There’s a “what’s going on here” display currently at the Akron Art Museum, a Knight Arts grantee. Titled “Robert Stivers: Veiled Image,” the exhibition presents about 40 of the museum’s large collection of Stivers’ photographs. The works defy easy explanation. But that’s not all. The physical display has an edge to it as well.
Robert Stivers was a professional dancer until a terrible accident left him unable to continue. Ultimately, photography became his artistic outlet.
His images are slightly out of focus, while the object being photographed seems to be caught in motion (maybe in tribute to his dance history). The results can be unsettling on one hand and fascinating on the other.
When walking through the gallery, you are struck by not being sure exactly what he photographed. Is it a real person or is it a statue that he makes look like a person? His “FIC-Baby” is a prime example; he makes a statue look real.
Much the same can be said for his “Woman in Water #2.” When looking at it, we wonder how he got that specific pose from this lady. Turns out, it’s an image taken from a painting.
Stivers also likes to use himself and his dancer friends in his works. His ethereal “Self Portrait Wrapped, from Series 5″ looks like he found a mummy somewhere and made it rise up.
Even exterior shots have an otherworldly pall to them. Buildings don’t look quite real, while the streaks and slices of light that emanate create an eeriness or image of crisis that is hard to explain.
To get viewers into the right frame of mind, the exhibit curator, Arnie Tunstall, threw out the usual concept of putting all the images at exactly the same level and with exactly the right amount of space between them. Instead he followed emotional suit from Stivers and let installers place the works kind of willy-nilly.
It works. The seeming disarray underlines Stivers’ technique and subjects, and allows the viewer to do something we all should do more often — stand, take it all in, and let the emotional content of the art have its way with us.
The images on the wall are numbered. In a corner of the gallery is a box with cards that are a key to the individual pieces. Viewers are free to use one while in the area. The cards help, but aren’t really necessary to have fun with the whole display by just looking at it.
“Robert Stivers: Veiled Image” will be on display through January 20, 2013 at the Akron Art Museum, One S. High St., Akron; 330-376-9185; www.akronartmuseum.org. The museum is open Wed.-Sun. from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., with the exception of Thursday, when it closes at 9 p.m. Admission is $7.