FRONT: Oberlin @ Hyperallergic
OBERLIN, Ohio — While the primary hub of the inaugural FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art offered a diverse range of interactions with the city of Cleveland, the three-site offshoot of FRONT, based in the nearby college town of Oberlin, unified its offerings around the broader theme of architecture. The Oberlin programming centers around a commission of a site-specific Barbara Bloom installation in the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, titled THE RENDERING (2018). In creating one of the many special exhibitions hosted by the Allen (such as Fred Wilson’s 2016 collection intervention, Wildfire Test Pit), the artist decided to feature selected objects from the museum’s prodigious collection — but Bloom was also inspired, upon arriving in Oberlin to begin her process, to engage with the challenging and unusual confines of the Ellen Johnson Gallery, where her new work would be shown. Created in the 1970s, the space was named for Oberlin modern art professor Ellen Johnson, and designed by the architect Robert Venturi. It includes a large picture window wall, a glassed-in reading room high above the main floor, an elevator bay, a small corridor, very few 90-degree corners, and numerous other elements that make the architecture an unavoidable consideration for artists working in the space.
Leaning into these surroundings, Bloom has covered one entire wall floor-to-ceiling with selections from the Allen’s collection, redacted to showcase only the architectural features of the picture, via custom lids painted a neutralizing gray that blends them into the wall, revealing details through cutouts that resemble building footprints. The small corridor that flanks the back of the gallery features an assortment of photographic works from the collection — sans redaction, as these images depict entirely architectural subjects. The rest of the gallery is dominated by 4½ freestanding sculptures, each positioned in conversation with works from the collection. In each of four cases, Bloom has recreated a scaled architectural aspect of the picture in the same matte grey as the rest of the installation’s infrastructure — a kind of open-framework pergola; a whimsical cloud-bridge; a painted screen that depicts a mountain landscape within a painting; and an entire walled garden, respectively. The half-work is a case that presents a large book cataloguing different types of decorative column styles, which Bloom has cheekily positioned in front of the picture window that frames a large wooden Asian-style column on the gallery’s exterior.
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