Year in review: Highlights from a rich and varied year in Art+Design

Joe Peragine: Sitting Ducks Diorama, 2015, mixed media and taxidermy diorama.
Joe Peragine: Sitting Ducks Diorama, 2015, mixed media and taxidermy diorama.
Artists are working to transform gritty South Broad Street into an arts district. (Photo by Allie Goolrick)
Artists are working to transform gritty South Broad Street into an arts district. (Photo by Allie Goolrick)

A December vantage point is a bit too early to qualify as hindsight, but 2015 might be remembered as a year of a humming art ecosystem. Younger artists’ grassroots initiatives, which started sprouting during the recession, continued to evolve, and, in the case of those in South Downtown, seem to be coalescing into something larger than individual efforts. Commercial galleries held steady after years of diminishing numbers. College and university galleries and museums, an important stratum here, contributed more than their share to the scene. Atlanta Contemporary dealt with leadership turnover but seems to have righted the ship; it made a big step to stop charging admission and saw its attendance rise dramatically.

Concomitantly, Atlanta enjoyed a spate of notable exhibitions. Our critics share their thoughts on memorable art of 2015.

Gordon Parks: Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama,1956, courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.
Gordon Parks: Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama, 1956, courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Gordon Parks. The photographer, who died in 2006, made great pictures whatever the subject matter, but he is revered for his journalism, which played an important role in foregrounding what it means to be black in America. Atlanta’s three-exhibition windfall in 2015 showed his range, depth and continuing relevance. The photographs at Arnika Dawson Gallery encompassed a variety of genres, from landscapes to his iconic American Gothic, the 1942 portrait of office-cleaner Ella Watson posing with mop and broom in front of the American flag. Champion, a group of images of Muhammad Ali notable for their intimacy and unscripted character, occupied the center of the ring. (Full Review) The High Museum and Jackson Fine Art showed photos taken for a 1956 Life magazine piece on African-Americans in the Jim Crow South. Many were unpublished (and undeveloped) until the Gordon Parks Foundation organized Segregation Story. Striking in their lush color, the series is both heartbreaking and heartening: While Parks brought home the harsh realities of his subjects’ circumscribed existence, he also conveyed their dignity and resilience. (Full Review) –Catherine Fox

The Unbearable Flatness of Being. The voluminous main gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia is a notoriously difficult space to fill. Sarah Emerson has conquered it with an 18-canvas cycle of paintings that incarnates our thrumming anxiety about the future of humankind and our planet. The imagery and formal language — lurid, paint-by-number colors, cartoony forms — are familiar, but the ambition of this project and her orchestration of those elements are of a different order. Emerson conceived the project as one continuous painting and deploys rhythmic repetition of shapes, diagonals and colors to unite the parts. She uses spatial manipulation and palette changes to convey the mood and drama of her scrolling narrative, a tale of destruction and regeneration, which, thanks to her dripping, splatting forms, comes with its own soundtrack. Emerson took full opportunity of her Working Artist Project grant to think big, challenge herself. Her command of her art and of the space is mighty impressive. Through February 6. Artist talk: 7 p.m. January 26. (Full Review) -CF

Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto: Susanna and the Elders, c. 1555-1556, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto: Susanna and the Elders, c. 1555-1556, oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Habsburg Gender, er, Splendor. The High Museum’s exhibition of objects from Vienna’s Imperial collections includes major paintings by Renaissance and Baroque luminaries. Lured by the likes of Titian, Tintoretto and Velasquez, I sped through the displays of armor and decorative arts to get to them. I encountered a hall of shame. Three rape scenes adorned one wall, all depicting Jupiter, the randy Greek god, who took the forms of a wood faun, gold coins and a cloud in order to “seduce” the pert-breasted naked women he desired. A peeping Tom hid in the bushes on the opposite wall, clothed (in contrast to the nude female) in the biblical story, Susannah and the Elders. In Tintoretto’s version of this oft-painted scene, our heroine, her legs conveniently splayed, is so intent on regarding her pillowy body and creamy flesh in a mirror that she doesn’t yet notice the dirty old man spying on her. Yes, these works are beautiful paintings, and the opportunity to enjoy them in Atlanta is a gift. Alas, seeing them in juxtaposition was less an aesthetic experience for me than, shall we say, an object lesson, almost comically so, in the reign of the “male gaze.”  (Full Review) –CF

