inspiration

From Rattles to Rothko: Art Babes at Akron Art Museum

by Dominic Caruso, Design, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

In a recent online article (“From pacifiers to Picassos: Museums cater to a younger clientele”) for the Washington Post, contributor Vicky Hallett wrote about the growing trend for museums of all kinds to offer programming and specially-designed spaces for children as young as newborns. While some institutions have been at it for some time (the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia has been running a baby-tour program since 2007), others have created programs relatively recently, for number of different reasons. I can tell you about the reasons behind the programs for babies and their caregivers at the Akron Art Museum.

Art Babes: Cardboard Crawl at the Akron Art Museum.

Art Babes: Cardboard Crawl at the Akron Art Museum.

Beyond school tours, which bring upwards of 7000 local students into the museum galleries every year, and programs for children ages 3 through 12, the endlessly creative, skilled educators at the Akron Art Museum have hosted kids from 0 – 18 months old and their grown-ups with a fun monthly program called Art Babes since September 2014. Art Babes is fun, for babies and caregivers. There’s no doubt that the program is beneficial for moms, dads, grandparents, nannies and other caregivers. They experience a fresh adventure with their little ones at each Art Babes. Visiting a space that is exciting, with innovative things to look at and do is exciting for grown-ups and babies alike. Many visitors have shared that witnessing the carefree, unscripted experiences of their children at the museum takes them back to their own childhood, helping them to unplug from the day’s frustrations, recharge and tune in to the present with their kids.

Helen Frankenthaler-inspired Art Babes at the Akron Art Museum

Helen Frankenthaler-inspired Art Babes at the Akron Art Museum.

The program also helps to build an important community between the adults, as they come to develop friendships, a greater sense of trust and a more global approach to their everyday lives. The personal connection with each other and with the museum keeps caregivers coming back. They become a part of the museum family. Like a family relationship, Art Babes has become a collaborative effort: parents are part of the process and what they bring to the group is valued.

You may wonder what the lasting effect a museum visit could have on a baby who likely won’t remember it.  We believe that art is for everyone, even babies—maybe especially babies—given that a child’s brain doubles in size during her/his first year. All that growth is the manifest destiny of being human. The kinds of experiences that caregivers can introduce into the course of that growth help to create their child’s means of processing information later on—the way that they, like all humans, creatively interact with the world. While they may not have a specific memory of Art Babes, babies are still building vital skills that will serve them later on.

Art Babes at the Akron Art Museum

Art Babes at the Akron Art Museum

Art Babes presents experiences for babies that engage a full range of sensory activities, including visually stimulating play with colors and shapes, as well as tactile play, sounds, tastes, even scents. It’s a welcoming environment for a unique learning (and bonding) experience between babies and their grown-ups.

Art Babes

Art Babes: Cardboard Crawl at the Akron Art Museum.

Art Babes is a component of several programs, which we refer to as Live Creative, for kids and families at the museum. These include: Tots Create, for 2 – 3 year-olds; Art Tales, for all ages; Creative Playdates, for 0 – 5 year olds; Kids Studio Classes, for 7 – 12 year olds; and Family Days. In the time that we’ve used Live Creative to refer to programming, we discovered that it grew beyond its use as a title or label. It became a reason for why we do what we do at the museum. To be human is to be creative, regardless of whether you are an artist, an auto mechanic, an accountant, or a months-old newborn. Art can help you to enhance the way you creatively interact with your world to live a more fulfilled life.

Live Creative at the Akron Art Museum.

Live Creative at the Akron Art Museum.

Check out upcoming programs, like Art Babes, for children and families at the Akron Art Museum.

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Great Moments in Art & Ale

by Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

In anticipation of this Friday’s Art & Ale (get your tickets here), I’ve assembled this list of three instances where beer inspired artists to create remarkable works of art.

Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze/Ale Cans, 1960, oil on bronze, Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze/Ale Cans, 1960, oil on bronze, Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Jasper Johns casts beer cans in bronze to spite fellow artist
Title: Painted Bronze/Ale Cans
Medium: Oil on bronze
Year: 1960

According to the now legendary story, Willem de Kooning, a painter known for his large-scale, gestural canvases, badmouthed gallerist Leo Castelli, exclaiming the “son-of-a-bitch” could sell two beer cans as art. When word reached Jasper Johns, an artist represented by Castelli’s gallery, he cast two Ballantine Ale cans in bronze. Castelli sold them. Johns’ sculptural wisecrack now resides in the collection of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany. Works like Painted Bronze/Ale Cans, in which Johns depicted everyday objects, helped usher in the transition from Abstract Expressionism, a dominant style of the 1950s which focused on monumentally scaled works reflecting artist’s psyches, to Pop Art, a movement in which artists looked to imagery from popular culture as sources of inspiration.

Tom Marioni, The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art, 1970 – 2008, 1979 installation view at SFMOMA; © 2008 Tom Marioni; photo: Paul Hoffman

Tom Marioni, The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art, 1970 – 2008, 1979 installation view at SFMOMA; © 2008 Tom Marioni; photo: Paul Hoffman

Tom Marioni drinks beer with friends, leaves the cans behind, calls it sculpture
Title: The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends is the Highest Form of Art
Medium: Beer, friends
Year: 1970-current

Curator George Neubert brought the beer and artist Tom Marioni brought the party for this after-hours artwork in the empty galleries of the Oakland Art Museum. Sixteen of the artist’s friends joined him for beer and conversation, leaving the empty bottles behind to serve as a record of the gathering. This project continued as a regular series of private social events on Wednesday evenings in Marioni’s San Francisco studio, which the artist hosted to help foster community in the local art scene. Marioni enacts a version of The Act of Drinking Beer… in museums today, although it’s evolved to include an artist-designed bar, fridge and shelves of beer. A pioneer of participatory art, a type of practice in which an artist conceives of a situation creating social engagement, Marioni helped pave the way for artists like Eric Steen, whose Beers Made By Walking is next on this list.

Homebrewers enjoy beer and conversation during the first Beers Made By Walking tasting session. Image courtesy of www.ericmsteen.com.

Homebrewers enjoy beer and conversation during the first Beers Made By Walking tasting session. Image courtesy of http://www.ericmsteen.com.

Eric Steen turns hikes into inspiration for tasty brews
Title: Beers Made By Walking
Medium: Beer
Year: 2011-current

In 2011, artist and beer aficionado Eric Steen invited homebrewers and naturalists to accompany him on a series of seven hikes around the Pikes Peak region of Colorado. His guests identified edible plants they used to flavor eight specially formulated beers which were then brewed at a local commercial brewery and sold at pubs in Colorado Springs. Steen considers the beers portraits of the hikes. Like Tom Marioni before him, he is interested in the ways in which beer brings people together, and as demonstrated by Beers Made By Walking, the ways in which the beverage might connect its drinkers to the landscape around them. The project continues to this day and has expanded to include such major breweries as Deschutes and New Belgium.

NEO Geo Studio Visits

By Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

If philosopher Alan Watts is right, and museums are the places art goes to die, then the artist’s studio must surely be the birthplace of a work of art.

For the record: I disagree with Watts. But I do relish the opportunity to see art in its native studio environment, before it’s displayed on the museum’s pristine walls. The context of an artist’s workspace offers clues as to how or why a particular artwork was made.

Studio visits made up a large part of the efforts required to organize NEO Geo. After scoping out an artist’s website, I would set up a studio visit to observe the work and ask questions. Not only did these observations and conversations guide my selections of works to include in the exhibition, but they were integral to gathering key information I could then convey to museum visitors through labels, tours, the brochure and this blog post.

NEO Geo artist Erik Neff

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

I visited Erik Neff’s studio in Newbury in rural Geauga County in early April and mid-May of last year. A prolific artist, Neff creates pastel drawings on paper in addition to the oil paintings and wooden sculptures selected for NEO Geo.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Neff’s studio serves a dual role of a place to make and store artwork. His flat file drawer holds examples of the modestly scaled paintings the artist made when his children were younger. Now that they spend their days at school, Neff has more time to devote to larger canvases like the ones you see in NEO Geo.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

During my visits, Neff displayed his larger and mid-sized canvases propped up on aluminum cans, leaning against the wall. Neff’s painting Between, which is included in NEO Geo, is on the right of this photograph; the edge of Breakwater is barely visible on the far right.

The studio mascots in the studio.

The studio mascots in the studio.

