Steven Litt,, May 14, 2018

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Of all the different components in the summer-long FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, a show entitled “The Great Lakes Research,” is shaping up as one with a chip on its shoulder.

That’s because the exhibition, conceived by FRONT Artistic Director Michelle Grabner, will focus on a region often disregarded by the art world.

FRONT is a summer-long exhibition of contemporary art from around the world on view from July 14 to September 30 in Cleveland, Akron and Oberlin.

It will involve 114 artists, of whom 13 hail from Northeast Ohio. Twenty-one artists, including 6 from Northeast Ohio, will participate in “The Great Lakes Research,” which will remain on view in the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Reinberger Gallery through October 7.

FRONT announced the names of participating artists on Monday.

The art world has its centers and its far-flung territories, which get less attention because they’re further from museums and galleries that receive the most media attention.

Grabner, 55, is a Milwaukee-based artist, a longtime professor at the Art Institute of Chicago, and a veteran curator who co-organized the 2014 Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

She said in a recent visit to Cleveland that she viewed it as her “obligation” to champion the artists of the Great Lakes and to correct what she called the “fraudulent” narrative that dominant art world centers such as New York or London should have to last word on quality and importance.

“This is the place that I worked, the place that has nurtured my thinking over the years, and it’s a place that I value,” she said.

“I particularly value the off-center position of being able to look at the primary [artistic] discourses that are happening in coastal cities be able to fill them in, and also to understand how fraudulent they are,” she said.

Referring to such centers, Grabner said: “They have such big and authoritative voices they perpetuate ideas of originality that are not necessarily true.”

Grabner said the research part of the Great Lakes show involved making numerous studio visits to artists over the past year within the region from Toronto to Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

“I can confidently say there is no great lakes aesthetic,” she said. Instead, she finds that a powerful work ethic unites the artists of the region.

“It’s a real commitment and a different kind of ethical relationship to why one makes work,” she said.

The artists and home cities in the exhibition will include:

–      Toronto: Alan Belcher, Paul P., and Scott Treleaven.

– Milwaukee: Microlights and Paul Druecke.

–      Chicago: Nate Young, Jessica Stockholder, Diane Simpson, Anne Wilson, and Rebecca Shore.

– Minneapolis/St. Paul: Joe Smith, Pao Her, and Bruce Tapola

– Detroit: Beverly Fishman and James Benjamin Franklin

– Cleveland: Christian Wulffen, Erin Duhigg, Amber Kempthorn, and Darius Steward

– Kent, Ohio: Gianna Commito and Scott Olson

A FRONT news release said that many of the participating artists “have been pivotal as teachers and mentors in forming the practices of young artists. They advance alternative geographic and theoretical positions and recognize regional discourses as legitimate while nurturing creative practices that work within a global framework.”

Grafton Nunes, president of the Cleveland Institute of Art, said the show ” is very important for looking at America’s artistic vitality and recognizing the vitality that exists in the middle of the country.”

Grabner said that her studio visits convinced her that there is no regional Great Lakes style. Instead, she said, there’s a common ethic of hard, dedicated work.

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