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Realism, Surrealism explored in new AAM exhibit

7/25/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Philip Evergood’s Lily and the Sparrows is on view in the Akron Art Museum’s Real/Surreal exhibit. (1939, oil on composition board, 30 x 24 in. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 41.42. Photography by Sheldan C. Collins)
Photo courtesy of the Akron Art Museum
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York has gathered together a large selection of its works combined with a few from the Akron Art Museum (AAM) and private collectors as an enlightening exhibit, Real/Surreal, which is on display at AAM through Nov. 3.

The exhibit offers up some very familiar names of American artists — Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, among them. For the more famous people and recognizable names, there are didactics that give lengthy descriptions of the work and its inherent meaning in this exhibit.

But take in some of the lesser known people, for there you’ll discover not only some more range to the topic of real/surreal, but see that, in fact, some of these other works equal and in some cases surpass the better known pieces in terms of interest. That fact alone makes it worth the trip to AAM to take in this exhibit.

As example, in the opening section defining the parameters of the exhibit — Real/Surreal — there is a well-known work, “La Fortune,” by American-born Man Ray. The lengthy explanation tells that the artist was relying a lot on dream imagery as he depicted a large pool table extending into a barren landscape of flattened clouds painted in rainbow colors.

But a little further along the gallery there’s also French American artist Yves Tanguy’s just as fascinating and visually insistent “The Wish,” in which the artist, against a washed out whitish background, assembles monoliths from, among other things, body parts.

The American artists of the 1920s-50s were, as museum information tells it, schooled in traditional painting, and were, in fact, masters at realism in technique. Through exposure to international trends and the works of Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte, they embraced what was seen as the “liberating force” of surrealism.

That impetus allowed them to include elements of fantasy and even the bizarre in their works, as perhaps seen clearly in Philip Evergood’s “Lily and the Sparrows,” a piece that shows a young girl’s exaggerated head with its odd expression peeking out of a window of a blood-red brick building as a flock of sparrows flutter by. It has the imaginative and unsettling stuff of dolls coming to life in current-day horror films.

As most artists were doing, these people were reacting to social and political happenings around them, as well as artistic changes.

Real/Surreal is organized around various aspects of change that was going on, like the first section on the fusion of real/surreal in art. Other groupings include: Alone in the City (which is the artistic response to increasing urbanization and industrialization at the time); Social Concern (including the Great Depression and how artists set about their work during it); Surrealist Photography (which was an exploration of the camera that was used to capture vivid images as reality used for imaginative purposes); Empty Landscapes (which was as much a reaction to political events in the world as it was to paintings of lush nature and bucolic scenes); Man and Machine (with the rise of new technologies that we are still seeing emerge in our daily lives); Leisure (as distraction from social and world events); and Interior Portraits (which was an artistic catching up with X-ray technology in medicine and Sigmund Freud’s theories of the inner workings of human beings).

General admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens and free for youths (17 and younger) and members. On the third Thursday of every month, individual admission to the galleries is free. Special exhibitions may require paid admission.

The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For more information, visit www.AkronArtMuse um.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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