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|Letter from Atlanta
by Cathy Byrd
|These days, the Atlanta art scene is HOT. There's dish, and lots of it.
While most of the south chills out in subzero temperatures maintained by excessive air conditioning, some Atlanta galleries intentionally break a sweat. Jackson Fine Art definitely knows how to make relentless heat feel sexy. Last year, the gallery's August photo show was titled "Humidity." This time, the gallery plunged even deeper into the seductive imaginary with "It Was So Hot, We Had to Take Our Clothes Off."
One artist in the show is Tova Baruch, whose irresistible "Coney Island" series features color-drenched close-ups of real women. The women, aged 5 to 75, were stand outs on the midway -- looking hot and sticky and showing their grrrrl power.
Across town, Young Blood Gallery, an emerging local artist venue in a former TV repair shop, staged a July solo for Lorraine Brennan's "Hot and Sticky" paintings and monoprints. She often paints her photo-based, summertime images -- a squatting girl, boys in cars, a girl on a couch -- on the porch of her frame house in East Atlanta.
With all this heat, we're thankful for the cool water everywhere in "Between Space and Time: Contemporary Norwegian Sculpture and Installation" at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, a show curated by the center's former director, Louise Shaw. The Nordic esthetic is especially welcome, considering the drought we're having.
Bård Breivik writes familiar poetry with 25 20-inch canoe shapes mounted along one wall. Bente Stokke shows a water-filled video of a ferryboat crossing. She also presents an installation of photographs and drawings to document her ongoing series, "The Ship." In fact, four of the six artists in the exhibition work with literal references to water and boats. The other two use materials that boats are made of; their silvery surfaces allude to modern seafaring vessels.
The Black Art Fest
Also this summer: Despite a tight budget, the National Black Arts Festival managed to take over the city for the first week of August. All summer long there's been a river of black art running through the city. More than 30 visual art exhibitions are presenting abstract and figurative works by artists from the 19th century to the here and now. What becomes clear is the fact that contemporary black art-makers are defining their place in a broad sociocultural picture.
In his major new installation at the Atlanta College of Art Gallery, titled Spiritual Migration, Radcliffe Bailey assembled objects (like tobacco leaves, cotton and scarab beetles), images (large scale vintage photos of tobacco fields, wide rivers, blacks traveling and working on trains) and sounds (ocean surf, crickets, trains) to create a multi-sensory ambience. His abstract historical narrative traces African American memories. Bailey's newest work, The Magic City, is headed for the Birmingham Art Museum this fall.
The High Museum of Art shows the "Narratives of African American Art & Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection," an impressive array of black art. His acquisitions span two centuries -- from the earliest paintings of Robert Scott Duncanson, Edward Mitchell Bannister and Henry O. Tanner (dating from the 1800s) to recent works like Budo, a 1993 Asian-inspired sculpture by Terry Adkins.
The High and Clark Atlanta University are venues for "To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges." An exhibition of folk and fine art from six U.S. college collections, "Legacy" is an opportunity to see work by Romare Bearden, John Biggers, Joseph Albers, Georgia O'Keeffe, Elizabeth Catlett, Roy DeCarava, Alfred Steiglitz, Jacob Lawrence and others. The Wiliamstown Art Conservation Center played a pivotal role in the curatorial process by resuscitating a number of important works that had been damaged by years of storage.
City Gallery East put together a group show titled "African American Abstraction" that mixes national and local artists. Frank Bowling, Mildred Thompson, Joe Overstreet, Vandorn Hinnant, Freddie Styles, Jerald Ieans, Lance Lamont, Attiya Melton and Michael Scoffield explore nonobjective space in paintings and sculpture. The most exuberant work is Atlanta-based Thompson's Music of the Spheres, a trio of enormous three-panel paintings from 1996. She depicts the properties of physics in great bursts and streaks of red, yellow and orange.
Curated by Jo Anna Isaak of Hobard and William Smith Colleges, "Looking Forward/Looking Black" has traveled to Atlanta's University of Georgia gallery. Artists including Emma Amos, Robert Colescott, Lyle Ashton Harris, Alison Saar and Kara Walker look at the portrayal of the black body over the past 200 years. In one of the best photoworks, artist Renée Cox becomes Wonderwoman to liberate Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben from their pancake mix and rice boxes.
A collective of black artists have put together "Multiple Points of Departure" at the City Gallery at Chastain. Centering on the African American experience, their work reveals influences from Africa, the Caribbean and urban America. Atlanta artist Kevin Sipp, for example, creates a spiritual shrine that fuses hip-hop, Eastern religion and traditional African icons. His wall-mounted piece, titled I & I Ching/Tuff Gong centers a human-sized circle of pennies with a gong, an embellished turntable and a handfan.
