Close Looking

Akron Art Museum
4 min readMar 27, 2020

Annie Wischmeyer, Curator of Collections

While the museum might feel far away right now, let’s take this opportunity to get close and take a look at the details of some favorite works. We will explore unique textures, unusual materials, hidden symbols, and surprising sources.

Radcliffe Bailey
JRed House, 1996
Mixed media and found objects on wood
Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of Bruce and Barbara Berger 2012.28

Objects and symbols coalesce in JRed House to tell a story with deeply personal roots that relates to the broader history of the African diaspora. In this exploration of history and memory, Radcliffe Bailey layers images and shapes. The composition is dominated by the red, black and green colors of the Pan-African flag and by an anvil, an emblem of strength identified with the African Methodist Episcopal church. Scattered across the painting are Adinkra symbols, such as the one pictured here. This particular one is hye won hye, which translates to “that which will not burn”. This symbol gets its meaning from traditional priests that were able to walk on fire without burning their feet, an inspiration to others to endure and overcome difficulties.

Julian Stanczak
Dual Glare, 1970
Acrylic on canvas
Museum acquisition fund 1970.48

Julian Stanczak was a pioneer in perceptual abstraction or Op art, a prominent style of the 1960s in which complex geometric patterns create illusory effects. The artist drew upon his understanding of how color is perceived to create dynamic abstract compositions. In Dual Glare, three saturated colors of equal intensity but different wavelengths — cadmium red, green and blue — preclude the eye from focusing on a single color. As a result, colors combine and appear to emit light. These effects are heightened by the symmetrical composition, groups of crisp vertical lines that become thinner as they move toward the center, and the artist’s flat application of paint.

El Anatsui
Dzesi II, 2006
Aluminum liquor bottle caps and copper wire
Purchased, by exchange, with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. Reed II 2006.25

El Anatsui is known worldwide for his shimmering wall hangings composed of discarded materials. Dzesi II is made from thousands of liquor bottle caps, which recall the alcohol brought by Europeans to trade for slaves and other commodities. To construct the work, Anatsui and his assistants flattened the caps and joined them with copper wire. As in Ghanaian kente cloth, narrow strips are made and assembled to form vast patterns.

Matthew Kolodziej
Good Neighbors, 2009
Acrylic and ink on canvas
Museum Acquisition Fund 2009.28

At a distance, Good Neighbors appears abstract, but closer inspection reveals references to the real world. The painting originated with photographs Kolodziej took of construction sites before digitally combining them into a collage, which he then translated into a linear drawing using a computer program. Using tubes designed for cake icing, Kolodziej then squeezed lines and layers of acrylic paint onto the canvas, creating a highly textured surface.

Frank Stella
Diepholz, 1981
Enamel, acrylic, oil and metal flakes on aluminum
Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Purchased, by exchange, with funds from the John Lyon Collyer Fund and the Charles E. and Mabel M. Ritchie Memorial Foundation 1981.16

This work is part of a large series of paintings and prints that Frank Stella named after international circuits for auto races — Diepholz is a German track. While the painting’s frenetic energy may parallel the drama of race car driving, it is not a depiction of a particular place or event. Its snaking curves derive instead from art tools — ornate drafting templates such as French curves (shown here) and ship curves used in nautical design.

Tadaaki Kuwayama
Untitled, 1961
Acrylic, pigment with silver leaf on Japanese paper mounted on linen
Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred E. Ordover 1970.13

Tadaaki Kuwayama was trained in the strict Japanese tradition of nihonga painting, which is characterized by delicate images of the natural world rendered with ink brushes using pigment, water and animal glue. Despite shifting to abstraction, Kuwayama maintained some of the material elements of his training in this body of work, wrapping his canvases in traditional nihonga paper. Here, the artist contrasts a deep, flat red with airy silver leaf applied to the surface in paper-thin sheets.

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.