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Dazzling quilts, contemporary art in two AAM exhibits

6/23/2011 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

“Caribbean Blues” is on view at the Akron Art Museum in Kaleidoscope Quilts: The Art of Paula Nadelstern. “Caribbean Blues” is on view at the Akron Art Museum in Kaleidoscope Quilts: The Art of Paula Nadelstern.
Photo courtesy of the Akron Art Museum
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Kaleidoscope Quilts: The Art of Paula Nadelstern and The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Ohio are on view at the Akron Art Museum (AAM) into October. The Nadelstern quilts will be on view through Oct. 2 and the Vogel collection through Oct. 16.

For anyone who might think a quilt collection just isn’t their idea of art, come and look at Nadelstern’s work. They are impressive. In an interview, Nadelstern said she came upon the idea of kaleidoscopic design by accident but fervently when it happened. Her interest was immediate. She was hooked and began experimenting with designs and shapes.

When you look at them in the display, they convey an incredible amount of visual movement, almost like looking at a fireworks display. Interestingly, Nadelstern has an interest in pursuing that very idea in an upcoming quilt she’ll be working on. The pieces seem busy, making the eye jump from place to place, much like some Asian architectural design, but when you stop and focus on a section of the work, you realize just how skillful and luminous the works are.

Didactics accompanying the works explain much of the technical business with quilting and how Nadelstern incorporates ideas from kaleidoscope making into the visual quality of her works. There is much scientific interest in her art form. Nadelstern herself can explain at length the difference among the various kaleidoscopes the museum has on display with the quilts — two vs. three mirror; glycerin base or hard pieces in the tube; manufactured or found color pieces for the display; and the source and angle of lighting. These ideas figure into her concepts as well as the geometrical problems of the exact angles and folds needed to create a perfect symmetry.

As viewers walked through the gallery, many were wondering where she gets the material and how long it takes her to complete a quilt.

Nadelstern is very adamant in her answer about the time needed.

“My answer,” she said, “is my whole life is in each work,” and she added that she’s sticking by her answer. And it’s true in the sense that each work extends her experience and growing knowledge of quilt making and the underlying concepts for the works — kaleidoscopes to be sure, but also snowflakes and fireworks, among others.

As for material, it is abundantly clear Nadelstern loves vivid and lush colors. The materials “don’t just come from anywhere,” she noted; she seeks them out or has them made and hand-dyed for the look she wants. Nadelstern also incorporates threads and other shimmering pieces of material to create special light effects in her works.

Come to AAM to see them; the trip is worth it, as it will be for the works from the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel collection in the adjacent galleries.

The Vogels were a kind of fun, quirky couple who spent their lives (and Herbert’s modest salary as a civil servant) on contemporary art works. Curator for the exhibit, Ellen Rudolph, explained in an interview that the Vogels would visit the artists in their studio and painstakingly discuss and examine their works before purchasing them. Since they lived in a small apartment in New York City, they tended to select smaller and portable works, Rudolph said, that they could carry away as they rode home on the subway or via taxicab.

Their collection cluttered their apartment so much that one artist, John Salt, made a colored pencil drawing from his memory of visiting the Vogel residence. His work is on display in this exhibit. Eventually they intended to donate it to the National Gallery. There were so many works that the curators there realized they could never handle it the way they wanted or display all the pieces if they did. So, that museum decided to send out 50 works to a museum in each of the 50 states. Rudolph says that chief curator Barbara Tannenbaum pitched successfully for AAM to be the Ohio museum of choice.

The works taken by AAM contain pieces by artists who were virtually unknown when the Vogels visited them, but who have since earned international reputations: Nam June Paik, Edda Renouf and Richard Tuttle, among others. For purposes of this exhibit, Rudolph roughly sorted the works into two thematic groupings — minimalist works and expressionistic pieces.

Allow about two hours to view the collections. Galleries are open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 to 5 p.m., but until 9 p.m. on Thursdays. General admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors and free for children younger than 12. On the first Sunday of the month, individual admission to the collection is free, although special exhibitions may require paid admission.

Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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