Neff places his small wooden sculptures, or studio mascots, as he likes to call them, on a wooden bench. Here you see a set of Neff’s pastels in the background, and the wooden stove that heats his studio is visible on the far right. The wooden blocks Neff uses to construct his sculptures would have ended up in the stove if they hadn’t had a visual appeal to the artist, who sets them near his palette and brushes paint on their surfaces from time to time.

NEO Geo artist Paul O’Keeffe

I visited Paul O’Keeffe’s studio, which was specifically designed and constructed for the backyard of his Cleveland Heights home, in mid-March and late June of last year. A beautiful natural light fills his workspace.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

O’Keeffe purchases colored acrylic pieces that are rejects from improperly cut commercial orders. He layers the translucent sheets atop one another, creating new hues in the process.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

When I visited O’Keeffe in June, he had begun work on his two newest sculptures in the exhibition, a distant silence XXX and XXXI. You can see the skeletons of those two works, which were constructed in part with materials from a botched job for a Victoria’s Secret store.

O’Keeffe’s method of combining individual components comes from an example set by sculptor David Smith. “Years ago, as a student, I came across photos of him laying out individual found metal elements on the floor prior to welding (and also composing with cardboard). My acrylic pieces are generated in a similar fashion although the sensibility is considerably different.”

NEO Geo artist Janice Lessman-Moss

I first visited Janice Lessman-Moss’ Kent studio in mid-March of last year, with a follow up visit at the end of May.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Pinned to the wall above her flat file are print-outs of digital sketches for the artist’s Random Walk series. The random walk theory, which is used to explain the unpredictability of the stock market’s rise and fall, serves as inspiration for the patterns that appear in works in this series, which Lessman-Moss weaves on a digital jacquard loom in her studio. None of the Random Walk weavings are on display in NEO Geo, but the work visible on the right in the above photograph, #420, is part of the series of tapestries created at the same industrial mill in North Carolina where the textiles in NEO Geo were woven.

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

On the opposite wall hangs what Lessman-Moss refers to as her “crayon box,” a tapestry that doubles as a palette for the colors the artist creates by instructing the industrial digital loom to weave threads in a particular order. She set up a corresponding digital palette in Photoshop, the program she uses to create her designs before transferring them into files for the digital loom using software called Pointcarre.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the "crayon-box" during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the “crayon box” during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Each of the many, many colors featured in the complex designs of the weavings on display in NEO Geo corresponds to a square on the crayon box. This tool, which hangs on the wall directly above the desk where the artist sits to design her tapestries, provides valuable insight into the work’s creation—insights best obtained through visits to the artist’s studio, the birthplace of the works of art.

Find out more about NEO Geo, on view at the Akron Art Museum through April 24, 2016. • View the NEO Geo exhibition catalog online.

Venice Biennale, Part Three

Chief Curator Janice Driesbach recently travelled to Italy where she experienced the Venice Biennale 55th International Art Exhibition. This is the third post in a series of three. Read the first post here and the second post here.

Venice is awash with tourists, although we had a nice conversation with a native Venetian one day. Among visitors, Italian seems to be the predominant language, followed by German. British and Australians are numerous among English speakers.

An English couple we encountered directed us to the Richard Mosse installation at the Irish pavilion, about 15 feet from a vaporetto stop or, since swimming in the canals is discouraged, half a mile following passageways around the canals. A marvelous multi-screen video captured in outdated military infrared film, part of which we had seen when Mosse spoke in Cleveland last year (pictured below and here is a link to an interview of Mosse at the Biennale)

Richard Mosse installation at the Irish pavilion

Richard Mosse installation at the Irish pavilion

Iraq offered both food and food for thought…

Iraq pavilion

…while Cyprus and Lithuania shared space in an arena/warehouse near the Arsenale:

image17

At the Correr Museum was a very nice installation of Tony Caro sculpture, many pieces in spaces by themselves. That led to the Cuban pavilion in the adjacent archaeological museum, which featured a number of artists. An installation with birdcages with videos by Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons and Neil Leonard was superlative.‎

image18And, back at the Arsenale, we discovered amazing digital animations in China’s display, including one by Zhang Xiaotao called Sakya (approx. 15-min video viewable online via this gallery site). Was incredibly complex and defies description (cosmic, perhaps?).

image19Unfortunately, it was impossible to take in all the collateral Biennale exhibitions. And certainly with the hour+ long line to see San Marco (hordes of people pour out of gigantic cruise ships each morning), we missed the usual tourist destinations. At the end of our final day in Venice, we could have easily spent another several days just taking in Biennale events.

