2018 Triennial Archive

DAWOUD BEY, “Night Coming Tenderly, Black”, FRONT INTERNATIONAL: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art

September 5, 2018Media Coverage

Dawoud Bey, Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse) from Night Coming Tenderly, 2017. Black Archival pigment prints on dibond, 32 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, and Stephen Daiter, Chicago.


“Dream Variations”, Langston Hughes , 1926

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me-
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening…
A tall, slim tree…
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

It was genius to commission a special project from Dawoud Bey to debut the first edition of FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art. “Night Coming Tenderly, Black” references a 1926 Langston Hughes’ poem “Dream Variations”, and it is the artist’s well considered photographic response to the Underground Railroad and Cleveland, which was a final way station. These are fewer than a dozen landscapes installed, all printed very darkly, in homage to Roy Decarava. We see flashes of houses, trees, picket fences, and Lake Erie, like escaping slaves desperately catching glimpses of freedom, unknown but hopefully close at hand. The venue is St. John’s Episcopal Church, historically an end point for the Underground Railroad. The church is modest and decaying, a unique and perfect setting. The large framed works are suspended in front of the pews, at a low height, so the viewer must sit and lean forward to see the images, like praying. The works seem opaque and unyielding until the viewer commits to looking. Then one can dance and whirl as the poem says. The experience is haunted and haunting, enlightened and enlightening.

Thanks and congratulations especially to the artist, here in top form with a major forty-year retrospective publication, Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply, coming this fall; and to Fred Bidwell, Executive Director and spiritual father of FRONT; Michelle Grabner, Artistic Director; and Lisa Kurzner, Curator. A dream.

FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art.
Dawoud Bey, Night Coming Tenderly, Back
St. John’s Episcopal Church
2600 Church Street,
Cleveland, OH 44113

W.M. Hunt © 2018


W.M. Hunt is a photography collector, curator and consultant who lives and works in New York City.