Ted Turner's America
Meanwhile, back at the High, the museum has put a group of western pictures owned by Ted Turner on display. "Visions of the Frontier: American Landscapes from the Collection of Ted Turner" features mostly vistas by 19th-century landscape painters Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, who painted scenes that are now protected by the National Parks. The 13 Bierstadt paintings include Buffalo on the Montana Plains, Liberty Cap, Yosemite and Niagara Falls from the American Side. Moran's work is seen in Grand Canyon - Hance Trail and Grand Canyon.
This October, photographer Chris Verene, who's known for his "Self Esteem Salon" as well as on-scene photos of amateur nudie photogs, looks forward to two New York shows, an Atlanta exhibition at Vaknin Schwartz AND a book signing. The same month, Robin Bernat's work ("effortless") will be on view at the Cheekwood Museum of Art in Nashville. Bernat is working on American Pastoral, a new installation project involving 10 video monitors. Venue TBA. Part One: Tender Buttons is currently on view at Fay Gold Gallery in Atlanta.
The biggest news may be that filmmaker Ruth Leitman's Alma is going to open theatrically in New York at Anthology Film Archives on Sept. 22. Leitman says she's finishing up a documentary for the Sundance Film Festival. Produced locally with Atlanta filmmaker James Jernigan, Welcome to Anatevka tells the story of a group of developmentally disabled adults who produce Fiddler on the Roof. Leitman is deep into her first fictional screenplay for a feature length film, a dark comedy based on a true story that took place in a small Pennsylvania town.
As to our art scene's fearless leaders: former deputy director of the High Michael Shapiro is now the director. The High just appointed Hudson River Museum director Phillip Verre to be Shapiro's first mate (deputy director). Veronica Njoku was recently named director of the Fulton Arts Council. The jury's still out on a new chief for the Georgia Council for the Arts. The name of Adrian King (Coca-Cola Foundation) has come up as the possible replacement for Harriet Sanford, who now directs the Charlotte Arts and Science Council in North Carolina.
Linh Ho-Carter is the new curator for City Gallery at Chastain. Her first show solos Deborah Aschheim, who translates microscopic ideas into blown-up biological constructions of wood, silk, shellac and baby bottle nipples. Atlanta-based critic and curator Rebecca Dimling Cochran is interim director of the Atlanta College of Art Gallery during a national search to fill the shoes of erstwhile director Chris Scoates. Cochran facilitated Bailey's "Spiritual Migration" and is organizing area artists to realize Hans Ulrich Obrist's ubiquitous concept show "Do It" this October.
More hot happenings: Our most popular alternative space, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, is gearing up for "Paradise," the annual ArtParty on Sept. 9. This year, REM's Michael Stipe is honorary chair for a bash that always offers a heady cocktail of art, music, fashion and performance. The party opens an exhibition by Russian artist Ilya Kabakov. Kabakov's installation, The Boat of My Life, represents his flight from Russia at the age of nine and his eventual emigration to the U.S. in 1988.
The Metropolitan Public Art Coalition, a new collective of public art advocates, is scheduling fall city site tours. The grass roots aficionados intend to develop an extensive network of community support for public art. In the works: a newsletter, a listserve and an easy-access inventory, new temporary siteworks and seminars on maintenance and preservation..
"Atlanta Celebrates Photography" in city-wide October exhibitions, a month-long fête that includes lectures by Jerry Uelsmann and Duane Michals. "The Future of Now," curated by Atlanta artist Peter Pachano at the City Gallery East and including works by Dan Walsh and Ruth Dusseault, is one of the group shows exposing the changing face of photography in contemporary art.
In November, the High pops the cork on the first ever exhibition of Elton John's extravagant photography collection. "Chorus of Light: Photographs from the Sir Elton John Collection" includes 500 photos (culled from well over a thousand that he owns), most from his fabulous 18,000 square foot Park Place apartment here in Buckhead. With the help of Atlanta dealer Jane Jackson (Jackson Fine Art), Sir Elton acquired the likes of Berenice Abbott, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Lewis Hine, André Kertész, Danny Lyon, Tina Modotti, Paul Outerbridge, Norman Parkinson, Irving Penn, Man Ray, Sabastião Salgado, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and more, more, more.
Did I say HOT?
CATHY BYRD is a Atlanta-based critic and curator.