Jordans, Ants and Bullets, Oh My!
by Josy Jones
Not many people know this, but the Akron Art Museum tries to encourage get-togethers that correspond with the launch of new gallery exhibits. The party that accompanied the opening of “Alchemy: Transformations IN GOLD” was called “Time to Shine,” and the invite encouraged attendees to wear their best metallic pieces, drink, dance, walk the gold carpet and experience the amazing exhibit.
Like the dork that I am, I decided I wanted to channel Missy Elliott for the party. I went out, bought gold nail polish and lipgloss, found huge gold earrings, dusted off an obnoxiously gold vest I own for no reason, and made my way to the exhibit.
I wish I could say that the party waseverything that I’d hoped it would be and further peaked my excitement about the gallery as a whole, but I found myself disappointed.
Let me be clear: the museum did an awesome job. They took a chance and came up with an amazing, cool concept for the launch of an amazing, cool exhibit. They even had a gold woman on stilts!
However, Akron hadn’t stepped out of its comfort zone. No one danced, those with museum memberships kept themselves isolated from the rest of us, and the majority of attendees looked like they were dressed for a board meeting. I expected an escape from everyday life, and instead I felt like I wasn’t actually invited and was silly for having fun with the theme.
Despite my disappointment in the party itself, the staff was inviting and kind. I was also thrilled that families had brought their children to the museum. It always brings me joy to see families passing down appreciation of the arts—it keeps art alive.
“Alchemy” did not disappoint. The exhibit walks its audiences through our complex relationship with this precious metal through the eyes of each artist. Before you enter the first room, there is a definition of “Alchemy” on the wall. You are then greeted by artist Catherine Chalmers’ work featuring live ants “carrying botanic offerings to a large golden ant.” I stared at the ants longer than I think I’ve ever stared at ants. If nothing else, it forced me to stop and truly see them and not overlook them as if they are insignificant.
When I finally looked away, I saw the eyes of a beautiful, somber giant staring back at me. The emotion in her eyes slowly drew me closer to her, and I found that the beautiful golden pieces she’s wearing are bullets that are probably weighing her down. This piece is by Lalla Essaydi, and everything in it—from the henna penmanship to the woman looking directly into the camera—deviates from normal expectations for women in her home country, Morocco.
“Can we sit on this chair?”
My focus was momentarily interrupted. I glanced behind me to see a gold chaise lounge in the middle of the room. The lights of the gallery illuminated the beautiful, metallic material as if it was divine.
“Probably not, dude,” I thought. “You don’t think the artist made this so you can take a selfie in it, do you?” At least they weren’t taking themselves too seriously. I glanced over at the gallery handlers who watched the potential sitters closely. I laughed and made my way to room two, featuring an installation by Charles Lindsay.
The room was bright. Science bright. The type of bright where you expect to see labcoats, petri-dishes and hand sanitizer. I glanced first to the brightest object in the room: an illuminated glass case. On top of the case is a gold-plated hand underneath a glass dome. I wandered in, did a loop around the room, and found myself standing in front of a mountain of white, humvee replacement transfer case containers. “Please Stay” is bold on the side of a few. Like the ants, I spent a luxurious amount of time staring at the pieces in this exhibit. I also felt a moment of panic as I watched the clocks in the room count down, as if they wanted me to do something.
I slowly made my way to the last room, and something on the floor to my right caught my eye: a demolition hammer. This piece is by Los Carpinteros, Marco Castillo and Dagoberto Rodriguez. Don’t worry, the piece is always “unceremoniously presented on the floor.” Los Carpinteros’ work “questions the role of art in a world where many societies lack the basic materials to build comfortable homes, infrastructure and public spaces.” It made me stop and think back to the last room, making a connection between progress, privilege and destruction.
I finally turned to the center of the gallery and locked eyes with a single Jordan. Just one.
“Speaking of privilege,” I thought as I closed the space between me and the black and gold sneaker, well accented by the gold chains on the wall beyond it. These pieces by Luis Gispert embody hip-hop. The gold chains are pressed into “asphalt like canvases,” paying homage to gold’s evolution from Earth to a symbol of wealth.
Ultimately, I love the exhibit. It’s edgy, captivating and well-curated. I also love the fact that the museum is finding creative ways to extend their reach. Encourage everyone you know to keep the Akron Art Museum on their radar. It will help them serve more of Akron and continue to diversify. More people need to see the cool stuff that they’re doing, including their gallery openings. And remember, Akron, we are a cool city. Lighten up. It’s a party, not a funeral.
Visit Alchemy: Transformations IN GOLD through January 21, 2018
Keep up with the Akron Art Museum at www.akronartmuseum.org