The National Black Arts Festival has come and gone, but the exhibitions mounted for the occasion are still with us. In a prior post, I talked about art on view that represented portraiture as a running theme and a strategy for exploring and asserting identity.
Music is such an important aspect of African-American identity that it’s no surprise how frequently it figures, as theme or reference, in visual art. Sue Ross’ photographs of entertainers performing on Atlanta stages (at Hammonds House) represent one end of the continuum. Jennie C. Jones’s conceptual drawings and soundworks and installations, at The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center through Sunday, represent the other.
Collage Jones, who situates her work at the intersection of two radical movements, modernism and jazz, belongs to the generation showcased in the High Museum’s exhibit “After 1968: Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy.”
Her installation, in which she distills the visual elements of Blue Note jazz albums into Ellsworth Kelly-like wall paintings, brings to mind Adam Pendleton, who similarly fused references to civil-rights politics and avant-garde art to create coded minimalist paintings.
If Jones’ installations are rather arid, her drawings are the soul of wit. (As is the self-portrait above.) Abstractions of Kelly’s abstractions, they feature quirkified Kelly-type shapes suspended like a Calder mobile from the top of the page. Their wiry lines double as microphone cords.
Her hand and imagery remind me of William Cordova’s drawings, shown at Saltworks, but in spirit she is more aligned with Nadine Robinson, whose “Coronation Theme: Organon” — a monumental assemblage of speakers emitting a melange of gospel music, speeches and ambient sounds — was in “After 1968.”
Both artists seek to make an authentic place for themselves within modernism, largely the domain of white males. In their hands, buzz words like “identity” and “gender” become personal again.