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Art review: Akron exhibit ‘Reflections on Perceptions’ shines with creativity

It’s difficult to truly understand where ideas originate.

Even well-documented moments in history like the invention of the telephone or the light bulb get rehashed and retold in new and different ways. We are often left wondering what spurred the ideas into reality and what helped to make the different mental connections.

The arts can help make connections and spur ideas, especially when you consider the unique ways in which the visual artists approach the making of their work.

“Reflections on Perceptions,” on view at the Akron Art Museum through Sept. 11, 2022, is an exhibit that “invites viewers to explore how artists use a variety of reflective surfaces, from placid lakes to windows, to create complex compositions.” This description does not do enough justice to the pieces included in this exhibit.

On display are variety of engaging works that tell intriguing and exciting stories. They often have complex origins full of research and innovation.

The museum has gone the extra length to create labels that help tell a more comprehensive story of the works. On each label is the typical information about the selected piece with its title, date and medium, but it also includes details about the composition, artist and process. Each part of the label is given its own subheading.

This may seem like a small addition, but when you are showing works that have involved processes and interesting artistic perspectives and motivations, the choice to create labels that are so informative helps make the experience of the viewer better and assists in setting this display apart.

The exhibit features 24 contemporary artists, including Dieter Appelt, Matt Bollinger, Linda Butler, Lois Conner, Danielle De Jesus, Walker Evans, Rebecca Ness, Aliza Nisenbaum, Frank Oriti, Penny Rakoff, Erin M. Riley, Alison Elizabeth Taylor and Billie Zangewa. Certainly, what stands out in this show is the quality of the photography in the museum’s collection and the choices of the curators to exhibit interesting and subtly compelling pieces from different collections around the country.

“Hot Shot Eastbound, Laeger, West Virginia”  is a 1956 gelatin silver print by the late artist O. Winston Link. This photograph depicts a drive-in movie scene with a couple sitting in a convertible. In the background is a movie projected on a big screen and a large steam train traveling from left to right. Link was known for his photographs of trains.

The work looks like a regular photograph, but this artist heavily manipulated his images. First, he would research train schedules to find the best moment to take a picture. Then he would set up elaborate lighting systems so he could get the best image during a nighttime shoot. The image on the movie screen would have been added during the printing process. 

This type of intense research and process helps reveal the innovation of an artist. Using the technology of the day in 1956, Link was able to create an image that, taken at face value, might tell a different story than what is happening in reality. Link’s photo also highlights the contrast of his “newer” photography technology and techniques with that of the dying technology of the steam train.

“Reflections in Seoul” is a 2020 weaving by Erin M. Riley. In this work, a nude figure is taking a selfie in what looks to be a hotel bathroom. A towel is flung over one shoulder and the cellphone taking the picture is held up by the opposite arm’s hand. Because of how the mirrors in the bathroom are oriented, multiple reflections of the central part of the image repeat along the edges of the composition.

Riley is known to create drawings of the weaving before beginning work on them. So it’s unclear if all the different emphasized elements are exactly what was photographed. Regardless, the mirror reflections and the cellphone camera helped the artist get to the main ideas being related. 

What’s exciting about Riley’s work is the intimate information of the subject matter and the painterly and expressive details of the artist’s hand. Even more astounding is that this is all created through weaving, which can take several weeks to finish. Creating the colors and detail requires a lot of skill to pull off.

While this isn’t the largest or most talked-about exhibit you will see in the Akron Art Museum this summer, it is full of pieces that are compelling and strong.

This is a show that will give you a keen understanding into the artistic processes. It may also help spur creative ideas and draw connections that could surprise and challenge your notion of what art is and can be.