AP NEWS

FRONT Cleveland averts cancellation of Asian Dope Boys premiere; Chinese artist obtains visa

July 6, 2018

FRONT Cleveland averts cancellation of Asian Dope Boys premiere; Chinese artist obtains visa

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The last-minute approval of a visa for a cutting-edge Chinese performance artist helped the FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art avert cancellation of the U.S. premiere by the performance art collective Asian Dope Boys scheduled for July 13 in Cleveland.

The cancellation would have been politically sensitive because the State Department apparently held up the visa over concerns about artistic content of performances by Tianzhuo Chen and Asian Dope Boys, which Chen leads.

“It’s a huge relief,” Fred Bidwell, the founding CEO of FRONT, said after hearing Thursday that Chen’s visa had been approved. “It’s obviously the outcome we wanted all along. This has been a real roller coaster for both FRONT and Tianzhuo Chen. To be saved at the last minute is really great.”

Asian Dope Boys will be the headline event at a private fundraiser for FRONT for 600 guests at Public Auditorium on July 13. Tickets start at $300 and table sponsorships range up to $25,000.

FRONT, opening July 14 and running through September 30, is a coordinated exhibition of global contemporary art at more than two dozen museums, institutions and public spaces in Cleveland, Akron and Oberlin. It’s the biggest exhibition on new art in Northeast Ohio history.

Bidwell, a retired Akron advertising executive who lives in Cleveland, has raised $4.65 million for the $5 million project. Donors to the gala have contributed $325,000 so far, he said.

Bidwell said that when Chen appeared for a required visa interview at the embassy in Shanghai, “the reviewing officer said to Tianzhuo Chen that she was disturbed by what she saw. She felt there were extreme themes here, and instead [of granting the visa] put it on administrative review.”

Bidwell said Wednesday that he feared that Chen’s visa application had been help up over the content of Chen’s work, which Bidwell described as a mixture of “Euro-electric dance music, club raves and Chinese opera, with all kinds of absurdities and touches referencing commercial celebrity culture and the LGBT lifestyle.”

Chen visited Cleveland in February on a tourist visa to plan the July appearance, but to perform here he needed an 01 visa as the leader of an artistic group whose position was similar to that of the conductor of a classical orchestra.

As of Wednesday, the visa review had not been resolved in time to meet internal deadlines set by FRONT to enable Chen and 11 additional performers from China and Europe to reach Cleveland in time for equipment setup and rehearsals, Bidwell said.

He began informing donors that he’d have to find a replacement act for Asian Dope Boys. But he reversed the cancellation Thursday after Chen obtained his visa.

The reversal followed calls Bidwell made to Ohio senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown seeking help.

Portman aide Ellen Kinker responded Thursday to an inquiry from The Plain Dealer by copying a message from Jonathan Chestnut, a consular official at the U.S. embassy in Shanghai, saying that Chen’s visa had been granted.

If Chen’s visa had been denied, it would have put FRONT in the awkward position of seeing freedom of speech denied to an artist from a country with tight restrictions on expression, Bidwell said.

“You want to make the point, wow, that it’s wrong you’re making a judgment on the content of [an artist’s] work,” Bidwell said. “But you don’t want to pick a fight. In these times discussions around these topics seem a lot more charged than they have been in the past.”

AP RADIO
Update hourly