For Release: June 2013
The Akron Art Museum presents Real/Surreal, an exhibition that examines how artists employed what have long been considered two distinctly separate approaches to art—Realism and Surrealism—in the years leading up to World War II. More than 60 outstanding paintings, drawings, prints and photographs drawn from the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art demonstrate how artists responded to the social and political upheaval of the 1920s, 30s and 40s by treating reality as a subjective state of mind rather than as an unalterable truth.
From the 1920s through the 1950s, many American artists backed away from abstract European modernist styles in favor of creating artworks that were distinctively American. During these years, they were introduced to stylistic elements of both Realism and Surrealism in their academic studies, at exhibitions, when they traveled abroad and while interacting with European artists in this country.
Paintings such as Charles Sheeler’s River Rouge Plant or Andrew Wyeth’s Juniper and Alder boast many of the distinguishing characteristics of Realism. They believably represent the exterior world using naturalistic color, lighting effects and perspective. In contrast, works such as Man Ray’s La Fortune, with its dreamlike imagery, unlikely juxtaposition of objects, lurid colors and incongruous shifts in scale, exemplify key aspects of Surrealism.
Many artists represented in Real/Surreal merge elements of the Realist and Surrealist styles. George Tooker used egg tempera paint, a centuries-old technique, to create meticulously detailed compositions. However, the low ceilings, triple perspective and haunted figures of The Subway create an unsettling composition, adding to its surrealistic effect. Similarly, while the figures in Jared French’s State Park are carefully rendered within realistic seaside setting, their stiff poses suggest their physical and psychological alienation from one another.
Real/Surreal offers a fascinating reflection of a tumultuous era. Peter Blume’s Light of the World documents 1930s fascination with new technologies, in contrast to a widely-felt sense of longing and nostalgia for a way of life that was rapidly being abandoned, elicited in Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod Sunset. Federico Castellón and Henry Koerner’s powerful compositions respond to the spread of Fascist regimes across Europe while Joe Jones references the ravages of the Dust Bowl.
A landscape by Andrew Wyeth, an enhanced selection of Surrealist photography and three short films are among the additions to the Akron Art Museum’s showing of Real/Surreal. Wyeth’s Juniper and Alder, a large 1941 watercolor, incorporates dissonances in scale with realistic representation. The photographs of Frederick Sommer and Clarence John Laughlin add to a diverse selection of Surrealist photography. Their work demonstrates the variety of photographic techniques employed by the Surrealists, including experimental processes such as solarization, unconventional choice of subjects and the use of distorting mirrors in the creation of staged tableaux. Short films by Joseph Cornell, Man Ray and Maya Deren show how artists used camera angles and cuts between shots to express surreal ideas through images of the real world.
Sigmund Freud’s pioneering theories about the psyche and the unconscious mind were seminal to Surrealist ideas. In a 1919 essay Freud posited that the uncanny occurs when “the distinction between the imagination and reality is effaced,” a fitting description of much of the work in the exhibition.
Real/Surreal, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, complements the collection of the Akron Art Museum, which includes works by many of the artists in this exhibition as part of its mission to collect and display art created from 1850 to the present.
This exhibition was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
The Akron presentation has been made possible by major grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Henry Luce Foundation with additional support from The Lehner Family Foundation, Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation,Corbin Foundation, Ohio Arts Council and Harris ∙ Stanton Gallery.
Friday, July 19, 2013 • 6-8 pm
Members FREE, Nonmembers $15. Register online.
Meet friends and other art enthusiasts at this preview event featuring fabulous art, good company, tasty refreshments, cash bar and local music.
Dialogue with Real/Surreal Curator • 6:15 pm
Whitney Curator Carter Foster examines the fine line between dreams and reality in Real/Surreal with Akron Art Museum Chief Curator Janice Driesbach.
Thursdays, 7:30-8 pm • Free
During Downtown@Dusk band breaks, these lively chats, featuring museum staff and local art professionals in the museum’s auditorium, add enlightening and entertaining perspective to current museum topics.
July 25 • Surrealism and Music, Jacob Trombetta, local musician
August 8 • Women of Surrealism, Janice Driesbach, Chief Curator
ArtTalks@Dusk are made possible by a gift from the Sam & Kathy Salem Philanthropic Fund of the Jewish Community Board of Akron.
Reading under the Roof Cloud Book Club
Thursday, August 22 • 6 pm
Free. Register online.
This book club installment will take on Aimee Bender’s novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose bites into her mother's homemade cake and discovers she can magically taste her mother’s emotions. Join museum staff for an engrossing discussion, a tour of Real/Surreal and a scrumptious slice of cake.
Real/Surreal Film Series
Immerse yourself in surreal celluloid, curated by Akron Film+Pixel, Fridays • 7 pm
Members $5, Nonmembers $7. Register online.
August 16 • First Run Feature: The Exquisite Corpse Project. The surrealist parlor game Exquisite Corpse hits the big screen in this contemporary crossover comedy. Director Ben Popik challenges five comedy writers to each write 15 pages of a movie, having read only the previous five pages. The final film combines the scripts created by the writers with documentary footage of the argument-provoking writing process.
September 20 • Documentary: Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters. Follow the acclaimed photographer as he creates his images through days of elaborate invention, design and set-up. The epic production of these movie-like images is both intensely personal and highly public. Crewdson’s photographs are generated by his deepest desires and memories coming to life on the streets and soundstages in Western Massachusetts towns.
October 18 • Classic: Spellbound. Psychologist Ingrid Bergman tries to solve a murder by unlocking the clues hidden in the mind of amnesiac suspect Gregory Peck. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic black and white thriller features a dream sequence designed by surrealist artist Salvador Dalí.
Art History 101
Thursday, September 19 • 6:30 pm
Free. Register online.
Go beyond Dalí and explore Surrealism with Kent State University art historian Albert Reischuck in this dynamic discussion that will survey the fantastical philosophy of this movement.