Anderson Turner

There is too often a disconnect between what type of experience a museum would like you to have and the experience, you, the patron, actually have. There are many possible reasons for this:

• You have just walked into a museum and feel like you must be on your best behavior.

• The museum has strict rules, unfriendly staff and a quiet library-like atmosphere.

• The institution and the patron are both closed-minded.

• The museum or exhibit is designed badly.

• You are just plain unwilling to look at the world with fresh eyes.

I could keep going, but you get the idea.

Please Touch at the Akron Art Museum, featuring work by Jay Croft, Jordan Elise Perme, Christopher Lees, Erin Guido and John Paul Costello, is the type of show that seeks to break down some of these barriers.

The museum commissioned a group of regional artists whose art has a playful sensibility and, states Akron Art Museum Director of Education Alison Caplan, asked them to “create new work that would engage audiences of all ages in new and unique ways.”

The result is a colorful, playful yet still artistically meaningful romp into a creative world. Similar to opening the pages of a book or graphic novel and somehow being able to jump in, Please Touch has you laughing and thinking the moment you choose to engage with it.

Guido and Costello created several works using text you can manipulate in some fashion. Built like giant pieces of children’s furniture, these works are colorful, but also have meaningful words of encouragement that stick with you after you’ve walked away.

It’s Going To Be features rollers that spin, a piece of static text that is the same as the title, and then two lines of words that you can crank to say one of several encouraging phrases. It’s a friendly, touchable work and the crank on the side looks like part of a familiar toy, so you find yourself instinctively reaching out and grabbing it.

The husband-and-wife team of Perme and Lees create felt animal sculptures they call Horrible Adorables. For this exhibit, the sculptures are placed inside small plexi-covered dioramas with hinged covers. You walk along a large painted wall with these doors at various levels, and look in at the animals in what must be their native habitats. On the inside of each door is a phrase that references the animals featured.

It’s funny and fun to walk around opening each door and pondering each sculpture. Though these are one-of-a-kind “animals,” you find yourself instinctively relating to them on some base level.

Croft has created a series of large cutout images with magnetic elements you can manipulate and move around. From a large skateboarder to a family to colorful animals, each piece is inviting and asks you to consider it for a little while. The large cutout pieces and magnetic elements also don’t ask you to do too much: Engage, look and manipulate, but have fun. The overall aesthetic of the work is controlled by how the artist made and designed it, and that sets the viewer free to be able to just enjoy it.

Please Touch is ambitious and shows off some of the important qualities of the Akron Art Museum. Here, the museum has again gone to lengths to work with regional artists to create meaningful content for patrons to enjoy and ponder. It’s a multi-tiered approach to engaging with the community, through making and seeing.

This should be encouraged and applauded. Not every museum in the world sees the value in its community like the Akron Art Museum does. So put aside whatever preconceived notion about what a museum is and come see this exhibit. The museum and the spaces in it are well designed and inviting, the staff is friendly and you might just find yourself going on an expected adventure where you can manipulate and touch things you never thought you could.

Contact Anderson Turner at haturner3@gmail.com.