On May 8, with a ceremonious mayoral cutting of the ribbon, Gallery 72 opened its doors at 72 Marietta Street in Downtown Atlanta. The long-awaited gallery, announced nearly two years ago, was created to spur a reinvigoration of the surrounding area. As such, it’s a wonderful show of faith in the arts and their ability to transform the face of a neighborhood.
As part of the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, Gallery 72 is the first city-operated art space to open since the closure of City Hall East’s ground-floor gallery in 2009. Following a redesign competition, architectural firm Stanley Beaman & Sears reconfigured the lower level of the former Atlanta Journal-Constitution building, now named 2 City Plaza, enlivening its facade and creating what promises to be a productive space for contemporary art in Atlanta. OCA project supervisor Courtney Hammond (also of Dashboard Co-op) is overseeing the gallery while the search for a gallery event coordinator is under way.
“Foreword” is the gallery’s inaugural exhibition and draws its roster from a number of notable Atlanta galleries. Present in the show are works by Craig Drennen (Saltworks), Nikita Gale (Poem88), Venske & Spänle (Marcia Wood), and In Kyoung Chun (Poem88), as well as an installation by the independent artist Pablo Gnecco.
Outside 2 City Plaza, a loose consort of Venske & Spänle’s sculptures loiter in a rock garden. Characteristic of the duo’s work, they are made of marble, meticulously worked into pristine pseudo-corporeal forms. The immaculate marble globs sit on a bed of rocks. Partially camouflaged against the white stones, they reveal themselves slowly, offering a subtle invitation to the gallery. In effectively extending the gallery space outward, they begin to make good on the promise to engage the surrounding area. Although this gesture may be a little too slight, it reveals the gallery’s potential to engage the surrounding neighborhood in a very real way.
In fact SBS’s redesign of the space provides some of the most promising moments in “Foreword.” The focal architectural gesture is a sequence of aluminum bands that emerges from behind the security desk and runs the length of the lobby before traversing the entrance and ascending up the building’s side. A simple but striking intervention into 2 City Plaza’s unforgiving facade, the bands elegantly render Gallery 72 less hermetically sealed and more outwardly oriented.
Inside, the gallery comprises two spaces that flank the entrance lobby. Reiterating the fluid inside/outside dynamic established by the building’s white bands, the South Gallery is fully exposed to Marietta Street thanks to ceiling-height windows on two walls.
There’s a smattering of familiar work, including Double Painter 3, a sample of Drennen’s patient and rigorous investigation into Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, and a pair of Chun’s eerily still meditations on chi. A collection of four foil-wrapped cement columns marks an interesting departure for Nikita Gale, whose work frequently uses text and archival photography to explore the interplay of consumerism, desire, and individual identity.
In counterpoint to the sunlit and airy South Gallery, the North Gallery is hidden away, sealed off so as to accommodate video, digital, and interactive works. Considering the curatorial difficulty posed by the South Gallery’s two windowed walls, the additional space adds some depth and versatility to Gallery 72.
As an initial demonstration of the gallery’s potential to engage, Gnecco’s installation makes a lot of sense. Drawing on viewers’ physical input to generate animated GIFs of simple hand gestures, Gesture-gesture is immersive yet light, with an entertainment value that offsets the more static ensemble in the South Gallery. This dynamic points to the way that the space’s layout can be used strategically to appeal to a broad base of viewers.
Ultimately, “Foreword” performs a specific task: that of announcing the gallery’s existence and the opportunity that it promises to both Atlanta-based artists and the denizens of Downtown. The works in “Foreword,” while strong, sit in a sort of haphazard relation to each other. In this sense, it is less a tightly curated show than a glimpse of things to come. The lack of specificity is a byproduct of the gallery’s stated intention of “enticing visitors to explore further into the City’s brilliantly diverse and creative landscape”. In that case, the show succeeds in articulating the gallery’s focus. Hopefully future shows will continue to widen that scope and provide Downtown Atlanta the kind of sharp and vital programming it deserves.
“Foreward” is on view at 72 Marietta Street through July 3.
Tom Berlangero is a writer, designer, artist, and improviser. He lives in Atlanta, where he likes to hike, ride bikes & cook new meals to feel real. He is a recent transplant from New York, where he earned a BFA in painting and sculpture from the State University of New York at Purchase and studied improv comedy.