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On the open road with ‘Bikeriders’ at Akron Art Museum

1/31/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Danny Lyon’s “Memorial Day run, Milwaukee” is on view at the Akron Art Museum in Danny Lyon: The Bikeriders.
Photo courtesy of the Akron Art Museum
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Akron Art Museum has an interesting and revealing photography exhibit called Danny Lyon: The Bikeriders, which will be on view through July 21.

Photographer Danny Lyon took his camera and an audio recorder on the open road when he joined up with members of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club in the 1960s. His idea was to make an accurate (albeit flattering) record of this particular subculture. Importantly, he meant to tell the world the group was not made up of a bunch of lawless renegades, but a society of people who pretty literally identified with their bikes and with others who felt the same way.

The “outlaw” in their name didn’t refer to a reckless regard for civil order. Instead, it really came from the riders not conforming to the rules and regulations of the American Motorcycle Association, an oversight group that ostensibly validated clubs and arranged and scheduled races and group rides.

From the 35 or so black-and-white photographs hanging in the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery, it’s easy to get the sense of what Lyon wanted to convey. Although dressed in full leathers, the individuals in the photographs were mainly hanging out together, doing their thing and seeing the country along the open road.

One thing a viewer might notice is the outlaws saw America through diners, rest areas and the two-lane highways that led through some pretty out-of-the-way places.

There’s one photograph called “Jack, Chicago” that shows a single biker from the back in a small 1950s-style diner (replete with swivel vinyl-covered stools, checkerboard tiles and lots of chrome).

In another, there’s a scene of three bikers called “Brucie at the Spotlight Café, Cicero, Illinois.” The bikers don’t look in the slightest to be intimidating or threatening, and certainly not by titling the work with the name “Brucie.” They seem to be more like locals at a nearby hangout, even though these young men are treating the stop as a rest along their route.

As scruffy as some of them look, the bikers also look decidedly nonradical, a notion that most people probably don’t associate with such groups.

The images that Lyon took ultimately ended up, according to the museum, in a groundbreaking book that was published in 1968. The publication of it in art terms represented an instance where the artist was part and parcel of the subject of his art — that is, Lyon was a club member focusing his art on the people with whom he associated. Career and recreation, art and society, philosophy and daily life — these things came together in Lyon’s documentary style.

The museum’s arrangement of the exhibit befits the whole notion. The layout is crisp and very formal, with the sharp black-and-white photos being displayed against a dark gray wall to let the clarity of the images shine through. The lucidity and transparency of the way the people in the photographs were depicted allowed Lyon to show them as they were and not how some might have thought about them.

Adult general admission is $7, student and senior (65 and older) general admission is $5 and children (17 and younger) and members are free. On the third Thursday of every month, individual admission to the collection is free. Special exhibitions may require paid admission.

Gallery hours are Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours until 9 p.m. on Thursdays.

For more information, visit www.AkronArtMuseum.org or call 330-376-9185

Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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