Altered Landscapes Showcases Innovative Contemporary Approaches to Landscape

by Janice Driesbach, Chief Curator

The museum’s Judith Bear Isroff and Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Galleries offer ideal opportunities to bring together thematic exhibitions from our collections. These galleries are particularly well suited for featuring works on paper and photographs that are vulnerable to light, and so cannot be on view for extended periods of time. When I first started thinking about the exhibition that became Altered Landscapes, I was eager to showcase relatively recent gifts that we had not had yet been able to share. These included Meridel Rubenstein’s Temple Tree, Vietnam and Yun-Fei Ji’s Three Gorges Dam Migration, both donated in honor of former director Mitchell Kahan on the occasion of his retirement.

Meridel Rubenstein, Temple Tree, Vietnam, 2000-01, vegetable ink on paper, with mica and gum arabic

Meridel Rubenstein, Temple Tree, Vietnam, 2000-01, vegetable ink on paper, with mica and gum arabic

I appreciated how Rubenstein’s incorporation of unconventional materials into the photograph, including vegetable ink and mica, were beautifully employed to convey how the ancient tree had been honored. It was also clear that, with the construction of the surrounding temple, the landscape’s original context was transformed centuries ago. In contrast, the soft colors and traditional format of Yun-Fei Ji’s scroll invite us in to view the tragic consequences of a much more recent change—the construction of the Yangtze River dam that buried thousands of villages and displaced more than a million people.

Yun-Fei Ji, Three Gorges Dam Migration, 2009, hand-printed watercolor woodblock on paper and silk

Yun-Fei Ji, Three Gorges Dam Migration, 2009, hand-printed watercolor woodblock on paper and silk

Certainly as we head into our parks and the countryside today, there is little that has not been impacted by the human presence. Much that may strike us as pristine wilderness is in fact second- or third-growth forest and shelters numerous invasive species. In addition, since the invention and proliferation of photography, the detailed views that artists spent extended time rendering can be captured and disseminated instantaneously. The role of the artist has changed and Altered Landscapes allows us to present some of the ways contemporary artists have responded to this traditional subject.

Randall Tiedman, Limbus Patrum #7, 2010, Acrylic and oil on paper

Randall Tiedman, Limbus Patrum #7, 2010, acrylic and oil on paper

I take particular delight that as the exhibition came together we were able to include other artworks that have not been on display before. These include Randall Tiedman’s Limbus Patrum #7, a gift the museum received just a few months ago. A lifelong Cleveland resident, Tiedman developed his impressive composition from imagination, informed by his intimate understanding of the industrial landscape. In contrast, Wayne Thiebaud, painted River and Slough, a view of his beloved Sacramento Valley, in his studio from sketches made on the spot. And, Joseph Yoakum was probably inspired to depict Mt. Banda Banda in Great Dividing Range near Kempsey Australia by a magazine illustration rather than firsthand observation—all very different approaches.

Wayne Thiebaud, River and Slough, 1969

Wayne Thiebaud, River and Slough, 1969, acrylic on canvas

With artwork ranging from Mark Soppeland’s glitter-laden sculpture Bridge over a Strange Place to Lilian Tyrrell’s powerful Disaster Blanket, Altered Landscapes truly brings together a wide range of styles and media in addressing its theme. It is my hope that visitors will enjoy making comparisons and that they consider extending their visit by wandering into our C. Blake McDowell, Jr, Galleries on the first floor of our 1899 building. There they will see earlier interpretations of landscape subjects, including outstanding Impressionist and Tonalist paintings and early 20th-century views of our region.


Landscapes Panel Discussion on Feb 2

Three Northeast Ohio Artists Discuss Landscape Art
Thursday, February 2
6:30 pm

The Akron Art Museum will host a panel discussion featuring three local artists currently on view at the museum on February 2 at 6:30 pm.

Bruce Checefsky, Michelle Droll and Barry Underwood will discuss how light, environmental issues and the tradition of landscape painting apply to their work in a panel discussion moderated by Interim Chief Curator Ellen Rudolph.

Regional artist Michelle Droll, creator of Landslide: Between a Rock and a Place, builds environmentally friendly landscapes out of recycled materials. She uses scraps from her studio, Styrofoam and other recycled man-made material to create these scenes. Intrigued by the “building” of landscape with junk, she has created a vibrant sculpture that references present-day environmental concerns.

Cleveland photographers Bruce Checefsky and Barry Underwood use atmospheric and applied light to capture ephemeral moments in nature. All of these artists have illustrated nature and landscapes in different ways but all have unified viewers under one topic.

How do contemporary artists work in the tradition of landscape painters on view in Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism? How have contemporary concerns such as environmentalism and technology altered the tradition? How does the local terrain inspire Northeast Ohio artists? Join us for the answers to these questions and more at this inspiring look at the art of contemporary landscape.

