FRONT International Triennial for Contemporary Art - Oberlin

Blog Date
Julie Smith
Stuart O. Smith, Jr.

FRONT International Triennial for Contemporary Art - Oberlin
Enlarge Image

For FRONT, Oberlin hosts three exhibition; at the museum Barbara Bloom puts works from the collection in conversation with Robert Venturi’s postmodern gallery. In the Richard D. Baron ’64 Art Gallery, Ciu Jie’s work addresses changes to China’s urban landscape.

The Allen also oversees, along with Oberlin’s art department, the Weltzheimer-Johnson House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Located 1.5 miles west of the museum, this is Ohio’s only example of a Usonian style home by the architect that is open for public tours.  The home showcases works by Venezuelan-born Juan Araujo highlighting its mid-century proportions and art collected by its former owner.

We had never been to Oberlin College's Allen Memorial Art Museum (@OberlinCollege - @AllenArtMuseum) before. We are so grateful that the FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art (@FrontTriennial -#FRONTart2018) chose it and other Oberlin art venues for the inaugural year of FRONT. When we visited on Sunday, August 5, 2018, we were extremely pleased with the gem we found there.



FRONT International Triennial - Allen Memorial Art Museum

87 N Main St
Oberlin, OH 44074

Tues–Sat 10–5, Sun 1–5

Founded at Oberlin College in 1917, the Allen Memorial Art Museum consistently ranks among the top five academic art museums in the United States. 

For other FRONT International Triennial venues we attended throughout northeast Ohio, we read a little about the exhibitions before visiting. This gave us an idea of what to expect. With our busy schedule the week leading up to visiting Oberlin, we did not do any advance preparation. We just turned on Google Maps and drove to Oberlin College's Allen Memorial Art Museum, not knowing what to expect. We ended up having a great experience, and highly recommend going.

Stuart learned something about Julie while we were seeing the FRONT International Triennial exhibit of Barbara Bloom’s The Rendering. He learned of Julie's interest in architecture as expressed in artwork. Julie spent a long time with The Rendering, comparing the detailed paintings with the life-sized pieces we walked through and with the literature provided by the museum. We had a great time!!



Allen Memorial Art Museum Galleries

Founded at Oberlin College in 1917, the Allen Memorial Art Museum consistently ranks among the top five academic art museums in the United States. The original museum building was designed by Cass Gilbert, an architect known for the Woolworth Building in New York City and the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. In 1977, an addition designed by Robert Venturi became one of the earliest and finest examples of postmodern architecture in the United States. A two-year renovation of the museum culminated in 2011, resulting in LEED gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. A major conservation project completed in 2015 restored paintings on the ceiling and clerestory of the museum’s King Sculpture Court.

Always free to the public, the Allen has strong holdings in 17th century Dutch and Flemish art, Japanese woodblock prints, and 20th century works by such artists as Cézanne, Chagall, Picasso, Monet, and others. In the galleries you’ll find artworks from virtually every culture and time period, which are drawn from the Allen’s collection of more than 15,000 objects. 

After spending a long time at the FRONT International Triennial exhibit of Barbara Bloom’s The Rendering, we then visited the main galleries of the Allen Memorial Art Museum. There was so much to see that we really wished we had more time. We enjoyed the art immensely, and noticed that there was a great variety of types of work.



FRONT International Triennial - Oberlin College's Richard D. Baron ’64 Art Gallery

Richard D. Baron ’64 Gallery, Oberlin College
65 E. College St. Suite 5
Oberlin, OH 44074
Fri – Sat: 10 – 5,  Sun: 1 – 5

Architectural form in the urban setting is Cui’s subject; studying the relationship of the built environment to cultural landmarks allows her to view her surroundings in differential focus, moving from the sweeping gesture to observe detail in her views. Her exhibition comprises paintings, drawings as well as 3-D printed sculptures, which, together welcome the viewer to follow the artist’s analysis of her surroundings. Cui studies not the newest landmark architecture of China’s great cities, but those government buildings of the last generation, built in the 1980s and 90s structures which seem drab and unwieldy, which do not conform to the political vision of modernity signified by the glass towers of contemporary China.

She weaves together architectural quotations from various idealistic architectural styles, the sleek anonymity of the International Style with the incongruous figurative iconography of Socialist worker imagery. Though she models her paintings on existing structures, such as Shanghai Bank Tower, Cui renders her subjects as fantasies. She employs a painterly style and visual grammar that marries her academic study of classical modernism with a dystopian science fiction surrealism. Cui adapts stylistic quotation as conscious appropriation, representations of past systems of idealized thought–the Bauhaus, the state authority of pre-reform China–as a commentary on the fraught position of a culture wrestling with conflicting political aspirations.

We found the FRONT International Triennial exhibit of Ciu Jie’s artwork interesting. Note in the photos how the shapes of birds are blended into the buildings.



FRONT International Triennial - Oberlin College's Weltzheimer-Johnson House

Weltzheimer/Johnson Usonian House, Oberlin College
534 Morgan St,
Oberlin, OH 44074
Fri – Sat: 10 – 5; Sun: 1 – 5


Juan Araujo has created a site-specific installation for the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Weltzheimer/Johnson House that mines its multilayered history and highlights features of its impeccably balanced mid-century design, which the artist finds imbued with a “sense of tranquility.” Born in Venezuela and now based in Portugal, Araujo has long been interested in modernist architecture and how it circulates in reproduction, approaching a classical painting practice through a conceptual framework. Based on firsthand observation of the site (the first Wright home Araujo had ever experienced), interviews with docents, and visits to the collections of the Allen Memorial Art Museum and the Oberlin College Archives, Redwood, titled after Wright’s material of choice, comprises a cycle of paintings for the house’s interior and exterior. The “monochromes” play up the proportions of the façade, while the interior paintings reference (and in some cases directly appropriate) artworks related to the collection of Ellen Johnson, a renowned art historian and Oberlin professor who was the home’s last owner. The first project ever commissioned for the house, Redwood effects a quietly powerful homage to Wright, Johnson, and modernism itself.

We have visited Fallingwater, a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, so we were very interested to see another of his designs -- the Weltzheimer-Johnson House, which currently contains a FRONT International Triennial exhibit. When we went to the online registration, we first saw that the house tours were sold out. Looking closer, we found that the last time slot of the day still had openings. We were very lucky to get tickets for this venue.

The tour started with us first putting on booties to protect the floor. The floors were concrete with a square pattern that mirrors the visual lines of the rest of the building. (This reminded Stuart of the use of concrete at Fallingwater.) Entering the house, we first heard a very informative talk in the large common room by a very knowledgeable guide. Then we were allowed to wander the house on our own, taking photos, and reading information about the rooms. It is great, and in some ways amazing, that Oberlin College allowed visitors to explore on their own. It felt like a real privilege to tour the house -- like being welcomed to a friend's home.

After the tour, we were one of the last to leave. While thanking the guide as we were leaving, he told us that he is a volunteer at the house, and he gave us more information about the house. We want to thank Fred Bidwell for suggesting the Weltzheimer-Johnson House with Juan Araujo's artwork to be a part of the inaugural year of FRONT.


Read More FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art Blog Posts

Since the opening of the FRONT International Triennial on Thursday, July 12, 2018, I have visited over eight venues. Please read about the opening day and about all the venues I visited in my FRONT related blog posts by clicking here. Thank you.