The Akron Art Museum features over 20,000 square feet of gallery space dedicated to the display of special exhibitions and its collection, which focuses on art produced since 1850.
The Akron Art Museum is home to the world’s largest public collection of glass by the celebrated artist Paul Stankard, who is known internationally for his innovative rethinking of the traditional glass paperweight. The collection is a gift of Mike and Annie Belkin of Northeast Ohio.
Stankard is simultaneously a master glass artist and an astonishing realist sculptor. His renditions of plants and insects seem like nature, miniaturized and preserved inside crystal-clear glass globes and cubes. Closer inspection will often reveal mythical and metaphorical motifs nestled amid the natural elements. Turning over one of the glass spheres, and intermingled with the roots of the plants, one can find masks, tiny words or “root people” that to Stankard represent the earth spirit.
With attention to the specifics of each blossom, leaf, insect or berry, his flameworked glass objects possess strong illusionist appeal. "I want to give the glass organic credibility. I use detail to emphasize the delicate," Stankard said. "I want people to go beyond the wizardry of whether it is real or glass. It is about respect for living things."
Art made from 1850 to 1950 graces the C. Blake McDowell, Jr. Galleries. On view are outstanding examples of turn-of-the-twentieth century realism and American impressionism including paintings by Childe Hassam, Frederick Frieseke, William Merritt Chase and Ohio's own Frank Duveneck. Many of these works came from the collection of the museum's co-founder Edwin C. Shaw. One gallery explores modernism and regionalism in northeast Ohio from the 1910s to 1950, and another is devoted to William Sommer, this region's most important historical artist. The Akron Art Museum is the only place in the nation where Sommer's work is on permanent view.
Art created since 1950 is featured in the Sandra L. and Dennis B. Haslinger Family Foundation Galleries. The eclecticism of style in late 20th century art is revealed through examples of postmodern painting and sculpture, photorealism, Pop art and works that continue surrealist and expressionist approaches. Galleries are organized thematically, an example being artists' varied representations of the human body. On view are Chuck Close's Linda, a monumental early painting; Andy Warhol's witty silkscreen painting Elvis; and Ohio carver and preacher Elijah Pierce's animated relief sculpture The Wise and Foolish Virgins and Four Other Scenes.
Other spaces explore both the subtlety and power of abstraction. Masterpieces by Donald Judd, Jackie Winsor and Sol LeWitt present an elegant vision of space ordered through geometry. Frank Stella's enormous Diepholz (which is both painting and sculpture) and African artist El Anatsui's shimmering wall hanging made from hundreds of liquor bottle caps, address abstraction through a more emotional or instinctual world view.
A separate room in the Haslinger Family Galleries is devoted to the first work of installation art to enter the museum's collection - Atrabiliairios (Defiant), by Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo. The piece's elegantly ordered rectangular niches belie its visceral content and materials related to the politics of Colombia.
Works on paper and photographs in both sets of collection galleries are changed every six months. Selections from the painting and sculpture on view are also rotated on a regular basis with other works from the collection and occasionally with art borrowed from other museums and area collections.
Installation of the Akron Art Museum’s collection has been made possible with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. and the National Endowment for the Arts.