Beginning in the 19thcentury, artists left their studios and ventured out into the wild to document the great outdoors. From creating art depicting the sea to the sky, artists have been trying to replicate the wonders that surround us. Nature and landscapes have always been captivating elements because we cannot completely describe their magnificence. However, artists can open our minds to different interpretations of landscapes. Though concerns and views about landscapes may have changed since the impressionist era, the land remains a profound source of inspiration for artists.

FREE, first-come, first-seated in the Lehner Auditorium
This panel discussion is made possible by the Akron Art Museum George and Ethel Nobil Fund.
Bruce Checefsky in front of his photoraphs in "SuperNatural: Landscapes by Bruce Checefsky and Barry Underwood"

Bruce Checefsky in front of his photographs in "SuperNatural: Landscapes by Bruce Checefsky and Barry Underwood"

Barry Underwood and Sarah Kabot at the opening of "SuperNatural: Landscapes by Bruce Checefsky and Barry Underwood"

Barry Underwood and Sarah Kabot at the opening of "SuperNatural: Landscapes by Bruce Checefsky and Barry Underwood"

Michelle Droll in front of "Landscrape" from her exhibition titled "Michelle Droll: Landslide/Between a Rock and a Place"

Michelle Droll in front of "Landscrape" from her exhibition titled "Michelle Droll: Landslide/Between a Rock and a Place"

Book Club: The Private Lives of the Impressionists

Thursday, January 26
6 pm

The Private Lives of Impressionists by Sue Roe

The Private Lives of the Impressionists
By Sue Roe

From Art theft to the scandalous lives of artists, the museum’s book club is never boring. January’s book club selection will transport readers to the studios, salons and rowdy riverside bars of Paris as readers discuss The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe. Filled with maps and illustrations, Roe’s book is a lively biographical take on the key artists of the impressionist movement. Book club will also include a guided tour of Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism.

The Museum’s Book Club is free but requires registration.  Additional charges may apply for non-members for some events.

Please call 330.376.9186 x 230 to register.

Review of The Private Lives of the Impressionists in Publishers Weekly:

From Monet and Pissarro’s first meeting in Paris in 1860 to art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel’s influential 1886 Impressionist exhibition in New York City, the group known as the Impressionists—Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Morisot and Cassatt—struggled to build their reputations, support themselves financially and create meaningful personal lives. In this meticulously researched and vividly written book, British writer Roe (Gwen John) argues that their drive for success was the strongest unifying factor among this diverse group of artists, including the antisocial, celibate Degas, the socialist Pissarro and the chronically depressed Sisley, who resented the Impressionists’ meager public appreciation until the very end of his life. Roe’s nuanced portraits of these artists include personal details both small—the American Cassatt’s booming voice and “atrocious” French accent—and significant—Manet’s illegitimate son and his upper-middle-class family’s elaborate efforts to conceal the child’s existence. The result is a comprehensive and revealing group portrait, superbly contextualized within the period’s volatile political, socioeconomic and artistic shifts. Roe’s book will be of great interest to both art and social historians as well as to the general reader.

The book is available for purchase in the Museum Store and through Amazon and Barnes &Noble.

Congrats to our Share Your Landscape Winner

Share Your Landscape Winner-Barbara Hacha

Barbara Hacha, First Light

Congratulations to Barbara Hacha, who’s photograph First Light won the Akron Art Museum’s Share Your Landscape contest. Thank you to all who submitted your favorite landscapes.

Here’s what Barbara had to say about First Light, “…is a photograph I took at dawn from the basket of a hot air balloon as we were ascending near the Sangre Crista mountains near Albuquerque, NM.  It was absolutely quiet, except for the intermittent sound of the burner firing and the yips of coyotes below.”

Share Your Landscape

Childe Hassam's Island of Shoals


The impressionists took to the outdoors to show their favorite landscapes with the world. We would like to see your favorite landscapes in our contest open November 7 – 30, 2011. Just follow the guidelines below:

  1. Share with us your favorite landscape. The medium is up to you, but it must be your original work. Limit to two entries per person.
  2. Send your landscape, your name, artwork’s title, best form of contact and a brief description of the place and why it is your favorite to
  3. NOTE THE NEW DEADLINE! The contest is open through midnight on December 4, 2011. Winners will be selected by Akron Art Museum staff and will be announced on December 7, 2011.
  4. Grand Prize (1): Two complementary tickets to the Akron Art Museum to be used within a year and choice of landscapes related print from the Museum Store.
  5. Not open to Akron Art Museum staff.
  6. By entering the contest you are giving the Akron Art Museum the right to utilize your landscape in social media capacities.

Send any questions to