Since the 1960s, artists throughout Northeast Ohio have experimented with geometric abstraction and Op Art. Many local contemporary artists continue to advance the genre in new and unexpected directions. NEO Geo, the latest exhibition at the Akron Art Museum, showcases the work of eight artists living and working in Northeast Ohio. Utilizing advanced color theory and a combination of pre-determined systems based on logic, mathematics and/or intuitive responses, geometric abstraction and Op Art create hard-edged, curvilinear and rectilinear forms and patterns, often inspired by science and math found in nature.
"Geometric abstraction pares art down to simple shapes, but these limits allow for an incredible amount of experimentation and innovation," explains Akron Art Museum associate curator and NEO Geo curator Theresa Bembnister. "The artists of NEO Geo expand the genre through their use of unexpected materials and processes or through their pursuit of new meaning."
The illusory patterning of simplified geometric forms, along with fascinating surface textures and sophisticated, complex color theories unify the drawings, paintings, prints, photos, sculpture, ceramics, textiles and site-specific installations throughout the show.
What all does that mean for what you'll see? "The exhibition features acrylic wall-hanging sculptures by Paul O'Keeffe, ceramic sculptures by Amy Sinbondit, jacquard tapestries by Janice Lessman-Moss, prints and drawings by Kristina Paabus, photographs by Michelle Marie Murphy, paintings by Gianna Commito, paintings and sculpture by Erik Neff and a site-specific installation by Natalie Lanese," explains Bembnister.
NEO Geo will be contextualized by works of local masters such as Craig Lucas and Julian Stanczak, on display in the nearby collection galleries. In the 1960s and '70s, painters and sculptors in Cleveland, Kent and Oberlin pioneered the geometric abstraction and Op Art movements. These artists were inspired by innovations in science, psychology and technology to create hard-edged forms with underlying geometric patterns. Though the genre is a global phenomenon, it has intimate early ties to Northeast Ohio.
"Some of these artists, such as Michelle Marie Murphy, are aware of and respond directly to this history," says Bembnister. "Others, such as Kristina Paabus, who moved to Oberlin last year, were working in the style before they lived in the region. It's important to mention that even though geometric abstraction is integral to the history of art in to Northeast Ohio, it's a style of art practiced by artists all over the world."
It sounds simple, but the baseline leads to myriad interpretations.
"When you walk through the galleries, you'll notice immediately that NEO Geo is incredibly diverse visually," Bembnister says. "Even though each artist is limiting their formal vocabulary to basic shapes and lines, there's a huge range in terms of colors, surface qualities, scale, pattern and spatial relationships. Many of the artists draw from the same sources of inspiration, such as architecture, urban planning or perceptual illusion, but there's diversity there too. Erik Neff's organic shapes and cast-off materials reveal his interest in nature and Michelle Marie Murphy's photographs of makeup palettes arranged to resemble Op Art paintings also function as a critique of consumer culture."
For NEO Geo, Bembnister and the museum wanted to showcase the breadth and range of the genre, the artists and their materials. "It was really important to me that the exhibition reflect the wide variety of media used by artists working in geometric abstraction today," Bembnister says. "Historically, the genre has been associated primarily with painting and, to some extent, printmaking and sculpture. Artists today incorporate not only a wide variety of media but also new technologies. Janice Lessman-Moss designs her tapestries with Photoshop and has them woven on an industrial loom in North Carolina. Kristina Paabus removes the blade from a digital plotter/vinyl cutter, replaces it with a marker, and digitally instructs the machine to draw on top of her prints. Natalie Lanese began the process of creating "Depthless Without You," her site-specific installation, by making small gouache drawings and collages, photographing them, and using an app called Layout to create new designs before projecting them on the walls of the gallery for tracing."
The Akron Art Museum hosts an opening reception for NEO Geo from 7:30 to 9 p.m. this Friday; a member's preview begins at 6:30 p.m. The free opening night party includes live music and activities in the museum's lobby, as well as opportunities to meet the artists. The exhibition remains on view through April 24, 2016.
Additionally, the museum hosts some related programming in 2016. Featured artists Erik Neff (Thursday, Feb. 25) and Paul O'Keeffe (Thursday, April 21) each will lead a gallery tour. At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 31, Gianna Commito, Erik Neff, Amy Sinbondit and Amy Yoes will participate in an artists dialogue.
Admission to the Akron Art Museum is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors over 65 and free for members and children under 17. Gallery admission is free every Thursday. Regular hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 p.m. on Thursdays); the museum is closed Mondays, Tuesdays and all major holidays.