Designers, Makers, Users: 3D Printing the Future. The Museum of Design Atlanta organized this exemplary exhibition, which surveys the power of 3-D printing (originally invented to make architectural models) to impact individuals, society and the future in profound ways, from making prosthetic limbs and human organs to constructing buildings in outer space as well as on earth. Though the potential economic and moral downsides –Will designers go the way of musicians and journalists when the people get home printers and can copy others’ work? — lurk at the edges, the show triumphantly demonstrates, as does the High’s Iris Van Herpen exhibit across the street, how creative designers can push technology in unexpected ways and that design is much, much more than a pretty face. Through January 10, 2016. (Full Review) –CF

Art beyond the box. While the works in most of Atlanta’s 2015 exhibitions stayed firmly within the box of traditional methods of artmaking, a few were not so much outside the box as operating as if there were none. Marcia Wood Gallery’s august geometryInvisible:VisAble at Abernathy Arts Center and Praxis at Agnes Scott College were notable among them. Three stand-outs follow. –Jerry Cullum

Kevin Hamilton: Day of the Rope (1991)
Kevin Hamilton: Day of the Rope (1991).

Endless Road: A Look at Nexus Press was Atlanta Contemporary’s survey of one of Atlanta’s most internationally respected ventures. Between 1976 and 2003, the press produced artist’s books in an astonishing variety of formats, by creators ranging from globally famous to almost unknown. (Frederic Bruly Bouabré’s stack of cards in a wooden box is only one example of books that don’t resemble traditional bound volumes.) Readily available titles were placed on shelves for perusal, and rare or fragile items were shown as videos of turning pages, presentations that allowed viewers to experience the entire book — itself a departure from traditional exhibition techniques, and one that overcame a longstanding limitation of book exhibitions. (Full Review) –JC

Causa Sui. Ann Stewart’s solo show at Whitespace gallery marked this Atlanta artist’s expansion of her complex geometric drawing from two-dimensional formats into three-dimensional forms. Created through a combination of computer-assisted design and 3-D printing, her sculptures, which echoed formal aspects of experimental architecture from early modernism to the present moment, effectively demonstrated that 3-D printing is a viable extension of vision for artists educated in traditional media. Stewart’s breakthrough exhibition was the first of several that demonstrated how digitally assisted creation of sculpture has moved an old art into a new era. (Full Review) –JC

Dresses by Iris van Herpen at the High Museum. (Photo by Mike Jensen)
Dresses by Iris van Herpen at the High Museum. (Photo by Mike Jensen)

Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion at the High Museum of Art was the first North American appearance of an oeuvre that occupies a conceptual space comfortably between fashion and sculpture — perhaps a hybrid genre of wearable sculpture. The Dutch designer’s collaboration with architects and materials scientists illustrates the possibilities that new technologies have opened for interdisciplinary discovery. Her incorporation of some of the resulting innovations into streetwear demonstrates that those transformative possibilities can extend to ready-to-wear as well as one-of-a-kind articles of clothing. In many ways, this exhibition completes the provocative expansion of imagination that the other 2015 exhibitions began. (Full review) –JC

The Fence, public art on the Atlanta BeltLine courtesy of Atlanta Celebrates Photography
The Fence, public art on the Atlanta BeltLine courtesy of Atlanta Celebrates Photography.

The Fence was the big event of Atlanta Celebrates Photography in 2014, and it came back this year as powerful and interesting as in the first edition. The 700-foot-long banner showcased the images of 40-plus photographers along the eastside trail of the Atlanta BeltLine. It was remarkable for not only its scale but also the quality of the curated work, which explored the essence of community across multiples narratives. Kudos to the team at ACP, which has been working relentlessly to bring Atlanta up to the international photography scene. –Virginie Kippelen

The letter G, from Debbie Fleming Cafferys' Alphabet
The letter G, from Debbie Fleming Cafferys’ Alphabet.

