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Akron Art Museum’s Gottlieb exhibit brings atypical look at notable painter

11/1/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Adolph Gottlieb’s “Petaloid #6857” is on view in the Akron Art Museum’s Adolph Gottlieb: Sculptor exhibit.
Photo courtesy of the Akron Art Museum
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Adolph Gottlieb, a first generation abstract expressionist painter, is given a welcome twist as Akron Art Museum offers a look at the artist as a sculptor in its newest exhibit, Adolph Gottlieb: Sculptor.

Gottlieb is undoubtedly far better known as a painter. This exhibit pairs later career paintings (seven of them) and two monotypes with 12 tabletop little known sculptures and 10 maquettes (scale models). Together they collectively reveal the artist’s interest in trying to create flat-surface works that underline his larger interest in gravity, suspension and motion.

When looking at sculptures like “Petaloid” or “Wall,” one can see similar images (such as distended circles, long, flat wavy bars or a circular cut-out that looks like a strange circular saw blade) in the later paintings, like “Three Discs on Chrome Ground” and “Red vs. Blue.” That connection lets the viewer know there is something deliberate and contemplative going on with this artist. It also allows for an understanding of the changes and further uses of shapes and how he used them to compose works.

As example, his maquette “Untitled (Three Discs)” depicts three different colored, slightly different sized distended circles atop a blank plane. It calls to mind similar suspension and design that appears in his painting “Three Discs on Chrome Ground.”

Gottlieb wanted to challenge the distinction between painting and sculpture, he has said. The rift between two-dimensional and three-dimensional pieces seem to collapse in the face of his concern for artworks to become vehicles for emotional expression. Gottlieb has said he wanted to create the tension and the projection of emotions and ideas through a few elements that constitute the icons of his art.

Even the color palette in his pieces tends to the simple — perhaps a black base (for sculpture) or as background to a wall painting with the few elements (circles, etc.) in yellow or brown. The colors seem to work to get at the notion of balance that he seeks rather than make a great point about the use of color for some other purpose.

It’s interesting that someone late in his career would venture forth into pretty uncharted artistic territory. Gottlieb was well known and established, yet took the chance to learn and test his ideas and technique in another medium.

Even the small body of works that Gottlieb created illustrate he was able to transfer (maybe re-use is the better word) his mastery of whichever medium he chose to work in.

This exhibit is a good opportunity to assess the different media the artist worked in — using similar shapes or elements in the pieces — and come to some conclusions about how very gifted the artist and painter was in his career. The sculptures facilitate a great appreciation of the paintings that Gottlieb created in his lifetime.

Adolph Gottlieb: Sculptor will be at the Akron Art Museum through Feb. 17. For information on hours and admission, call 330-376-9185 or visit www.AkronArtMu seum.org.


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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