across Front.

Michael Rakowitz, A Color Removed (2018)

SPACES, Ohio City, Cleveland

During the opening of Michael Rakowitz's A Color Removed this past Saturday night, visitors deposited orange objects into a designated receptacle. The main gallery of the nonprofit SPACES was already chock-full of orange donations, from bags of Cheetos to bicycle reflectors, Cleveland Browns ephemera, and a neon life vest, all tacked to the wall. So was a small orange picture frame containing a photo of Tamir Rice-the 12-year-old boy who was fatally shot by Cleveland police in 2014 while carrying a toy gun, whose neon-orange cap had been removed. The room simultaneously feels like a shrine to Rice and a graveyard for a single hue.

Addressing Rice's death and the history of violence against black men, A Color Removed asks Clevelanders to eliminate the color orange from the city's landscape-as a means to make it safer. "The presence of orange, as a symbol of safety, encourages complacency. But what if we could trust that safety is a right guaranteed to everyone who travels in, through, and around Cleveland?" the piece questions. "What if orange was rendered superfluous?" In addition to the designated collection bin at SPACES, there are others sprinkled around the city.

Within SPACES, Rakowitz has also installed responses to his project from local black artists. RA Washington, a Cleveland-based musician, poet, and installation artist, contributed Glenville Service (2018), two typewriters on which visitors are encouraged to write letters to Glenville, a disinvested, primarily black neighborhood in East Cleveland. "Dear Glenville, I don't know you but I'd like to," reads one note, part of what Washington refers to as a "community scroll." The exhibition will also host open conversations around racial inequity, police brutality, and community.

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