BURNAWAY's Best of 2013: Exhibitions in Dixie

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BURNAWAY asked a host of art experts in Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville, New Orleans, and Tampa to reflect back on the previous year’s exhibitions and comment on their favorites. Receiving multiple mentions are Question Bridge: Black Males at the Birmingham Museum of Art, and the High Museum’s presentation of Frida and Diego: Passion, Politics, and Painting and the Michael Rooks-curated Drawing Inside the Perimeter, a survey of recent work by Atlanta artists that galvanized the local scene.  

Come back next week, when we’ll take a look at who’s influencing art scenes in the South, some of the notable news stories down South, and who and what our experts are keeping an eye on in 2014.

Georgia Museum of Art: Neo-Abstraction on view through December 5

[heading size=”5″ align=”left”]Michael Straus, board chair, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; trustee, Birmingham Museum of Art[/heading]

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 12.17.39 AM
Scenes from Question Bridge: Black Males, at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

ŸBirmingham Project by Dawoud Bey and Question Bridge: Black Males by Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross-Smith, and Kamal Sinclair, both at the Birmingham Museum of Art. The shows do great justice in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the former through images of boys, girls, men, and women representing the ages the murdered children would now be or were at the time of death, and the latter through complex conversations separated in time and space addressing questions of black male identity that become universal questions of identity.
ŸMatthew Mazzotta’s Open House at the Coleman Center for the Arts in York, Alabama: a brilliantly constructed “house” that converts into a community center as well as an open theater, all as part of the Coleman Center’s continuing engagement with and transformation of this rural sector of Alabama.
[heading size=”5″ align=”left”]Louise Shaw, curator David L. Sencer CDC Museum, Atlanta [/heading]

ŸMartha Whittington’s Used Air at Whitespace/Whitespec, which meticulously channeled the essence and iconography of coal mining.
ŸOne One, an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia of new works created by the 2012/13 WonderRoot Walthall Artist Fellows. An exercise in collaboration, the show captured the deep relationships that developed among the participating artists, and at the same time brought out the best of each individual.

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Sheila Pree Bright’s mural of Mr. Hank Thomas, Freedom Rider,
157 Forsyth Street, Atlanta.

ŸAntichità, Teatro, Magnificenza: Renaissance and Baroque Images of Rome at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Ah, the Eternal City—always beautiful and inspiring.
Two photography-based, politically relevant, wheat paste public art murals, one a series by an internationally acclaimed artist, the other by one of Atlanta’s own:
French artist JR appropriated significant civil rights era imagery for three murals in the King District, installed just in time for the 50th anniversary of the March in Washington for Jobs and Freedom’s; facilitated by Living Walls.
And 1960 Who?, Sheila Pree Bright’s portraits of the men and women who participated in the Freedom Walks of the 1960s, now elders, pasted on walls throughout downtown Atlanta.
ŸDrawing Inside the Perimeter at the High Museum of Art, which featured the work of over 50 Atlanta-based artists recently purchased by the museum through the Lambert Fund, was significant bridge-building to the Atlanta arts community; keep up the good work, High.

Swan Coach House Gallery: private nature through November 4

[heading size=”5″ align=”left”]Alexandra Sachs, assistant curator, Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta[/heading]

Gabriel Dawe’s thread installation Light Paradox at the Savannah College
of Art and Design.

I am in awe of Gabriel Dawe! A native of Mexico City, he creates immersive environments that he calls “drawings in space.” Dawe uses Güterman thread to construct intricate, site-specific sculptural installations that produce stunning visual effects and gossamer rays of spectral color. His work is inspired by vibrant Mexican textiles and embroidery, and he subverts machismo aspects of his culture by working with materials traditionally associated with women. His February 2013 installation for SCAD Gutstein Gallery in Savannah comprised over 80 miles of thread and took a solid week to install. Visitors returned on multiple occasions to bring family and friends to see the show. He was also recently selected for a commission in Mexico by the U.S. Art in Embassies program.

[heading size=”5″]Anne Lambert Tracht, art consultant, Atlanta[/heading]

Rocio Rodriguez, July 15, 2011, High Museum.

ŸDrawing Inside the Perimeter: a fantastic exhibition at the High Museum, curated by Michael Rooks and Marianne Lambert, showcasing some of Atlanta’s best talent.
ŸBoom City by Dashboard Co-op: the most experimental and interesting show of the year, in a unique venue.

[heading size=”5″]Andrew Alexander, freelance arts critic, Atlanta[/heading]
ŸThe High Museum got it right with a series of fantastic exhibitions this year. Frida & Diego provided the rare opportunity to see a large body of the two artists’ work side by side. Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis brought us the Girl with a Pearl Earring. I was also a fan of the Bunnen Collection exhibition and, perhaps more idiosyncratically among those who follow the Atlanta arts scene, Go West! Several times over in 2013, I was happy at the High.
ŸDrew Conrad at Get This! I loved Drew Conrad’s haunting installations suggesting the crumbling corners of decaying old living spaces in his exhibition Backwater Blues.

Drew Conrad, Dwelling No. 6 (Blue Boy & Pinkie), 2013, at Get This! Gallery.