Alphabet by Debbie Fleming Caffery, Atlanta-based publishing company Fall Line Press’ newest release, is a little gem of ingenuity and beauty. It has the look and the feel of an art book with a luxurious cover and beautiful 26 black-and-white prints, but it was designed with children in mind. Taking the alphabet as the organizing principle, the book has a playful quality that makes it enticing for readers of all ages. (Full Review) –VK

Build a Fire, Pete Schulte’s solo show at Whitespace, demonstrated an uncanny predilection for harnessing chaos without subduing or sterilizing it. His suite of abstract minimalist drawings were as obsessive as they were reductive, revealing a dark tide of human affect despite their mathematical precision. Each finely rendered graphite drawing induced a handful of unwieldy negotiations for the viewer — absence versus presence, abstraction versus figuration, tumult versus control — producing a kind of existentialist’s resolve that was both contained and disturbed. (Full Review) –Faith McClure

Nick Cave: Up Right Atlanta.  (Photo by Thom Baker)
Nick Cave prepares for “Up Right” in Atlanta. (Photo by Thom Baker)

Nick Cave’s Up Right Atlanta. This contemplative work, brought to Atlanta by Flux Projects, required a shifting of gears for viewers who were expecting to be dazzled by Cave’s standard high-energy choreographies. While T. Lang’s dance performance at the start offered a bit of thatthe bulk of the piece required settling into slower rhythms. Steeped in a deeper call to social justice, the work asked the audience to carefully notice its individuals — a handful of young black men, each ritually reborn through deliberate and honorific adornment. Over the course of an hour, these men were transformed into larger-than-life deity-like versions of themselves, their inner power and probity made visually manifest through the magnitude of their stature. An essential message for our time, Up Right Atlanta offered an alternative and hopeful reality to the endless, demoralizing violence against young black men today. (Full Review) –FM

Alex Katz: January 3, 1993, oil on linen. 78 1/2 x 165 inches. (Photo by Todd White. © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)
Alex Katz: January 3, 1993, oil on linen. 78 1/2 x 165 inches. (Photo by Todd White. © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.)

Alex Katz, This is Now. Many viewers find the painting of iconic American artist Alex Katz is enigmatic. Why are his simplistic, flat paintings of art world bohemians and New England landscapes so revered? I enjoyed wrestling with this question while first touring through the High Museum’s monographic exhibition. While some paintings never revealed the hidden secret I hoped to find, several exuded an unexpected but undeniable presence. Katz’s recent Black Brook series, gigantic panoramas of dark, velvety riverbeds magnified to epic proportion, were overwhelming, as were his earlier figurative paintings such as Blue Umbrella #2 and Summer Picnic, for their deft color handling. In this case, it was rewarding to be challenged and surprised by difficult works of such art historical stature, and the community-wide dialogue the show ignited was invigorating. (Full Review) –FM

Moccasins, ca. 1870, Numunuu Comanche), Texas or Oklahoma, hide, glass beads, pigment.
Moccasins, ca. 1870, Numunuu Comanche), Texas or Oklahoma, hide, glass beads, pigment.

Indigenous Beauty: Masterworks of American Indian Art From the Diker Collection, the first major show of Native North American art at Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum, was a stunner of absolute beauty, indigenous or otherwise. Most of its 118 objects, representing two millennia of First Nations peoples across the North American continent and linked by the extraordinary connoisseurship of collectors Charles and Valerie Diker, were designed for a purpose — for the shamanistic, for clothing, for storage or conveyance, for hunting or ritual. Yet, their consummate artistry and iconography transcended utility and offered compelling evidence that beauty, indigenous or otherwise, matters. Through January 3. (Full Review) –Donna Mintz

