#5WomenArtists at AAM

Akron Art Museum showcases Modern and Contemporary art in its beautiful setting in Northeast Ohio. The museum onsite galleries are closed to the public as part of the public health efforts. But, our online galleries are available, as they always have been, 24×7. We’ll be regularly posting virtual tours on all our social platforms, so you may enjoy the #MuseumatHome.

My Name is Reggie Lynch and I’m the Curator of Community Engagement at the museum. I work to make sure the museum’s programming and interpretation are relevant and accessible to our community.

Can you name #5womenartists? I certainly can! Follow along on this virtual tour to learn a little bit about some artists from the museum’s collection who changed the course of history.

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1. Alma Thomas, Pond — Spring Awakening, 1972

After retiring from a 38-year career as an art teacher, Alma Thomas would go on to spend the last 18 years of her life gaining significant recognition for her abstract work. Thomas created this workin the same year that she became the first African-American woman to be featured in a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In this image, one of the Akron Art Museum’s educators is challenging a group of students to think about how Thomas’ abstraction got its title: Pond — Spring Awakening. I’ve had students in the galleries who swear they see koi swimming in this pond!

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2. Viola Frey, Woman and the World,

Viola Frey was a pioneering ceramicist whose monumental sculptures pushed ideas of what ceramics can be as a medium and as a mode of expression. Most frequently, these sculptures explore themes of gender and identity. During the summer of 2019, Frey’s Woman and the World was a centerpiece of a dance performance at the Akron Art Museum in partnership with NCCAkron and DANCECleveland. Whenever I see this piece, I’m never sure whether the woman is turning her back on the world or is about to pick it up and carry it on her back. What do you think?

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3. Yayoi Kusama, Arm Chair, 1963

Yayoi Kusama and her career are a master class in determination and perseverance. Although she faced childhood traumas and continues to struggle with her mental health, by 1993 her talent was so undeniable that Japan named her as the first woman to represent the country at the prestigious Venice Biennale. This image from the 1970s is from the museum’s Archives and the work was created during one of Kusama’s most prolific phases. For Kusama, art has continually been a way to channel her difficult thoughts and bring viewers into her state of mind. For me, viewing and making art always makes me feel connected to other people and distracts my sometimes anxious thoughts. What does making or viewing art do for you?

Image taken from the museum’s archives

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4. Jenny Holzer, All Fall Text: Selections from Truisms, (1977–79), Living, (1980–82) and Survival, (1983–85), 2012

Ohio native Jenny Holzer is best known for her provocative works that use phrases and words to question societal structures. Her early works were mostly 2D, but in 1982 she installed her first electronic sign in the middle of Times Square. With its colorful, busy lights, this work is meant to recall that installation and more than once I’ve caught visitors taking a long look as they try to read the full message. It often gets me thinking: what would I say if I could run text through Times Square or at a museum? What do you think — what would you say?

Imagine taken during the 2020 Midwinter Blues Concert at the Akron Art Museum

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5. Helen Frankenthaler, Wisdom, 1969

Last, but certainly not least, is my personal favorite from our collection by Helen Frankenthaler. Very often, I’ve had conversations with people about how abstract works like this shouldn’t be considered art and I’ve heard the ever-popular argument “My kid could do that!” I get it! Abstract art isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. But here’s where I get defensive of Frankenthaler: she and the other abstract painters of her day did this before anyone else thought to do it and she did it in a way that no one else was doing at that time. She invented a new technique called soak-stain, in which the canvas hasn’t been primed, so the paint soaks through the cloth canvas, creating soft pools and edges to the puddles of paint. She didn’t believe there were ever mistakes in art but thought instead about how a “wrong turn” was just a chance to take a different perspective. I’ve found myself coming back to this piece over and over. I’ll often let my gaze go soft and just rest in the warm colors and soft lines. To me, this work is peaceful and energizing all at once. Do you have any works of art that make you feel this way?

And that’s that. If you had trouble naming 5 women artists before this, now you’re an expert! Keep these pioneering women in mind when we reopen — you never know how they might strike you!

Virtual Tours are made possible with support from the Sandra L. and Dennis B. Haslinger Family Foundation, The Sisler McFawn Foundation, The Welty Family Foundation, Dana Pulk Dickinson, and the Lloyd L. & Louise K. Smith Memorial Foundation.