Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art Announces Second Edition

Above: FRONT Associate Curator Meghana Karnik, Deputy Director Sarah Spinner Liska, and Curatorial Assistant Lo Smith. Photograph by Rustin McCann, 2019.

FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, is pleased to announce that its second edition will be titled Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, in a presentation of contemporary art across three cities in Northeast Ohio from July 17 through October 2, 2021. The exhibition will be developed in collaboration with a multidisciplinary Artistic Team based in Cleveland, the Great Lakes, and abroad.

Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows embraces art as an agent of transformation, a mode of healing, and a therapeutic process. The title is an homage to a 1957 poem by author Langston Hughes, who moved to Cleveland in his childhood and maintained an artistic connection to the region:

Two Somewhat Different Epigrams (1957)


Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see
That without dust the rainbow would not be. 


I look with awe upon the human race
And God, who sometimes spits right in its face.

This poem, a meditation on adversity and a prayer for transformation, inspires FRONT 2021’s curatorial approach. The exhibition’s title extends Hughes’ original invocation to signal a plurality of beliefs, stories, places, and people. 

Cleveland’s social fabric reflects centuries of economic, political, and environmental conflict. Having traded titans of industry for titans of medicine, the city is reinventing itself as a center for healthcare and cutting-edge scientific research. FRONT 2021’s curatorial framework connects Cleveland’s storied past with a polyvocal present, exploring healing as an ongoing cycle of repair, spanning crisis and recovery. This approach treats the exhibition as a process of long-term change, embracing the region’s range of cultures in need of attention, investigation, and care.

With a particular focus on labor and the environment, from the industrial past to service-driven and automated futures, the show considers the exploitation, alienation, and degradation caused by capital. The notorious burning of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River in 1969 represents a watershed moment for environmental awareness, prefiguring the world’s unfolding climate crisis. Amidst growing uncertainty, precarity, and divisiveness, the exhibition asks how communities, from religious institutions to support groups to dance clubs, can emerge as sanctuaries for collective agency and healing. Responding to today’s challenges as potential opportunities, Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows explores the emancipatory power of joy, as embedded within song, movement, and multi-sensory experience. 

Distributed across Cleveland, Akron, and Oberlin, the exhibition will feature artists working in the region and internationally, many of whom will produce new commissions. Elements of the exhibition will begin to manifest throughout 2020; some will continue after the end of the Triennial, leaving a lasting mark on the region and its infrastructures. The show’s first announced commission is a public, Bluetooth-powered dance floor in downtown Akron, designed through a community-driven process by Stockholm-based architecture collective Dansbana!.

Curatorial process and Artistic Team
FRONT 2021 has been conceived through a collaborative methodology that reflects a curatorial interest in group dynamics and therapeutic processes. Beginning early in 2019, the exhibition’s Co-Artistic Directors, Prem Krishnamurthy and Tina Kukielski, convened local cultural partners and stakeholders to consider the goals, methods, and outputs of the exhibition, resulting in the assembly of an expanded Artistic Team that will play a key role throughout the exhibition’s development.

The Artistic Team is a multidisciplinary group who will guide and advise on the exhibition’s process and amplify its public impact. FRONT 2021’s artistic team is comprised of Evelyn Burnett (ThirdSpace Action Lab, Cleveland), Courtenay Finn (moCa Cleveland), Emily Liebert (Cleveland Museum of Art), Dushko Petrovich (SAIC New Arts Journalism, Chicago), Kameelah Janan Rasheed (Artist, Brooklyn), Tereza Ruller (The Rodina, Amsterdam), and Murtaza Vali (Independent Curator, Brooklyn/Sharjah). Their voices capture local, regional, and international perspectives, and their collective skills span design, publishing, curation, education, and community organization. They will work in close collaboration with the Curatorial Team, which includes the Co-Artistic Directors, Associate Curator Meghana Karnik, and Curatorial Assistant Lo Smith.

About FRONT International
Launched in 2018, FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art is a triennial exhibition comprised of artist commissions, performances, films, and public programs that takes place across Northeast Ohio. Its inaugural edition, An American City, which was curated by Artistic Director Michelle Grabner, generated over 90,000 visitors from more than 25 countries and brought $31 million in new economic activity to the region.

Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, the second iteration of FRONT International, will run from July 17 through October 2, 2021. Building on the success of the first edition, FRONT 2021 will further the Triennial’s commitment to stimulating new and sustained cultural conversations within the region using contemporary art.

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