Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fresh Art, Summit Artspace, Akron May 1 – June 5, 2010

This juried show (entitled “Fresh and Witty” last year) is open to artists who live, work or go to school in 3 counties, none of which are my own. Works were to be “new art, new ideas and new media”. Artists included in the show achieved this goal with various degrees of success.

I may have to revisit some of the peeves from my North Canton show post. One of which is showing work that has shown in the same space only a few months before which thereby make it stale, not fresh. I am always amazed that my choices for awards never seem to match those of the judges which just goes to prove that we all have subjective points of view no matter how objective we claim to be. What follows are my top picks and why.

Casey Vogt has a dizzyingly complex optical art painting in the back room. Viewing it almost hurts the eyes and the brain if it were not for the figure that anchors the imagery. One must suffer a bit to really see the underlying message, dead center in the painting and small enough to require reading glasses. It is a pill (not real, reproduced) labeled Wellbutrin XL 150, an antidepressant medication. The image appears to be symmetrical, but careful comparison of the patterns will prove that assumption wrong. It is a piece that leaves you asking “how did she do that?” and then searching for a stray Tylenol in your purse.

April Bachtel’s acrylic and clear resin panel takes you on a visual journey from either outer space or under the sea. Choosing the latter viewpoint for myself, I felt like a small sea creature looking up towards the surface into a patch of sunlight slowly being obscured by oil. The murky, glossy, ambiguous imagery draws one into its many layers.

Jan Nash’s mobile, “Connect the Dots” made from felt and wire sounds rather crafty at first, but it is quite sophisticated and technically well done. It is also just plain fun. Scale does save this work from being too elementary school art project in nature however.

Judy Bennett displays a mixed media wall piece that could be a big mess of “stuff” were it not saved by an underlying structure which relies on the bones of basic composition to have all the various elements make sense and work together in a disjointed harmony. Think of an orchestra tuning up before the concert master plays the A note. You hear a cacophony of sound that is both jumbled and yet connected.

Overall, the paintings are the weakest entries. It is a bit difficult to come up with something fresh and new and different in the realm of painting outside of subject matter I suppose, but no one was really successful other than Ms. Vogt. Ceramics can often suffer from the same fate (the CMA show on ceramics being a major exception). Gary Lichten and Julia Bunn did fairly well with this concept all things considered, but a circle of tiny tea pots….nope, that is not new or fresh or different. Assemblage tends to be a sneaky way to come up with something different, but accumulating a bunch of stuff and joining it all together somehow then adding a title will never work if the bones are missing. While on this topic of what doesn’t really count (or shouldn’t), here are a few more suggestions….

Making something really big does not make it better. Making something really small does not make it better. Cropping another piece so only the good parts show or to make it fit an existing mat and frame does not make it better. Making something intentionally bad, so much so that it looks “good” because it is so bad, does not make it fresh, only….well…bad. I know that “bad art” was a movement at some point, but it did not last for a reason, perhaps because it was just plain poorly done stuff. And I will say it once more, any piece “untitled” should be left out of a show.

I was glad to see the work of an old favorite of mine and probably an early influence of my later work, George Kocar. He is a long time Cleveland institution in the realm of “cartoonish” type work, which mine has been called as well. “Fink Agent 729” by Damon Drummond is a fitting sculpture to put in front of Kocar’s painting “Time Machine”, and well worth a few moments to explore all the parts. As matter of fact, one could plop their kids in front of it and they would be totally entertained while adults explore the rest of the show. Don’t let the little ones see the creepy clown head however or you won’t get a night’s sleep for quite some time. But if you do see the clown, don’t back up and knock over the $13,500 tree sculpture, my son’s car cost less than that! The gold leaves better be 24 karat at that price. Listen artists, if you don’t want to sell something, put NFS, don’t play the pricing game. I asked if it was a typo in the program but nobody could answer at the time.

Overall, it is a fun show to go see and a terrific space for a myriad of art groups. Upstairs is the Akron Society of Artists studio and gallery space, the Artists of Rubber City galleries, several individual artist spaces and one large room still in its original warehouse condition. I guess one could call it the “art and soul” that anchors a vital arts community just to our north.


  1. Nice review, I concur with you on almost every issue. I do have to correct you on one item. I'm Casey Vogt, and a 100% male. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the painting. Thanks.

  2. Interesting critique but what's your beef with "Untitled?" I just found your blog so maybe you explained this previously. But plenty of good work has gone untitled. Some titles add another layer of meaning to an artwork but many add nothing. If nothing more needs to be or can be said, then the artificial construct of a title seems superfluous. If we grant the artist free license to create whatever and however s/he wants, then we should be willing to grant the same freedom to title or not.