The Atlanta Contemporary’s large gallery is currently home to “Make Room,” three artists’ take on dwelling and space as a jumping off point for art. Of the three artists in the show, two were included in last year’s Whitney Biennial, and all are past the point of emerging, having found major gallery representation in New York or Los Angeles. Being an avid fan of art and structure of all kinds, and especially the mingling of the two, I had high hopes for the show. It took me a little while to figure out exactly why I am less than thrilled.
The installation by Amanda Ross-Ho is somewhat problematic for me. Untitled Gift and Home Showroom (Negative Reinforcement) is a display of “repurposed elements from former Ross-Ho presentations,” and that’s exactly what it feels like. The installation borrows from the language of painting and sculpture and plays with a relief style, on-the-wall/off-the-wall sense of space. There is a formal relationship between the objects, but they are for the most part laid next to one another, thwarting attempts to make easy visual connections past that of repetition. The accompanying statement reiterates the fact that the work “formally borrows from language systems and hieroglyphics”, which for me is the worst criticism of the work: With no Rosetta Stone to decipher content, are we to understand that the work approximates the look of something that communicates meaning? With few clues as to context, it reads as a characteristically self-referential jumble of syllables from the Ross-Ho universe, giving the viewer no quarter.
I fared little better with Karyn Olivier‘s Handball. Like much of Olivier’s work, this piece focuses on space, with nods toward twentieth century art history. The existing divider wall of the gallery is coated with a gray stucco-like material on both sides. The jagged color and texture of the wall is visually reminiscent of Clyfford Still, and one side has two lines that conjure up associations with Barnett Newman’s zip paintings. The provided statement reads: “Olivier focuses on the monumentality and proportions of the wall and its condition of dormancy in the absence of players and a ball.” I can’t help but agree that dormancy and absence are the largest part of the work, but I’m not so sure that these traits couldn’t be just as easily felt without the minimal addition of the texture, which at my time of viewing was cracked and peeling off in the back to expose the pink substructure of the work. If the stated goals of the piece can be felt in the space before the addition of the work, I have trouble seeing the merits of the work itself.
While I have to admit that I missed the artist talk earlier this month, I would have loved to hear it. I’d also like to think that additional education past my ten years of art school wouldn’t be absolutely necessary in order to not find these work and statement combinations so problematic. If a work offers intentionally little in the way of visual pleasure, there is a reasonable expectation that it is rich conceptually. And just as art that is too didactic can close off all interpretation, art that is too opaque or too ambiguous runs the risk of the viewer deciding that there is actually nothing there.
Lisa Sigal‘s work is much more engaging than the others, due in part to the substantial connection to both the exhibition space and the community that Sigal brings to the work. Truly site-dependent and community focused, her work takes as its starting point a work from the last show in the gallery space, “Mergers and Acquisitions”—the collaboration between BLDGS/Brian Bell and David Yocum that cuts into and through the wall of the gallery to form a physical line drawing of the terrain outside.
Sigal’s piece uses remnants of the previous work to create a new one in collaboration with the Mad Housers, an Atlanta based collective that provides extremely low cost dwellings for homeless individuals. The Mad Housers’ goal is an admirable one: building single occupancy dwellings that provide a heat source and a dry place to sleep, generally for indigent squatters who have established the long-term viability of their location. The piece entitled, One rm shelter, new const, loft storage, woodbrnstove, cozy, must provide lot, call Mad Housers (404) 806-6233, will be assembled and donated to a deserving individual. This is meaningful art to me on a few different levels—it addresses both the recent history of the location (the gallery) and the culture of the host city, while addressing the problems of and physically benefiting the community at large. It is both public and private, and expands upon the artist’s content while remaining true to format and style.
No art has all the answers. Everything has, at best, pieces of information—pieces of truth, or of that fertile ground between truth and imagination. The relevance of that information, and the importance of that truth—these are the things that make a particular work resonate with the audience in a significant way. While the work in “Make Room” is in part dormant, absent, and self-referential, this is apparently in keeping with Ross-Ho and Olivier’s intentions. The work of Lisa Sigal, on the other hand, is the other side of the coin, rich and full of intention.
“Make Room” is on view at The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center until March 29th.