During the past few years, the birth of grassroots organizations, urban festivals, strategic philanthropy and the cross-pollination of art, dance and theater have enriched Atlanta. From my vantage point, 2013 was more about maturation than novelty, with two exceptions: this was quite a year for changings of the guards.
Perhaps musical chairs would be the better descriptor in some instances. Stephanie Cash, a former ArtsATL writer, took the editor’s post at Burnaway vacated by Rachel Reese, who left to become communications manager at the Contemporary. Teresa Bramlette Reeves, who had left the Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University in 2012, returned as chief curator. Laura Flusche moved up the ladder at MODA, from associate director to executive director.
Artist Justin Rabideau is the Zuckerman Museum’s new director. Christina Bray, an Atlanta artist, now runs the gallery at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. The only total newcomer is Victoria Camblin, late of London, who is artistic director and editor of Art Papers. New faces and new ideas augur interesting times ahead.
Several key positions remain empty. Susan Crawley resigned as the High Museum’s folk art curator in February; a High spokeswoman says there will be an announcement about that position in the coming month. No word on a replacement for Lily Siegel, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art, who departed in August. Finally, the hole left by the death of scholar / connoisseur / raconteur / mentor / public intellectual Richard Long is one that will likely never be filled. — CF
My most memorable art experiences of 2013 involved artworks that took on a completely new dimension once their context was understood in addition to the initial visual experience.
Mimi Hart Silver. The paintings I saw during the studio visit for my “30 Under 30” profile of this young artist — later exhibited in “Dead of Night” at Whitespace — were stunningly powerful without any prior knowledge of the narrative behind their dark, mysterious imagery. Learning the relationship between the paintings and the hunting and dressing of game by Silver’s brother added a biographical depth that shaded off into archetypes of Southern Gothic literature. The unrecognizability of much of the dramatically visceral action depicted lent a degree of shock to the process of realization.
“Repetition and Ritual: New Sculpture in Fiber” at the Hudgens Center for the Arts. The diverse types of fiber art delivered a major emotional impact before the knowledge of the works’ intent and use of materials added a theoretical dimension. The “intellectual metaphors” behind the use of shredded currency, dried pig intestines and many other unconventional weaving materials, as well as information about the distinctive qualities and accomplishments of the artists, completed the conceptual expansion of an experience of immediate aesthetic delight.
Michael Schultheis. The loosely gestural marks on atmospheric surface are immediately appealing, but the layers beneath the Cy Twombly-like paintings hold unexpected content: this former Microsoft software writer, as I learned in a conversation with the artist during his show at Pryor Fine Art, begins by covering the canvas with equations relating to an important mathematician (e.g., Archimedes), followed by geometric figures derived from the equations, followed by his gestural variations on the strict geometry. The end result leaves tiny fragments of each layer visible beneath the cloudy pigment that transforms into subjective response to the beauty of mathematics itself.
“Marco Polo: Man and Myth” at Fernbank Museum of Natural History. The exhibition includes somewhat perfunctorily labeled objects from the countries through which Marco Polo traveled. Among the most easily overlooked of these are small Song and Yuan Dynasty ceramics; even as exquisite as Song Dynasty ceramics so often are, these objects prove that there was no falling off in aesthetic quality when the Mongol conqueror Kublai Khan imposed the new Yuan dynasty, a dynasty that Marco Polo served for some two decades. Here, it was my prior interest in the sophisticated culture of the Song Dynasty, combined with how seldom we get to see Song ceramics in Atlanta, that gave this small encounter a special poignancy and power. The fact that the objects were loaned to the traveling exhibition by a museum in Rome associated with Giuseppe Tucci, a historian of Asian art and religion in whom I have a particular interest, was the final part of a particularly complex aesthetic experience that demonstrates the extent to which what we get out of the encounter with an art object is always mediated by what we bring to it from previous life events.
Jiha Moon’s ceramics at Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. A Working Artist Project fellowship afforded Moon the opportunity to experiment in clay. The delightfully unexpected vessels exhibited in her solo show attested to the ease with which her signature imagery and Asian/American fusion made the transition to a new material and a third dimension. Although these lumpen, bulbous works are distinctively Moon’s, they reflect not only the history of folk pottery and outsiders such as George Ohr, but also a coincident uptick in exhibits of unruly vessels/sculptures — for example, the knockout retrospective of the late Ken Price at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and Arlene Shechet’s misshapen sculptures at Sikkema Jenkins gallery.
“Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey” at Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, through March 9. The work of great artists rewards viewing no matter how familiar it may be. So it is with this exhibition. Bearden was a master of collage, color and narrative. These gifts came together in his rendition of Homer’s epic, which he remade in his people’s image. Paradoxically, in so doing he celebrated all that makes this foundational text resonant and universal. The way the Carlos has framed and expanded the exhibition heightens and deepens its impact. A complementary exhibition mines the rich vein of African American materials in the Emory library’s archives. Together with loans from the Hammonds House and Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries, the materials not only create a picture of Bearden and his milieu but also suggest his close connections with Atlanta, especially through his friendships with collector O. T. Hammonds, artists such as Hale Woodruff and, especially, Richard Long, to whom this exhibit is dedicated. Education director Elizabeth Hornor’s brilliant programming connects the exhibition to the museum’s collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, classic literature and African American culture through readings, lectures and gallery tours. One imaginative linking is a lecture by Isabel Wilkerson, whose book The Warmth of Other Suns explores the Great Migration, an odyssey from South to North that Bearden himself experienced.
