Akron Beacon Journal Art Review: Curated Storefront creates dynamic gallery experience in old Quaker Square mall
Art Review: Curated Storefront creates dynamic gallery experience in old Quaker Square mall
Anderson Turner, Akron Beacon Journal
Launched in 2018, “FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art” is a free, public contemporary art exhibition comprised of artist commissions, performances, films and public programs across Northeast Ohio every three years.
This year’s edition of FRONT has the title “Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows,” taken from a Langston Hughes poem and has the overarching curatorial vision of embracing art as “an agent of transformation, a mode of healing, and a therapeutic process.”
Over 30 venues are participating throughout Northeast Ohio, five of which are in Akron.
Certainly, the theme of art as an agent of transformation can be felt in one of Front's featured locations in Akron at the former Quaker Square Inn, Restaurants and Shops. In partnership with Front and the University of Akron, the Akron arts organization Curated Storefront, which is best known for bringing art to underutilized buildings all over downtown, has taken over part of the building and turned it into four galleries with work by regional and international artists.
The first floor is hosting the FRONT International and presenting works by Chakaia Booker, Charmaine Spencer and Alyssa Taylor Wendt. Three galleries located on the second floor in the former shops and restaurant spaces feature works from the collections of Curated Storefront and Hieronymus Objects as well as regional artists, or artists with local ties, the biggest name being Peter Christian Johnson.
Walking through the repurposed spaces can at first feel a little daunting. However, if you engage your sense of adventure, you will not be disappointed by what you discover as you wander through the building, which looks great even though it is a little rough around the edges. The work chosen for inclusion in the galleries also enhances and is enhanced by the unique features of the building
In the FRONT section on the first floor the work Booker is extraordinarily engaging. Booker is best known for her work transforming old car tires into sculptures. The work is full of gestural marks and movement. It’s as if the artist found a way to harness all the energy used by the tire during its lifetime and then exploded that energy into a new form.
For example, “Splintered Reality,” which is a 2003 sculpture made of tires and wood, dominates the entryway into the gallery space. You can see jagged bits of tire tread as well as pieces that look like they were cut or are perhaps from a blowout. All the elements are arranged into what looks like some type of frozen tire firework on a stand. The black color of the tires helps enhance the sculpture by giving the work a presence that references the history of the original object while at the same time providing a color surface that pulls the light in and holds it.
On the second floor in the Curated Storefront section of the galleries, the work of Peter Christian Johnson feels like it’s at home. Johnson makes structural forms out of small porcelain scaffold-like elements. The work is often based off a historic building like a cathedral or even a bridge. Through the act of making something from tons of small porcelain parts and then firing the pieces as a constructed whole, the sculptures feature movement and bending like the effect gravity has on a building over time. Johnson will frequently place a large amount of a special glaze mixture on one end of the work, which then flows and melts throughout the sculptures structure. The cosmic erector set quality of these pieces fits this repurposed space so well it feels as though Johnson's pieces are having a conversation with the walls around them.
Some of the work from the collections of Curated Storefront and Hieronymus Objects is featured in the part of the building made up of old train cars. The display is innovative and fun, and you get to discover the work as you go through.
“Epic Pandemic Phoenix Too” is a 2020 ceramic sculpture made by Brooklyn-based artist Roxanne Jackson. The piece is made of three separate pieces that look like an undulating sea serpent. In this case the green body parts are adorned with extra eyes, golden horns, blinged-out scorpion’s tale, and a shark fin. The sculpture is placed inside an old passenger car, and you have to look through the windows to view it, which adds mystery to a work that already creates tons of questions on its own.
Curated Storefront has gone to an extreme effort to offer these galleries for viewing. The result is a dynamic and unique gallery experience that you need to see.
Anderson Turner is Director of the Kent State University School of Art Collection and Galleries. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.