Art review: Akron museum’s exhibit is ‘State of the Art’

The Akron Art Museum is the setting for a thought-provoking, visual-engaging exhibit that offers insight into contemporary art made outside of traditional art centers. “State of the Art: Constructs,” which runs through Feb. 26, features works in video, photography, mixed media, performance, sculpture, painting and textile arts.

Curators from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, originally organized an exhibit of 61 artists to reflect the state of contemporary art with various perspectives, backgrounds and mediums. Because of the exhibit’s large size, they divided the show into three parts to make it easier to travel.

“State of the Art: Constructs” is a focused exhibit of 21 artists from the original group whose workexamines ideas of planet, place and self.

According to the curators, the exhibit’s intent is to explore how “our shared conceptions of history, morality, happiness, and more are all constructs.” The artwork in this show tackles momentous topics “that are deeply embedded in daily life, from sweeping global and environmental issues to the intricate complexities of personal identity, as well as some of the specific places and relationships in between.”

"A Pair of Candelabras, Tony Sonnenberg, 2019, porcelain over stoneware.
"A Pair of Candelabras, Tony Sonnenberg, 2019, porcelain over stoneware.

This is a heady grouping of works with a couple of show-stoppers that might take your breath away.

Rick Silva’s 2018 video “Western Fronts” was made in response to the Trump administration’s plan to decrease federal protections on four national monuments: Cascade-Siskiyou (Oregon and California), Gold Butte (Nevada), Grand Staircase-Escalante (Utah) and Bears Ears (Utah).

The work combines aerial drone footage and photogrammetry with 3D animation. The wilderness is scanned by large shapes that momentarily reduce the landscape into grayscale polygons. The stunning effect opens a discussion into the “value” of the land we are seeing on the surface of the planet and what is perceived to be valuable underneath it. Further, the  sounds or “music” played while the videos are played helps to heighten the church-like aesthetic of the natural locations.

The artist has created an exultant experience that forces the viewer to pause and reflect on what we value or don’t in the natural world around us.

“A Poem for Blessing Clay” is an adobe wall made by Joanna Keane Lopez. It is made with mica and colored clay from Colorado, Texas and New Mexico. The artist spent two weeks constructing the wall in the museum. It is intended to reference a resolana, which in New Mexican culture is the sunny, south-facing side of a building where people gather.

The wall is a long rectangular form with an empty “u” shape in the middle. Light blue, yellow ochre and sage green colors move across the smoothed-out surface that faces the interior of the gallery. On the back of the piece, the artist has left the bricks exposed so you can see how the wall was built. It creates another reference point to the historical importance of this type of construction and offers a gravity-filled exploration of the entire structure.

"Highground," Amy Casey, 2019. acrylic on cradled ampersand clayboard panel.
"Highground," Amy Casey, 2019. acrylic on cradled ampersand clayboard panel.

The Akron exhibit features exciting works by contemporary painters.

Jena Thomas’ works are glowing, pastel-colored still lifes of humans interacting with human-made constructions in suburban settings. The places the artist depicts could be car parks, gas stations, restaurants or even hotel lobbies. It is difficult to tell and that is likely the point as the artist is seeking to point to our need to reexamine our relationships with the artificial places we create and inhabit.

In the 2018 oil on canvas “In Search of Fun,” Thomas has painted a person walking across what is perhaps a park area or even volleyball court. Lights are strung up between poles and large road signage can be seen in the distance just behind a retaining wall. Blue palm trees glow and look down over the whole scene and this reality offers even more of a disconnect between the subject and the world or natural world around them.

It’s an adroitly painted work that does not hit you over the head with its subject matter but lures you in with a style that is minimal and hauntingly beautiful.

Also minimal and beautiful are large, handmade, paper works by Hong Hong. “Composition for Gravity in the Void” and “Composition for in the Dark Later” are created with mulberry paper. They feature cut-out, pinned-together elements that come across as abstract paintings.

The paper changes color, a feature of how the work was made outdoors amid sunlight and dust. It feels like it was pulled out of the “galactic ether.” While the push pins that hold up the piece are a bit distracting, the work is nevertheless powerfully engaging.

“State of the Art: Constructs” is an excellent exhibit that features engaging and wonderful work by artists from all over the country. It’s exciting to have this type of show at the Akron Art Museum.

Anderson Turner is director of the Kent State University School of Art collection and galleries. Contact him at

"Euclid’s Mirror," Lori Kella, 2019, archival pigment print.
"Euclid’s Mirror," Lori Kella, 2019, archival pigment print.


Exhibit: “State of the Art: Constructs” through Feb. 26

Where: Akron Art Museum, 1 S. High St., Akron

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday

More info: 330-376-9186 and

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Akron Art Museum exhibit of contemporary work is thought-provoking