Ad firm-commissioned installation in downtown Akron explores shoppers’ dreams

Arts / Article

“Art should pervade” our world. That’s what Fred Bidwell, executive director of the advertising firm JWT Action, said during the installation of “The Shopper Dreams,” a work that he commissioned for his employees and the interested public.

Bidwell’s agency promotes marketable items and is meant to lure shoppers in. “Most people,” he said, begin shopping “with what they believe is rational behavior.” They make a mental or material list, and set off, sure that they will select the perfect product.

From that point on, all bets are off. Shoppers purchase by their feelings. I do. Give me rich color, a hint of quality and some notion that the purchase is good for the world, and I’m in.

Bidwell teamed up with Mark Soppeland, distinguished professor of art at The University of Akron, and collaborated for more than a year on the form for the installation. The result is a 30-by-12-foot red wall filled with collages designed by 150 former and current students from formal classes and workshops.

The artists were to “repurpose” already existing images and compile their takes on the common theme of the shopper and his/her dreams. Most began by using shopping lists — some quite old. One used a young person’s list of all the Harry Potter paraphernalia he wanted. Others were Christmas lists, grocery lists and the panoply of things that shoppers go hunting for.

Others had different ideas.

Soppeland had the artists use the technique of “hinterglasmalerei” (reverse painting on glass). In use for many 19th century advertising products, it incorporates typography, icons and symbols with foils, glitter and mirrors.

Soppeland also saw to framing all the works himself. They range from the simple to the ostentatious — adding both decorative and authoritative content to the individual pieces, making the eye rove not only over the work but emotionally being drawn from one piece to another.

With his wife, Bidwell heads the Fred and Laura Bidwell Foundation, which is vitally interested in contemporary art and new and emerging artists. With so many young contributors, this exhibit certainly fits the bill.

The family is equally interested in sharing the art they have collected — and in this case had made. The agency is open to the public for viewing this extraordinary collaborative piece.

“The Shopper Dreams” at  JWT Action, 388 S. Main St, Suite 410, Akron; 330-376-6148; Open to the public during regular business hours on weekdays.