Explore the official Venice Biennale 55th International Art Exhibition site here.

Venice Biennale, Part One

Chief Curator Janice Driesbach recently traveled to Italy where she experienced the Venice Biennale 55th International Art Exhibition.

Our first afternoon we made our way via a short vaporetto ride and on foot to two of the collateral Biennale exhibitions—both in palazzi (palace-like buildings) along the Grand Canal.  We saw a section of Glasstress: White Light/White Heat in elegant rooms, each adorned with amazing chandeliers (most of which were part of the original decor, it seemed). Rina Banjeree‘s multimedia installation (photo below) was a highlight there.  I have admired her works on paper for some time, but her 3-D work was new to me.

Rina Banjeree's multimedia installation

Rina Banjeree’s multimedia installation

Next we saw Rudolf Stingel’s extraordinary installation at the Palazzo Grassi. 38 rooms (I’m told, didn’t count) with floors and walls covered with inkjet-printed carpet each  containing one of Stingel’s paintings.  An amazing contemplative space.

Rudolf Stingle installation

Rudolf Stingle installation

On our second day we headed to the first of the two main exhibition sites—the Arnsenale, which formerly housed an armory and shipyards.  We were greeted by Marino Aurito’s model that gave the name to this year’s event, The Encyclopedic Palace.  Highlights included Camille Henrot’s single-channel video Grosse Fatigue, which earned a Silver Lion award (think Oscars for artists) and is featured on the cover of the current Artforum.

Camille Henrot's Grosse Fatigue

Screenshot from Grosse Fatigue. Image courtesy Kamel Mennour Gallery, http://www.kamelmennour.com/media/6289/camille-henrot-grosse-fatigue.html

Drawings by the Turkish artist Yüksel Arslan using potash, honey, egg whites, oil, bone marrow, blood and urine were also quite wonderful. While there were few paintings represented at the Arsenal , three canvases by Daniel Hesidence (born in Akron, as it turns out) were quite fine.

A special section of the exhibition was curated with Cindy Sherman—and included photo albums Sherman has collected and used as inspiration for her work.  Among the interesting artists featured there was Phyllis Galembo, featuring residents of Ghana dressed for masquerades that parody festivals Europeans introduced.

Beyond the main exhibition galleries were national pavilions, including wonderful representations from Argentina (videos and sculptures evoking Eva Peron), Turkey, and Indonesia.  Wandering to the back of the Arsenale at the end of the day, we were serenaded by Ragnar Kjartanssson’s crew of seven musicians aboard the S.S. Hangover and delighted by a wall of drawings by Marco Tirelli in the Italian Pavilion.

Our third day was spent at the second major Biennale site, the Giardini. One room featured a wonderful combination of Ron Nagle’s evocative ceramics, and Tantric paintings and textiles by Geta Bratescu.  Another highlight was the performance Tino Sehgal orchestrated with two performers aligned in chanting, dancing, beatboxing (which won Sehgal a Golden Lion).

One example of Tino Seghal’s orchestration—the performers rotate frequently so that the dynamics of the performance change constantly:

As at the Arsenale, there were a number of national pavilions nearby, including Sarah Sze’s carefully calibrated installations in the United States pavilion (which also earned a Golden Lion).  Anri Sala’s three-part (four screen) video Ravel Ravel Unravel was also exquisite and Jeremy Deller’s English Magic was Great Britain’s quite fine entry, even accompanied by tea served in a gallery overlooking a garden (much appreciated late in the afternoon on a gray day).

Sarah Sze

Sarah Sze

Jeremy Deller

Jeremy Deller

Ai Wei Wei (below) in Germany’s presentation was also riveting.  Yes, I know he’s not German, and neither were any of the other three artists in this wide-ranging exhibition (hosted in France’s space no less—France and Germany having traded pavilions this year)!

Ai Wei Wei

Ai Wei Wei’s installation

Surrealist Game: The Exquisite Corpse

By: Alison Caplan, Director of Education

Exquisite Corpse in action

The Surrealists didn’t have Apples to Apples or Pictionary in their day, but they did participate in parlor games that helped get their creative juices flowing.

