Caves and crystals are in vogue; Lee Bul, Roger Hiorns, and even Atlanta’s Plastic Aztecs number among countless other artists—working in both high- and low-brow styles—that have joined the bandwagon. Why, in such a high-technology age, are we now so attracted to the mysterious mythology of unplugged darkness and geometric magic?
The Plastic Aztecs are a prolific artist collective that has produced three solo exhibitions in two short years throughout Atlanta’s low-brow gallery circuit, first at Eyedrum in 2008, then at MINT Gallery in 2009, and now in their show titled Grow, currently on view at Beep Beep Gallery. The current Aztecs roster includes Erin Basset, Becky Furey, Andrea Sanders, and Dorothy Stuck. Their work is fun, loose, and exudes a positive energy through a popular language of science-fiction environmentalism.
Though they call what they do installation, I’d say it’s more like an explosive, rambling collection of art objects creatively displayed in wonky salon-style arrangements. At this point in their early practice, it is acceptable to riff at this entry level of art-making for a while. There’s certainly an audience who enjoys it, as demonstrated by the hordes of youth who flocked to Beep Beep on opening night to support the collective’s work.
However, I think the Plastic Aztecs have what it takes to graduate to a higher level of practice, beyond the expectations of the Aurora Coffees of the world and the wild drunken group shows that are often the standard for that scene. This doesn’t mean they have to start selling more expensive work or employ tighter craftsmanship, or otherwise act like business professionals. With the exception of the paintings (which remind me of dated folk art and emphasize a more cutsey aesthetic), I like the style in which they construct things, and I’m curious to know if they make each work as a group or as individuals.
So, with this in mind, here is my critique. As mentioned above, caves, crystals, skulls, and neon rainbows have been in wide popular use in art for almost a decade now. Anyone who attends Art Basel in Miami will concur. These visual tropes are so ubiquitous that perhaps it’s no longer important that they are unoriginal: In hindsight, they convey a stylized, collective message from a majority of Aughties artists that embraces a particular romanticism of an earth-centric, sparkling green future. This generation wanted to include hand drawn animals, spirits, and triangulation à la Chris Johanson. I’m all for that, especially at a time when the real world was so chaotic in terms of weather, terrorism, and politics. But I do think the best artists will find a way to communication this theme in a deeper, more specific expression.
Ironically for an exhibition titled Grow, I think the show at Beep Beep should be edited down to the smartest works and displayed in a more considered installation environment. Objects can be gathered in overlapping groups while reserving empty spaces to allow viewers’ eyes to rest. For example, the wonderful web of cheap costume chains is a nice touch; it deserves more precious placement by itself and with ample lighting. That would put it in dramatic contrast to the most dominating object in the show: the cave installation, a nicely colored cardboard cubby with geometric peaks, positioned over the front window.1
What if the rest of the show was more closely related to the cave installation’s vibe, giving dominance to of the atmospherics of dark wet things? Then, the black and white wall drawings might become more than just decorative, and the mushrooms growing inside the white frames (a nice touch) would become more meaningful. While the AstroTurf patches on the floor were a decent attempt to address the ground level, the Plastic Aztecs probably needed to spray paint it black or a more contrasting color, because the turf’s green is lost on the cement. However, the 80s folk-art curiosity cabinet and T-shirts hung on the back wall? Those have got to go.
The Plastic Aztecs’ Grow continues at Beep Beep Gallery through April 7.