Meet Theresa Bembnister, New Associate Curator at the Akron Art Museum

by Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

When I think back on my first month in Akron, one word comes to mind: snow.

André Kertész, February 6, 1977

André Kertész, February 6, 1977, 1977; gelatin silver print; 10 in. x 8 in.; Purchased with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and Mr. and Mrs. C. Blake McDowell, Jr.

OK, I’m kidding. Sort of.

It’s been six years since I last lived in Northeast Ohio. In 2009 I left for an internship in New York after graduating with an MA in art history and museum studies from Case Western Reserve University. Last month I left Manhattan, Kansas, where I worked as associate curator at Kansas State University’s Beach Museum of Art, to fill the position of associate curator at the Akron Art Museum. In those six years I’d forgotten how harsh the weather here can be.

But winter in Northeast Ohio is filled with anticipation. As I walk and drive around Akron, with the sidewalks, roads, tree branches and buildings covered with snow, slush and ice, I can’t help but look forward to spring and the changes that come with it. What will the melting snow reveal? How will the city look and feel when the grass is green, the trees have leaves, and more and more residents venture outside?

Jeannetter Klute, Apple Blossom, c.1950

Jeannette Klute, Apple Blossom, c.1950; dye transfer print; 19 3/16 in. x 14 15/16 in.; Gift of George Stephanopoulos

Just as I eagerly await experiencing Akron after the temperatures rise and the snow subsides, I’m excited to get to know the museum’s collection and its audiences. Delving into the library’s artist files and catalogs to conduct research for the museum’s recent acquisitions meeting has given me the opportunity to gain knowledge of the collection. I’m eager to see upcoming exhibitions like Staged and Proof which will highlight some of the excellent photographs in the collection that have not been on view recently, as well as introduce audiences to exciting new acquisitions. I’ve also begun to familiarize myself with artists and cultural institutions in Akron and the region by attending gallery openings, viewing exhibitions and conducting studio visits. I’m impressed by what I’ve seen so far.

I’m also impressed by Akronites’ sense of ownership in their museum. I’ve been blown away by the positive responses I’ve received from people when I’ve told them I work at the Akron Art Museum—from the cable guy installing my internet service to the clerk setting up my bank account. They shared memories of past exhibitions and the summertime concert series Downtown at Dusk. The turnout for the Inside|Out kick-off meeting demonstrates that community members are invested in partnering with the museum to improve the quality of life in their city. I can’t wait to see reproductions of work in the museum’s collection while walking in my neighborhood this fall.

Dwight Tryon, The New Moon, 1921

Dwight Tryon, The New Moon, 1921; oil on panel; 20 in. x 30 in.; Bequest of Edwin C. Shaw

I’m filled with anticipation for all that the museum, the city and the region have to offer as the weeks go by. I look forward to developing a deeper understanding of how I can serve the collection, museum audiences and the surrounding community through my curatorial practice. I’m glad to be here in Akron.


Kusama Chair on World Tour; Sculpture by Donald Lipski on View in June

By Bridgette Beard, Communications Assistant

Kusama "Arm Chair" being prepared to be sent overseas.

Chris Ross, Assistant Preparator, makes final adjustments to the new handling device for Kusama's "Arm Chair" in our Sandra L. and Dennis B. Haslinger Family Foundation Galleries.

If you have been in the museum in the last couple weeks you might have missed something  in our Sandra L. and Dennis B. Haslinger Family Foundation Gallery. Where there was once two iconic chairs by Yayoi Kusama, there now is only one…for the time being. Akron Art Museum’s white Arm Chair has left the Akron Art Museum to become part of a world tour retrospective of Yayoi Kusama organized by the Tate Modern in London, England.


Born and raised in Japan, Yayoi Kusama came to New York in 1958 at age twenty-nine seeking greater artistic and personal freedom than was possible for a female avant-garde artist in her native country.  In the 1960s her fame rivaled that of Andy Warhol.

Kusama has fought a continuing battle against mental illness for many years; her art was the subject of psychiatric study as early as 1952.  She currently voluntarily resides in a mental institution. Some critics believe that her mental stresses result, at least in part, from her position as a female non-conformist in a male-dominated society, one that values consensus over individualism. This may also account for the long delay in her receiving recognition in her own country, though she is now considered to be Japan’s greatest living artist.


The use of repeated elements is a key element of Kusama’s intense art.  Arm Chair is smothered with phallic forms like metastasizing tumors, creating a visual manifestation of Kusama’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. Kusama transformed her phobia of men into the phallic protrusions as a way of freeing and neutralizing her obsession. She accentuates the psychological edge by choosing a domestic object often associated with femininity and security and invading it with aggressive male forms. Paradoxically, these uncontrollable phalluses have been created through sewing, a traditional female craft.

Arm Chair came to the Akron Art Museum as a gift from 1970. This is the first time it has left the museum except for conservation in the 1990s. The museum’s other Kusama work, Chair, with its silver protrusions, was gifted to the museum in 1998 and will remain on view in the Sandra L. and Dennis B. Haslinger Family Foundation Galleries. Untitled #64, a sculpture by Donald Lipski has been chosen to temporarily replace Arm Chair. You can see this sculpture on view in June, for the first time  since being accessioned by the museum in 2009.

YAYOI KUSAMA Exhibition Dates

Museo de la Reina Sofía
On view through September 18, 2011

Centre Pompidou
On view October 19, 2011 – January 9, 2012

Tate Modern
On view February 9, 2011 – June 5, 2012

Whitney Museum of American Art
On view
June 6 – September 28, 2012