Michael Jones at Swan Coach House, Atlanta

By March 16, 2021
a suitcase mounted on the wall is hanging open with red suspenders, a burned towel and an American flag inside it.
Michael Jones, it’s hard to see under white sheets, 2020. Courtesy Swan Coach House Gallery and the artist.
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A visually and conceptually rambunctious show, Michael Jones’s $h!t that Americans Like: Riots & Rallies, Parades & Protests at Swan Coach House Gallery includes sculptural assemblages and paintings in a neon color palette: citron green, fuchsia, red, and black. Glitter, and traps connect many of Jones’s compositions. Fast, painterly marks of images and words throughout conjures a graffiti aesthetic in  paintings that depict Black activists. Men of the Black Panther Party appear along with athletes in overt acts of protest: Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising the Black Power fist at the 1968 Olympics, and Eli Harold and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016. 

Michael Jones delivers a prodigious accumulation of visual and linguistic puns and riddles in this complex and intelligent show. For example, the mismatched table legs appear throughout the show both as a material in Our Gods Are Not the Same, and as a ghostlike stencil in drawings such as Funeral and We Sympathizers. The recurrence of diverse, detached table legs, a symbol of domestic balance, indicates instability and inequality in American society. The legs might direct the viewer to walk, to take to the streets for justice as one way we might reclaim stability. 

Animal traps are another motif that appears throughout the exhibition such as in It’s Hard to See Under White Sheets, an assemblage that contains an old-fashioned fox trap hidden under a white cloth (the United States flag hanging next to it) hanging from a pole that sticks out of an open suitcase. The cloth has several burn marks which appear to be a reference to the Ku Klux Klan, but the trap and the suitcase require some deduction. Who would get caught in this trap? The person reaching in to touch the cloth out of curiosity or the person who might have the intention of wearing it? The artwork tempts and ensnares the viewer. With a headboard attached to the top of the work, we can imagine this suitcase would usually be closed, hiding away the symbol of racism, shoved under the bed of a white American home. 

In January of this year, a group of residents in Buckhead announced at a town hall meeting that they were forming an Exploratory Committee to secede from the city of Atlanta in order to “save” their neighborhood. It is hard to believe that this is completely unrelated to race, given the language used on the website of the Buckhead Exploratory Committee: “safety…zoning…services and infrastructure aligning with tax dollars.” It all sounds like the coded language of redlining and segregation. Hosting the righteous riotousness of Michael Jones’s artwork in a gallery space in this neighborhood is a beautiful and timely gesture. Jones’s exhibition gives us the chance to come together in a celebration of the most marvelous legacy that Atlanta has given the world: the enthusiasm of asserting equal rights for Black people, loudly and publicly. Throw some glitter onto the pavement. 

Michael Jones’ SH$T AMERICANS LIKE: RIOTS AND RALLIES, PARADES AND PROTESTS is on view at Swan Coach House through April 1.

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