“Hippodrome,“ a multimedia performance by gloATL, was a sensory overload (in a good sense) that conceptualized space analogous to my own rethinking of the space of writing: the new depth of the digital format, with hyperlinks that take the reader beyond my narrative in all directions. “Hippodrome” moved above and below the surface (the floor of Goodson Yard) and incorporated smells, taste and touch into the aural and visual experience. Gyun Hur’s work has intrigued me since her senior thesis show at Get This! gallery because it engages painting and sculpture but exists somewhere between them in a space that is both tangible and imaginary. I’ve watched Hur’s work develop, and seeing her allow the dancers, and the audience, to touch and interact with her materials (which I know was significant for her) was impressive.
“Drawing Inside the Perimeter” at High Museum of Art. The High Museum, which rarely showcases Atlanta’s local talent, presented this knockout drawing exhibition that boasted 56 works by 41 Atlanta artists, offering a remarkable account of the city’s often unseen artistic accomplishments. Spanning media, generations and a notable array of individual styles and voices, the works provided an unusual glimpse of the city’s current creative climate in one gigantic, spectacular exhibition. Thanks to the late Judith Alexander, who funded the exhibition, and Michael Rooks, the High’s curator of contemporary art who has proven himself a consistently committed advocate for local artists, this show was an undeniable landmark in the history of Atlanta’s art scene.
“Don’t Tell Anyone But . . .” at Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. A wildly expressive collection of fast and loose painting and oddball sculptural assemblage, Shara Hughes’ exhibition was a unique treat for anyone seduced by the delectability of paint. Fresh and honest, the work Hughes presented conveyed a reverence for her creative ancestors — Philip Guston, Picasso, Claes Oldenburg — while maintaining an individuality all her own. Her enigmatic sculptures ignited the gallery and brought her equally playful painting to life in unprecedented ways.
“1.2 cm=” at Whitespace Gallery. Whitespace Gallery consistently features some of Atlanta’s highest-quality exhibitions. Constance Thalken’s “1.2 cm=” was no exception. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Thalken utilized her photographic process as a means of reconciling and uncovering the various stages — both literal and psychological — of her treatment. This stark and penetrating photography exhibition proved both an artistic and personal triumph, and as is true with much of Thalken’s work, was palpable with an undercurrent of thoughtful self-awareness and unmistakable depth.
“Theories of Everything” at Barbara Archer Gallery. Dayna Thacker created profoundly beautiful collaged works of found book pages and original photographs overlaid with delicate tessellations of cut paper. Inspirations of sacred geometry, ancient Islamic patterns and modern string theory may have supported the work, but her efforts were pure poetry. Her titles alone — “Theory of the Weight of Snow,” “Theory of the Scent of Pine Needles,” “Theory of a Distant Echo” — could have stood as poetic works of art, but thankfully they didn’t have to. She created visual poems to remind us that everything in the universe is bound, as John Muir wrote, by “a thousand visible cords that cannot be broken,” and that beauty still matters.
“Don Cooper: Path Within” at Sandler Hudson Gallery. Atlanta artist Don Cooper mesmerized again with his meditative practice of circular paintings. He created liquid worlds of numinous beauty on nonabsorbent YUPO paper, evoking images normally seen only through the lens of a microscope or a telescope. Paintings that pulsated with energies of the objective world — both the infinitely large of the cosmos and the very small of the quantum — also conjured the calm, interior subjectivity of the mind’s eye. (Disclosure: Mintz is also represented by Sandler Hudson.)
“The Goldfinch” by Carel Fabritius at “Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis,” High Museum of Art. In contrast to the tabletop opulence and displays of wealth in many of the paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, this work of quiet beauty and symmetry served as a luminous reminder of all that is fragile and fleeting, and it did so quietly and unassumingly in the depiction of a tiny goldfinch peering down from its perch and tethered by a delicate metal ring to its slate blue feed box. From a distance, at once immanent and transcendent, the small painting promised something rare and drew us in. It rewarded a closer viewing with its veils of subtle color, the heavy impasto of the plaster wall behind the bird and the glint of pure gold on her wing. Ultimately it is we who are captive, in thrall to this ethereal life Fabritius captured 360 years ago. The painting is signed and dated to the last year of his life; he died at 32 in a gunpowder explosion that leveled his studio and much of Delft. One could almost believe that his soul stayed behind with that goldfinch.
“Girl with a Pearl Earring” at the High Museum of Art. Johannes Vermeer transformed a moment’s pause into a timeless vision of beauty, longing and light. Few could deny the wonder of this painting or Vermeer’s mastery of illusionism, but ultimately it is the enigmatic expression on the face of a young girl that captivates us. “Girl” retains her power to enchant by her very ineffability. Poised at a threshold she hasn’t yet crossed, she turns to look back. The object of her longing will forever be a mystery, but that’s okay. It is the feeling that profoundly touches us. We have all longed for something that we could not have. Vermeer’s girl is captured forever on this side of that door. Though her longing will remain unsullied by disappointment or consummation, we have the chance to leave her in the gallery and walk back into our lives. Perhaps Vermeer imagined us here returning her gaze, knowing that it just might be life she is longing for.