Art review: Museum staffers’ works show talent and expertise

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic

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Emily Sullivan, Lumen, screen printed papers, LED light.
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In case it has never occurred to you, many folks who work in museums do so because they’re actually interested in art. Some of them are even themselves artists.

Many museums regularly have staff exhibits, to showcase the creativity of those who oversee and care for the art works. The Akron Art Museum hasn’t always had these shows, mainly because there hasn’t always been a place to hold them. With the additional venue of Summit Artspace, however, the extra space has presented itself.

Through Sept. 14, Well-Guarded & Institutionalized: Works by Akron Art Museum Staff showcases the artistic abilities of 17 members of the Akron Art Museum staff, from Laura Fire­stone, museum store manager and buyer, to Arnold Tunstall, collections manager.

Their work is as multifaceted as they are, from paintings and drawings to printmaking, sculpture, photography, digital drawings and installations.

To round out the collaborative effort in getting this show presented, it was curated and installed by Ellen Rudolph, senior Akron Art Museum curator, and Sandy Kreisman, director of Summit Artspace.

For the most part, the works in this exhibit are superb. They display the care, attention to detail and keen respect for methods, materials and mediums that one would hope to find in those who care for art objects.

Moreover, most of the works exhibit the kind of sophistication in insight we would expect to find in someone whose day job involves an in-depth knowledge about art.

Arnold Tunstall’s toned gelatin silver prints, are, for instance, exquisitely conceived and painstakingly printed, as are Nicole Schneider’s relief monoprints of abstract geometrical shapes.

Joseph Kolliner’s colorful and beautifully presented acrylic, deco-color marker on canvas paintings are refined to a breathtaking degree. Bridget O’Donnell’s gorgeously printed Transcendence is similarly ambitious and well done.

Mike Gable’s oil paintings on canvas and cardboard are ethereal and well executed, although I might have mounted the larger untitled landscape against something other than white, to make the soft grays and neutrals in his painting pop more (although it could be the gallery lighting that makes it difficult to appreciate from a distance).

Melissa Roth’s acrylic and mixed media works seem, for the most part, to be a low-level take on the work of Lee Bontecou, but at least one in this series (the one that looks like it’s sprayed with strawberry juice) was successful enough that Kreisman used it in her publicity materials.

There are in this exhibit, however, a few examples of the use of flimsy, disposable materials, and that could be for any of several reasons.

In most art school critiques, students are expected to show not only a certain skill level, but sophistication in their knowledge and use of materials as well as a high degree of ambition in the presentation of their work. These criteria are meant to stimulate both interest and confidence in the work, because there’s never a good reason to alienate one’s potential buyers.

Sometimes, in the interest of expediency and expense — teaching art concepts to children, for instance — less than optimal materials will be used to illustrate a point.

Sometimes artists opt for undermining traditional expectations and do so by using less than optimal materials.

Occasionally, but not always, these nontraditional works also seem to have been created using less than optimal effort. If that is the artist’s decision, he or she must be able to successfully defend their position.

That means being able to determine if there’s a separation between the intent of the work and its reception by the public.

It often helps the viewer to decide which of these criteria are at work by reading the artist’s CV, which is provided in the Gallery Book. However, one occasionally must simply say that certain works simply aren’t doing their job, and need to be rethought.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or dtgshinn@att.net.


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