The Akron Art Museum collection, currently on view in the Sandra L. and Dennis B. Haslinger Family Foundation Galleries, includes an electric array of late twentieth century Pop art, abstract expressionist, and surrealist art, as well as a strong emphasis on twenty-first century painting, sculpture, photography and new media.
The explosion of mass media throughout the 20th century—radio, movies, television and the internet—spread American popular culture around the world. The repetition and pervasiveness of commercial imagery in our visual culture has inspired many artists to pay homage to pop icons. “I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you see every day,” said Andy Warhol, whose portrayal of Elvis as an iconic western character, symbolized the growing intersection of popular culture and contemporary art.
Viola Frey’s large-scale ceramic sculpture, The World and the Woman, greets visitors as they enter in to our collection galleries. As with much of the art created in the late 20th and early 21st century, the sculpture is as much a sentinel as it is a statement about identity and gender equality. James Gobel’s I’ll Be Your Friend, I’ll Be Your Love, I’ll Be Everything You Need draws upon a 1980s pop song for its title and inspiration. Gobel’s performer reflects the enormous power celebrities wield in our cultural identity. Similarly, Yinka Shonibare addresses issues pertaining to race and class in his powerful figurative sculptures, which are typically presented as headless, removing any direct reference to their race. In his unsteady position, Gentleman Walking a Tightrope depicts the challenging balancing act that confronts the subject, referencing the West’s impact on Africa, and the precarious position he faces in navigating our social and political landscape.
Other works in the Haslinger Galleries record or convey physical motion and sensation. The lightness of the streams of paint in Gene Davis’s canvas gives visual presence to air. Curves and colors seem to weave in and out at dizzying speeds in Frank Stella’s Diepholz. The shear physical presence of Ursula Von Rydingsvard’s massive cedar sculpture seems poised as if it is shifting in the wind or like a wave that is about to reach its crested climax.