Connections. Beauty mattered in Michael Murrell’s exhibition at Chastain Arts Center, a show of allusion-filled sculpture that elevated form, culture and idea to poetry. Disparate works, connected through symbol, material and Murrell’s singular ability to find the unique form in his material, reflected the Atlanta artist’s knowledge of the art and myths of African, Oceanic, Eastern and the same Native American (especially Inuit) cultures on view at the Carlos. The focal Skull Tower — a slender, conical floor-to-ceiling sculpture made from the skulls of two dozen species of animals collected by Murrell over 50 years of walking the woods — eloquently conveyed ideas of transience and transformation in a profound reincarnation of deer, raccoon, rabbit, turtle and bird. (Full Review) –DM

Sally Mann: Untitled from the “At Twelve” Series (Lithe and the Birthday Cake), 1983-1985. Image copyright of the artist and courtesy of Gagosian Gallery and Jackson Fine Art.
Sally Mann: Untitled from the “At Twelve” Series (Lithe and the Birthday Cake), 1983-1985. Image copyright of the artist and courtesy of Gagosian Gallery and Jackson Fine Art.

Stilling time. To create an end-of-year list is to add yet another annual ring of experience to our lives and to acknowledge the passing of time. Like the lyrical, spirit-imbued work in both Indigenous Beauty and Connections, so much of what stayed with me this year seemed to still time, isolating a singular moment and delivering it to the present, silencing the gulf between then and now. Photographs of children at play in the High Museum’s Helen Levitt: In the Street captured a transient moment in time, (1940s New York,) much like that of the girls, no longer young and poised on the edge of knowing, in a selection of Sally Mann’s 1988 series At Twelve at Jackson Fine Art. Eyes Open Slowly, a show of Constance Thalken’s gorgeous photographs of taxidermied animals at Whitespace, created, in death, a memorial to life, perfect stillness illuminating what once was. Joe Peragine’s luscious paintings of natural history dioramas at Marcia Wood Gallery achieved a similar effect, capturing the fleeting, ineffable nature of memory as the essence of the thing remembered. Curators Teresa Bramlette Reeves and Kirstie Tepper explored some of these same ideas in Forget Me Not at the Zuckerman Museum of Art. Emily Gomez’s photographs of once-sacred sites of Cherokee and Creek eroded by time and modern carelessness stunned in an intelligent show of ten women whose practices mirror the process of forgetting, erasure and decay. –DM

Joe Peragine: Sitting Ducks Diorama, 2015, mixed media and taxidermy diorama.
Joe Peragine: Sitting Ducks Diorama, 2015, mixed media and taxidermy diorama.

Joe Peragine, Love Me Til My Heart Stops. Displays of animals invariably reveal our own unacknowledged attitudes towards their nonhuman subjects. In this exhibition at Marcia Wood Gallery, Joe Peragine drew on his youthful memories of days spent at the American Museum of Natural History to uncover the sentimental fantasies lying behind these purportedly objective scientific presentations. Blurred, soft-edged paintings of kittens, bunnies and ducklings jostled with Peragine’s mock natural history dioramas containing his amateur attempts at taxidermy. The half-assembled animal bodies on display felt raw and awkward next to their cute but slightly indistinct counterparts, setting an emotional tone that wobbled from painful to playful. Peragine’s incisive institutional critique was saturated with a thick, faintly corrosive haze of longing for a more innocent, but perhaps unattainable, connection to the natural world. (Full Review) –Dan Weiskopf

Pratfall Tramps. Comedy and death are inseparable partners in this exhibition at Atlanta Contemporary. Taking inspiration from David Robbins’ theory of concrete comedy, as well as the life of Gilda Radner, Pratfall Tramps featured four women artists who draw on the genres of slapstick and standup, late-night and vaudeville. Theatricality was central to works such as Mary Reid Kelly’s witty but deadpan modernist sexual tragicomedy and Jamie Isenstein’s performance sculptures that played with absence and deferral, while Tammy Rae Carland’s photographs of precariously acrobatic objects and Sara Greenberger Rafferty’s prop-based visual puns exemplified what Zoe Beloff called “the laughter of things.” Pratfall Tramps was more cool, cerebral and “meta” than its name would suggest, and it never evoked guffaws. But laughter evaporated in a mere moment, while its pleasures lingered. (Full Review) –DW

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