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    Letter from Atlanta
by Cathy Byrd
 
     
 
Norman Rockwell
Rosie the Riveter
1943
 
The Marriage License
1955
 
The Discovery
1956
 
Check it out. New York may be galvanized by "Sensation," but the art energy in Atlanta comes from … a retrospective of a 20th-century magazine illustrator. Norman Rockwell is in town, and there's nothing we can do about it. His abundant flag-waving images line the walls of the High Museum of Art in "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People," Nov. 6, 1999-Jan. 20, 2000, and spread out from the museum into a hullabaloo of street banners, hotel promotions and national attention. In his catalogue essay, admiring cultural critic David Hickey -- who hails from Las Vegas -- hazards that Rockwell's first 40 years of glory were his best.

Best see for yourself, I say. Picture endless shiny faces and rosy cheeks, pigtails and baseball gloves, innocent kisses, sweet old grandmothers, brave soldiers and happy housewives. Imagine an overdose of stylized characters. Then admit to the 17th-century painting references, political and social subtext and skilled execution. Confess to remembering your first fistfight, your last Thanksgiving dinner and your mother, for gosh sakes. Alors, ça suffit?

Those who thrill to the cultural underbelly will find precious little in the Rockwell show, though there is one film noir vignette from a 1938 issue of American Magazine. Strictly a Sharpshooter looks like no other painting in the exhibition. Rockwell transforms a boxing match into a sensual sepia drama, complete with smoke-filled haze, rough-cut fans, stunned brutes and a pouting blonde.

Rockwell's illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post and Look are definitely different in their original full-scale form. You can see how the artist conjured a glowing light source in The Marriage License. Rosie the Riveter shows the marks of sanding tools and No Swimming might just witness to an experiment with Impressionist brush strokes. Did I say "enough," already?

     
 
Mark Bennett
Home of Mike & Carol Brady
1997
in "Architecture?" at Vaknin Schwartz
 
Architecture in Atlanta
Meanwhile, another slice of the Peach is preoccupied with the structure of our built environment. Over at Vaknin Schwartz gallery in the South Buckhead district, "Architecture?" is a solid curatorial achievement for owners Carolan Schwartz and Uri Vaknin. Sixteen artists whose work dates from the last 50 years make sport and psychology of houses and our relations to them. The most fun? Laurie Simmons' leggy Walking House and Los Angeles artist Mark Bennett's drawings of floor plans for the houses of sitcom and cartoon characters.

A couple of miles away, "From Our House to Your House" at the Nexus Contemporary Art Center Gallery offers a heaping platter of homespun Southern life style via works by almost 20 (mostly self-taught) artists. Beverly Buchanan, a native of Athens, Ga., does models and drawings of shacks like Monet did haystacks. And the Rhinestone Cowboy (a.k.a. Loy Allen Bowlin), who died last year, is represented by a piece of his living room wall that he had covered with intense patterns of tin foil, glitter and colored paper. These are just some of the vernacular esthetics served up in a show that focuses on cross-cultural forms.

     
 
Elizabeth Catlett
Seated Figure
1999
at Spelman College
 
Sally Mann
Untitled, Deep South #1
1998
at Jackson Fine Art
 
Roco Rodriguez
May 15, 1999
1999
at Fay Gold
 
Chris Verene
Holly Hollywood
1997
courtesy Vaknin Schwartz
 
Kojo Griffin
No. 45 Gathering Together; Line No. 6
1999
courtesy Vaknin Schwartz
 
Galleries around town
There are art views a bit more classic. Lovers of modernist sculpture would appreciate the Elizabeth Catlett retrospective at Spelman College gallery. The prima African American sculptor, now 80 years of age, makes strong feminist figures from onyx, marble, cedar and mahogany. The works in the show, which includes prints, were gleaned from Atlanta collections.

At Jackson Fine Art is "Mother Land and Deep South," a show of Virginia-based Sally Mann's new work -- sensual landscape photographs that delve into the sometimes Surreal beauty of the South. Notorious for pictures of her own kids caught in transit through life -- often beautifully naked -- Mann now has turned her camera on her home country. Tea-toned views of misty rivers, mossy trees and architectural ruins, these new pictures have the strength of Venus.

There's no shortage of shows by artists of more local renown, of course. At Fay Gold Gallery is a double show -- biomorphic abstractions by the Cuban-born painter Rocio Rodriguez and Matisse-inspired paintings by Bridget Dobson. Dobson is co-writer of the daytime drama Santa Barbara, and her faithful followers flooded to the opening.

At the Lowe Galleries are gigantic orifice prints that Jimmy O'Neal fills with semen-like silicon doodles. Jennifer Cawley counters his yawning abyss with the etched-out vessels in her waxy wall-sized paintings.

Whitney bound?
Local artists Kojo Griffin, Sara Hornbacher, Jim Waters, Annette Cone-Skelton, Radcliffe Bailey, Chris Verene, Pam Longobardi, Rocio Rodriguez, E.K. Huckaby, Mario Petrirena and Lisa Tuttle were among the local artists whose work was recently reviewed by curator Valerie Cassel for possible inclusion in the forthcoming Whitney Biennial 2000. The director of the visiting artists program for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago appeared in Atlanta for a two-day tour a few months ago.

This is big news in Atlanta, since the Biennial has always done more to describe New York and Los Angeles scenes than to present a cross-national view. Not since the late painter Ed Ross was included in the 1970s has the Peach been represented. So, here's hoping for a couple of Atlanta artists to rise up and shine for the South in 2000.

Radcliffe Bailey's new work is currently on view in New York at Jack Shainman Gallery, in a show that just opened. His solo exhibition, "Magic City: Radcliffe Bailey," is forthcoming at the Birmingham (Ala.) Museum, Mar. 5-May 21, 2000.

Chris Verene's quirky photos were featured in a solo at Vaknin Schwartz last year (see "Edgy Americana" in Artnet Magazine). His recent work, on view in "Vanitas: Reflections of Conceit & Desire" at the Agnes Scott College Dalton Galleries, feature the gothic beauty Holly Hollywood.

And work by Kojo Griffin, known locally for haunted paintings of anthropomorphic animals and patchwork characters like Winnie the Pooh gone dark, was recently seen in a solo show at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C.

CATHY BYRD is an independent critic and curator based in Atlanta.