Atlanta’s central avenue of weirdness, Ponce de Leon is full of edgy characters and home to strange mish-mashed architecture and classic vernacular graphics like those seen in signage at the decaying Kodak store, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, the Eagle, and the exuberant neon shopping plaza at Highland Avenue. It’s an artsy street, one that I hope will never wholly accept gentrification. I suspect — like Little Five Points — this street will always bust through the veneer of whatever preppy commercialism threatens to dominate it. May its funky soul always haunt us.
The galleries that have recently aligned their image with Ponce de Leon have a serious reputation to uphold. Although I hate the cutesy “crush” portion of their name, the “Ponce” part of Ponce Crush is right on. It’s a terrific unifying identity. And I was pleasantly surprised by the state I found these galleries this past Saturday night.
I love that Kibbee Gallery keeps its context intact. It’s a suburban house directly behind Fellini’s Pizza complete with a front porch, a fireplace, and lots of tidy painted trim — not the typical white-walled gallery. Artworks look ironically at home installed here. The current exhibition is curiously titled Grok, a term coined by Robert A. Heinlein in his science fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. To grok means “to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed — to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.” Interesting idea, considering that all the works on display have great empathy with the organic. The curator, Teresa Bramlette Reeves isn’t an emerging talent, nor are two of the artists she presents. Among her many accomplishments in the arts, Bramlette Reeves was the gallery director and curator for the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center from 1996 to 2001. It’s impressive that she chooses to work with Kibbee, a gallery that first opened its doors in 2009. Miriam Karp’s sculptures read like miniaturized African artifacts, crafted out of found objects from nature. Hair made of moss, seed pod heads and bodies, metal trinkets weathered by the road—these are funny, intimate, quirky, quite pretty, and very reasonably priced.
Everyone knows you have to make it to Beep Beep Gallery early if you want to see the art before the crowd arrives. And so I did. An odd programming choice for the month of March, Greetings & Salutations is a preview of upcoming shows. Alex Kvares’s insanely detailed small drawing is a treat to look into. Since his last show, he’s taken color pencils to another level. The Day I Become a Man, a reproduced snapshot of sorts featuring a headless man with a group of campers, swirls with mandalas, and psychedelic camouflage patterns. This makes me excited to see his next body of work. In another petite work, the pink cubes of Brooklyn-based artist Matt Relkin caught my eye. His style is part Magritte, part Carlos Castaneda book cover. And I can’t forget to mention Allen Taylor’s kaleidoscope marker drawing, Shell Pike. I wonder if he’ll ever scale up the paper grids like Michael Scoggins?
The salon-style display at Young Blood Gallery’s Interbeast was a good visual ride: collaborative drawings on the backs of book covers, cute robots, lots of animal imagery, graffiti, and even a little porn. My favorites were the 5-x-7-inch photos in the black-and-gold frames that were unlabeled and not for sale. In one was the underside of a turtle, and goose eggs in the other.
Beep Beep and Young Blood seem like some distant relatives to Alleged Gallery, the venue featured prominently in the documentary Beautiful Losers that fostered a generation of American artists whose ethics were rooted in street art, comics, graphic design, bright colors, and cartoonish drawing styles. (Examples include Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, Barry McGee, and so on.) Let’s hope that, as more galleries and one-night events pop up along Ponce to join in this gallery association, the works become deeper and more diverse. Perhaps eventually this will become the new place for artists to take risks, and for experimentation in less commercial mediums such as projection, conceptual art, performance, and installation. As the shadow to the Westside Arts District, there’s a lot of potential in this position.
The Ponce Crush art walk returns on the first Saturday of each month (with exceptions around holidays). See the Ponce Crush website for specific dates.