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Contemporary exhibit to turn heads at museum

2/16/2017 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Akron one of three venues for show

“The Meat Train,” by Mark Ryden, is among the contemporary works featured in Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose at the Akron Art Museum.
Photo courtesy of Mark Ryden
Martin Wittfooth’s oil painting “Incantation” is an example of the artist’s work that typically shows animals that have been used by people for some purpose.
Photo: Max Yawney, courtesy of Martin Wittfooth
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The 51 artists whose work is in the newest major exhibit at the Akron Art Museum aren’t necessarily people who consider themselves artists in the traditional sense.

Featuring artists influenced by pop culture such as Walt Disney animation, graffiti, comic books and fairy tales, as well as the Old Masters, Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose will be on display through May 7 at the museum, 1 S. Main St. It’s the second stop of a three-city tour of the exhibit, which celebrates contemporary art magazine Hi-Fructose.

“A lot of these artists are doing their own thing,” said Assistant Curator Elizabeth Carney, who noted that many of them would call themselves illustrators but shy away from the view of artists as creating art meant only for institutions.

They include artists like Shepard Fairey, who became notable for his Barack Obama “Hope” posters, and Wayne White, whose work as a set designer for “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” won three Emmy Awards.

Carney said the oldest work in the exhibit is from 2000, and all the featured artists are still living and working. The works selected for the exhibit, organized by the Virginia Museum of Modern Art, are all from private collections.

San Francisco Bay area artists Annie Owens-Seifert and Daniel “Attaboy” Seifert started Hi-Fructose magazine because they wanted to spread the word about art and artists underrepresented in traditional fine art institutions and media. Carney said the quarterly publication fills a need for modern artists, but it still is only able to show works within the confines of its pages or on its website and social media. The exhibit shows just how impressive the works are, she added, when seen in person.

The exhibit includes detailed pieces like Kris Kuksi’s “Eros at Play,” a mixed media assemblage that includes small toy parts and other tiny items that have been glued together and then painted to look worn. It’s accompanied in one part of the galleries by other small works, such as Brian Dettmer’s “Log 2,” in which he used a book as a sculptural medium. The old dictionary has been carved up to reveal illustrations and text.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Martin Wittfooth’s “Incantation,” a large, intricate oil painting of an elephant adorned with flowers and a circus harness. Carney said the artist typically paints animals but includes some evidence of how they have been used by humans for some purpose.

There are more than 60 works in the exhibit, with a handful of the artists having more than one piece included. One of those is Mark Ryden, who is represented with three works: 2000’s “The Meat Train,” 2003’s “Fountain” and 2005’s “Rosie’s Tea Party.”

Working in a style called pop surrealism, Ryden’s painted works include pop cultural and historical icons. Carney said he often puts Abraham Lincoln in his work, as is the case of “Rosie’s Tea Party” and “The Meat Train.” His children were models for his work, which is framed in ornately carved frames that serve as an extension of each piece.

There is an interactive element to the exhibit with two artists. Brian McCarty photographs toys, placing them in real-life situations and shooting them on their level. For the exhibit, his work can be seen as three-dimensional stereoscopic photos on View-Master reels with View-Master viewers. The reel was originally included in Volume 3 of Hi-Fructose.

Also OK to interact with is a couch covered with crochet work by Olek, a Polish-born artist who now lives in Brooklyn. Viewers can sit on the couch while watching “A Working Life,” a stop-motion video produced by Olek in collaboration with Michelle Dodson that pays homage to female artists.

Fairey’s included work is not his Obama poster but “Rise Above Rebel,” a 2011 mixed media painting in a similar style. White’s featured piece, “Famous N Mopey,” is a word painting in which he imposed three-dimensional text onto a thrift store painting.

Much of the work is engaging and draws in the viewer. One example is Tracy Snelling’s “Night Alley” a mixed media diorama that shows a dark alleyway scene. The viewer can find provocative photos and video playing in the windows of the buildings framing the alley, accompanied by audio that brings to mind a true crime show.

Also fascinating is Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s “Cement Truck,” which depicts a construction vehicle made of intricate laser-cut stainless steel. It’s part of a series he created that fuses industrial machinery with the ornate Gothic aesthetic of European cathedrals.

The museum has several special events planned to tie in with the exhibit. Tonight, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. will be a free showing of the documentary film “Yarn.” A Thrift Store Painting workshop with Jen Davis will take place Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at a cost of $15 for members and $20 for others.

Ceramicist Beth Cavener, whose work is included in the exhibit, will take part in an Artist’s Talk April 27 at 6:30 p.m.

For more information on events and the exhibit, go to akronartmuseum.org or call 330-376-7195.

The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Thursdays until 9 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, but $8 for seniors 65-plus and students with identification and free for members, Blue Star Families and children 17 and younger.

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