After seeing many of Castleberry Hill’s galleries close between 2008 and 2009 due to the hard hits of this century’s first great economic recession, I couldn’t help but wonder how this will affect other small, unknown galleries that I love to attend in between big names like Whitespace, Solomon Projects, and Jackson Fine Art. Atlanta has a thriving art community that supports local arts with a strong arm and many opportunities to see works from artists of diverse backgrounds.
In today’s world we’ve learned that we don’t necessarily need a gallery to showcase art. There are the streets all around us and ways of getting online and setting up shop on a website. In due time, innovative ways of approaching and displaying art may be conquered by our national obsession to keep moving toward a digital-friendly age. This could possibly save small galleries and give them new ways of staying afloat alongside heavy competitors like Mason Murer Fine Art. But I find that, just for now, the art world is a little out of balance. Supporters are looking for new styles to discuss, curators are trying to deal with financial hardships, and artists are looking for innovative ways of continuing their practices.
Given the state of the art world, I hollered at Archetype Gallery owner Christopher Hutchinson to answer a few questions about his business, contemporary art, and what he thinks of the Atlanta art scene. Using his gallery as an example of the blood, sweat, and tears that owners put into giving art lovers challenging concepts every month, it is my hope that his business will have the chance to flourish during these financially difficult times. Our constantly changing cultural scene will dictate his future, as he will have to prove his resiliency in Atlanta’s arts community.
Hutchinson graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta with a MFA in painting and held his thesis exhibition in his own gallery. Archetype opened their doors in 2007 as a joint partnership between Hutchinson and Kathleen Flowers at the Mattress Factory Lofts. The mission statement from the gallery’s website states, “The gallery is interested in creating a space where there is room to include the ‘other’ as an equal and ideal aesthetic more than capable of contributing to an avant-garde art dialogue.” Since then, they have hosted numerous solo and group exhibitions. In 2010, Archetype moved to Studioplex and began participating in the monthly art stroll there.
“After attending a visiting artist lecture in 2009 at SCAD-Atlanta from Suzanne Martineau who helped start threewalls, we, my former partner Kathleen Flowers and I, decided to mold Archetype after the threewalls prototype,” said Hutchinson. “Archetype was opened to encourage artists that have challenging concepts, processes, and purpose regardless of commercial success.”
threewalls is a nonprofit organization out of Chicago that focuses on “cultivating contemporary art practice and discourse” according to their website. threewalls is also geared toward making Chicago a stronger cultural capital by inviting emerging artists to experience the rich history of the city while participating in their exhibitions.
However, Hutchinson has something different in mind when approaching which artists he would like to see in his gallery. “Artists often find themselves editing their work to fit an aesthetic to be included in a gallery/institution,” he said. “The editing/polishing process often dilutes the original intent of the artist. Archetype wants to see that artists’ vision realized without the concerns of achievability; if it is ephemeral then let it be. Words like ‘archival’ and ‘permanence’ have a dominant effect on the hand of the artist that it should not.”
When asked about what it really takes to pull together an operating gallery, Hutchinson gave many thank-yous to those that have helped him. This let me know that one person obviously can’t do it all. When asked what he needed to continue operating Archetype, he gave me a longer list that illustrated plans for continued developments to his gallery.
“I need to challenge myself more,” Hutchinson said. “I need more out-of-state artists, international artists, world artists, and multiple definitions of aesthetics, modern art, and contemporary art that does not only originate with Duchamp. “
And I agree with him. Not all contemporary artworks stem from classic Western art history. For those that may misunderstand what he means, what he means is this: Many people of color do not produce works based upon what is taught to them in traditional art school settings or what is readily available to them as art history in mainstream book stores. People within the art community tend to either be aware of “otherness” and pass over it, or they are just unaware all together.
“Curators are in the unique position to highlight artists,” Hutchinson continued. “I believe that curators should use their education as a reason to include artists, not exclude them. Education should leave you equipped to create a new landscape, not repeat what has already been written.”
Maybe that is what we’re missing in Atlanta’s art scene. I’ve been waiting on Atlanta to show me something exciting, but I’ve been disappointed recently, especially with what I’ve seen at Le Flash and various shows throughout Atlanta Celebrates Photography. There aren’t many challenging works on display currently.
The previous solo exhibition at Archetype Gallery was from a brother named Masud Olufani aka MAO. His sculptural installations and paintings attempt to bridge the generational gaps between his African ancestry, its diasporic history, and the influences of American identity. The combination of nostalgia for black, rural Southern culture and MAO’s curiosity for his family history made powerful connections. It was intense for someone like me to take in, because, when it comes to artists of color, and specifically African-American artists, I want to know how they plan to bridge our growing generational gap. Or are they going to continue to produce works stemming from racial victimology?
Hutchinson believes in giving emerging artists, like MAO, a space to display critical works to challenge his gallery followers. The works can range from people that are amateurs new to the art experience to people that have a professional record. When I attend his group exhibitions I often find one to two artists that I can tell would have a great transition into Atlanta’s mainstream art community.
“In MAO’s work lies the key to post-colonial/post-black thought,” Hutchinson explains. “Artists that usually have these labels use colonial understanding and try to reverse it by changing the scene and keeping the European meaning of slavery and blackness intact. These works actually keep colonialism alive. MAO simply shows, ‘This is my family of whom I am so very proud.’”
“I asked MAO to exhibit at Archetype because I believe his work needs to be seen,” he continued. “His works deal with uncomfortable subject matter with grace. A reverence occurs when viewing his work. Thelma Golden and the Studio Museum in Harlem have done an outstanding job promoting these terms in this dialogue but before skipping to global art I think we should follow MAO in reverence.”
One of Hutchinson’s goals with Archetype is to produce a magazine devoted to art praxis and theory. By February he wishes to release his first online edition, and by August we should see a release of the magazine in print. “It will be an attempt to answer the significance of the success of artists like Kerry James Marshall and … bring that discussion to the forefront,” said Hutchinson. “Contemporary art theory and criticism will be applied to art reviews, but it will not be limited by that alone. Writers will be responsible for the subject matter they choose but no subject or art will be excluded.”
Staying fresh and relevant can be difficult during hard times. Archetype seems to have full-blown faith in the artistic integrity of the gallery. Hutchinson would eventually like to spread out and begin cultivating relationships with more national and international artists as well as find more everyday help around the shop.
“We are looking into becoming a nonprofit, but that process takes time,” he said. “We need everything form gallery sitters to sponsors, caterers, and funding from the Warhol Foundation and Artadia …. We have begun the process of writing proposals for residency programs that would bring international artists to Atlanta. …. I hope that all may participate in the dialogue.”
Archetype could possibly become a powerhouse in Atlanta’s arts identity. Small, local galleries help define the cultural demographics of this city and are important because they are willing to take risks. I’m bored with shiny and safe. Excite me, Atlanta!