In the 1920’s, surrealist artists played a game based on chance and accident called Exquisite Corpse. The goal of the game was to make a kind of collaborative collage using words or drawings. The name Exquisite Corpse is the result of an early game, where the finished sentence read “The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine.”

In the days leading up to the Real/Surreal opening, museum staffers decided to take a surreal lunch break and attempt some Exquisite Corpse drawings of our own. The game goes like this: one artist starts a drawing, then folds the paper to hide most of the image. The next artist continues the drawing based on the small part she can see. The drawing is passed along to other players until the fantastical, wacky, surprising image is complete.

What do you think of the results? We should probably keep our day jobs right?

Now  try your hand at an Exquisite Corpse drawing! Need inspiration? Check out the Real/Surreal exhibition and create your own collaborative drawing with museum visitors at the show.

One of the finished drawinsg.

One of the finished drawings.

A Week in Denver Part One: ART

By: Corey Jenkins, Communication Volunteer/Visitor Services

In December, I completed my B.A. in Communication Studies at Kent State University, and I decided it was time to take a short break. Two of my close friends had relocated to Denver last year, so I chose the Mile High City as my destination.

The Denver area has many geographic and cultural offerings, including everything from the Rocky Mountain foothills to Coors, the world’s largest single site brewery. One thing evident in the city is a strong commitment to art. In the late 1980’s Denver established a percent for art ordinance in which one percent of the design and construction budget of any single City capital improvement project over $1 million must be set aside for the inclusion of art in the new project. I was lucky enough to experience some of the city’s art offerings during my week in the area.

First Friday

I happened to be in town for First Friday in the Santa Fe Art District. The area reminded me of the Chelsea Art Galleries on a smaller scale and offered a wide variety of art. A highlight of this experience was my time at the Denver Art Society, an open-minded co-op in which many of its members keep workspaces. The artists involved in the Denver Art Society work in a wide range of mediums, and one member, Bill Manke creates “Tipsies” which are wooden toys that walk down a ramp. I was fortunate enough to purchase a piece from Travis Hetman, a Minnesota native who is an artist in residency at the Denver Art Society.

“My work is more or less a visual continuation of existential curiosity.  The treat of visual art to me is the privilege of making wild associations and the general lawlessness that comes with creative thinking.”  –Travis Hetman

I purchased a print of a drawing Hetman completed in 2009 titled The Volunteer and I returned later in the week to photograph several of his new works so that Hetman can upload them online.

Additionally, on my First Friday art walk was a visit to Core New Art Space, which was exhibiting Juego by Lola Montejo. Juego featured vibrant works that feel very active and full of motion. According to Montejo, the “work is about the process, the play.” The artist functions on intuition and considers the image to be “secondary to the art making.”

During my visit to the Denver Art Museum, their staff was in the process of taking down their Anatsui exhibit and the major exhibition was the world exclusive “Becoming Van Gogh.” Unfortunately, “Becoming Van Gogh” was sold out on the day of my visit. Fortunately, the Denver Art Museum is enormous and plenty of exciting exhibits were available to view.

fox games

I loved walking through Fox Games by Sandy Skoglund, the opportunity to view Oceanic art and the museum’s wonderful displays of design before and after 1900. The exhibit that left the most lasting impression with me however was the historic Western American art. Located on the top level of the North Building, the pieces are displayed along with small windows that do not affect the lighting within the gallery space, but provide stunning views of the Rocky Mountains. The museum makes fantastic use of its space, and provides many fun hands on activities, for example: I made a postcard!

MCA Heart

Finally, I made my way to the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. Of the several exhibitions at MCA Denver, I favored Pie-Fights and Pathos. The paintings, by Adrian Ghenie are complex, thought provoking and pull inspiration from a range of sources such as early cinema pie fight film stills to twentieth-century acts of extremism. MCA Denver also offered hands on activities including a Bubble Garden for relaxing and an area to create a butterfly to pin up on the wall. The building also boasts a deck providing a great view of the city.

Bubble Garden

Denver is a town with a deep commitment to art; however, viewing art was only part of how I spent my time. Stop back next week to read about my experience having dinner at the Breckenridge Brewery and my visit to the Coors Brewery in nearby Golden.