Fresh: 18th Annual Juried Exhibition at Summit ArtSpace
Being a recent transplant from Greater Cleveland to the Akron area, I was unfamiliar with most of the artists in Summit Artspace’s annual FRESH exhibition. Now in its 18th year, the juried show is open only to artists in Summit, Medina, and Portage counties. This year’s iteration presents 31 works selected from a total of 155 entries by Jared Ledesma, who joined the Akron Art Museum last July as senior curator.
The “fresh” title could be tough to live up to—perhaps a bit aspirational—was my initial thought when embarking on this assignment. The show’s ongoing mission to challenge artists to “use innovative materials and concepts” would account for the generous number of assemblage and textile works chosen.
The textiles in the show impart a decidedly feminist vibe, and first-place honors went to Katie Mongoven’s large, mandala-like embroidery, I Know Why My Favorite Color is Orange, made of hand-dyed cotton. The lenticular quality of her work—subtle gradations in contrast that shift as one changes position—can only be appreciated in person. An honorable mention went to Samantha Taifi’s It’s Complicated, in which the artist has cast Kozo fiber, traditionally used for making paper and textiles, into an arresting sculptural form: the tumbling, upside-down, lower half of a woman spreading her legs to reveal a shaggy opening. Other textile works include Joanna Mack’s quilt Full Sail, and Muriel Tillman’s Fractured, Sometimes Broken, which got an honorable mention.
An assemblage of found objects, incorporating multicolored spools of thread and other sewing notions, reminds us of the sacrifices women often make for their families. In Mama Took in Piecework to Support Us Kids, Elizabeth Prindle juxtaposes old photos of drab, hard-looking women—those who may have plied needle and thread to survive—and a colorful depiction of sewing as a leisure activity. Prindle’s talismanic piece is displayed alongside another assemblage, Louis Camerato’s Empty Houses. In this work we peer through a weathered window frame into a home’s interior, painted in a style reminiscent of outsider art. Free writing on the wood below speaks to how a house becomes a home, yet retains the marks of previous owners. Empty Houses received an honorable mention, though Prindle’s assemblage resonated much more strongly with me.
When selecting works for FRESH, wrote guest curator Jared Ledesma, “I paid close attention to objects that are difficult to classify into one distinct category, or objects whose materials or subject matter made me laugh, or works whose imagery might even seem grotesque.” One such work is Tongues, an oil painting by Madison McSweeney, that received the show’s third-place award. Installed next to Tongues is another oil painting, Carol Klingel’s Losing My Bite, a cartoony depiction of what is, for me, a recurrent nightmare.
Given the FRESH mission to showcase unusual materials, assemblage works abound here; some also check the box of being humorous or whimsical. In Ministry of Waste Disposal & Obsolete Armaments, Sub-Level D7 artist Andy Tubbesing has created a chaotic fantasy world—arranged inside the case for an early Apple computer—whose denizens threaten to disrupt the world above. In Carny Dreams, Luanne Bole-Becker combines found objects with her photographs of the Canfield and Cuyahoga County fairs to build an interactive carnival.
For the second-place award Ledesma chose the only work of jewelry submitted: Ellie Payne’s sterling silver ring titled Foundation of Stability. In a video interview with Ledesma, the curator says the ring’s support structure (its band) “becomes invisible” when it’s worn, prompting reflection on “our bodies and what supports us.” To me, this is a bit of artspeak and overthinking; no way would I get that by simply looking at the work (on a finger or not), but only from reading the description of the work, as provided by the artist and curator.
Ledesma has selected some more traditional works of painting, drawing, and photography. Catch a Dream, by Care Hanson, was painted using the artist’s non-dominant hand as she recovered from a wrist injury. Her palette is quite beautiful. A pair of acrylic paintings by Barbara Bergsten, from her Technicolor Recall series, have Day-Glo colors that evoke the more-vivid-than-life quality of long-ago beach memories. Also notable are two small pencil drawings by April Cameron from a series titled Destination Unknown. Though drawn completely from the artist’s imagination, they could depict cross sections of heart organs containing eggs, macaroni, or corded lengths of rope.
As a transplant “fresh” from the Cleveland area, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity and inventiveness of artists in Summit, Portage, and Medina counties on view in FRESH. It was also my first—and definitely not my last—visit to Summit Artspace, which is located in the repurposed industrial building formerly occupied by the Akron Beacon Journal, one block east of the Akron Art Museum. While you’re at Summit Artspace, you can explore four other exhibitions on view in the large industrial space. Admission is free.
Through March 26, 2022
140 E. Market St.
Akron, Ohio 44308
Fridays 12–7 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m.–5 p.m.