ŸMicah and Whitney Stansell. At a lackluster year for the annual Flux Night, the couple stole the evening with a simple but surprisingly beautiful large-scale work An inversion (with sky and land), in which they projected images of the daytime sky onto an overhead screen made from banners strung between buildings. In December, the artists won the $100,000 top prize in the Herradura Tequila contest, for which they created a zoetrope inside an old tequila barrel.
ŸArt Beats + Lyrics The annual Art Beats + Lyrics event, which brings together the hip hope and visual art worlds, this year saw lines snaking around the block well before the doors opened, and visitors enjoyed great new work from Michi Meko, Miya Bailey, Matthew Curan, Chris Hamer, Dubbelyoo, Fabian Williams, and more in a friendly cosmopolitan atmosphere that felt singularly Atlanta.
ŸJohn Q at Atlanta Cyclorama. Queer collective John Q’s Campaign for Atlanta was a conceptually inventive and astute show, which brought the work of Georgia-born, San Francisco-based photographer Crawford Barton back to Atlanta for an evening of reflection and contemplation of memory and mapping in the unlikely setting of Atlanta’s Cyclorama attraction.
ŸAubrey Longley-Cook’s RuPaul Cross-Stitch Animation Workshop, in the artist led participants to create 35 portraits of RuPaul to form the frames in a brief animation. It was memorable not just for its colorful results and its quirky sense of humor, but for the beautiful way in which the artist engaged a community of volunteer collaborators.

[heading size=”5″]Brett Levine, independent writer and curator[/heading]

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at home, Montgomery Street, San Francisco, 1930.

ŸAlthough the High Museum of Art didn’t curate the show, it certainly managed to breathe life into the tired old corpse of the blockbuster with its manifestation of Frida and Diego. I had the surreal experience of attending on Teacher Appreciation Night, when the museum was packed with Fridas and Diegos in every size, shape, and color. Say what you will about the marketability of art, but the reality is that, in a time in which culture is pushed further to the margins, it is shows precisely like this that help to pull it, little by little, back toward the center. Not every show can be like this, but for every person with a painted-on monobrow who might never have set foot into the museum, Frida and Diego must have been a revelation.
ŸQuestion Bridge: Black Males at the Birmingham Museum of Art was shoehorned into the city’s Fifty Years Forward project. In this museum’s iteration of the traveling show, five screens set in a slightly concave hemisphere enveloped viewers who watched as the men in question responded to a range of questions and revealed an intimacy so overwhelming that it is both hypnotizing and heartbreaking. Brilliant.

[heading size=”5″]Megan Voeller, columnist for Creative Loafing, Tampa[/heading]

ŸPhilip Pearlstein’s People, Places and Things at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, a retrospective organized by New York-based curator Patterson Sims. The 62 paintings and prints spanned the gamut, from a 14-by-18-inch canvas that he painted in 1940 as a high school student to monumental nudes less than a year out of the studio. The nudes—languid and sensual but characteristically un-eroticized—stole the show, but portraits of art world luminaries and landscapes of New York, Jerusalem, Rome and elsewhere reinforced the reminder that Pearlstein (still painting at 89) may be one of the most adept artists ever to devote himself to painting from life.

Dominique Labauvie’s installation at Gallery 221 at Hillsborough Community College.

ŸDominique Labauvie at Gallery 221 at Hillsborough Community College. The French-born, Tampa-based sculptor got his due with a show featuring just one of his massive steel works, the 8-foot tall Flying Buttress (2012). Clearly less was more— surrounded only by black-and-white geometric pastel-and-charcoal drawings, the sculpture had a chance to sing. The buttressing in question was performed by four slender supports suggestive of abstracted figures gracefully stretching upward to lift an oblong loop of perforated steel to the sky. Heavenly.
ŸBefore her move to Miami, Mindy Solomon offered up one last sexuality-themed show, a staple of her gallery’s agenda. Post Coital featured works by seven artists, including Becky Flanders’s tea-stained drawings of silphium, a now-extinct plant alleged to have been ingested as birth control in antiquity, Christina West’s ivory ceramic figures in compromising positions, and Georgine Ingold’s oil paintings of quiet interiors ripe with the energy of recent couplings.

[heading size=”5″]Walter Lewellyn, online editor for Weld, Birmingham[/heading]

Willie Cole, Ironmaster/GE Male Figure, 1998, at Beta Pictoris Gallery, Birmingham.

ŸTuscaloosa artist Pete Schulte’s show A Letter Edged in Black at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Visual Arts Gallery. With influences as diverse as classical architecture and hip hop, Schulte transformed the normally drab gallery into a minimalist, modernist chapel painted in somber gray tones and filled with his striking abstract drawings on paper. The show was given emotional heft by a crucial, heartbreaking quote from Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis.
ŸWillie Cole’s FIRE/FLY exhibition at beta pictoris included the New Jersey artist’s famous iron scorch canvases and bronze statues made from high-heeled shoes in the shape of Yoruba goddesses, and other examples of his creating magic from the mundane. Cole resists the idea of being labeled a black artist; his work is as profoundly about the American character as much as the black experience. He represents thorny, complex ideas with passion and an economy of means.

[heading size=”5″ align=”left”]Veronica Kavass, contributor, Nashville Scene; professor at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film, Nashville[/heading]
ŸNashville native and eagle scout Mike Calway-Fagen showed his collages at Threesquared Gallery last summer before moving to Bloomington to begin his professorship at Indiana University. His collages, which are dominated by hands and birds, would make Max Ernst proud.
Ÿ100 Video Artists to Tell a Century, an international video art exhibition at Seed Space. It was like watching a television series on Netflix for 24 hours, except this made you feel better about yourself.
ŸDeviating Utopias by Ana Maria Tavares at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. The word “utopia” is overwrought in contemporary art but sometimes someone nails it. And when utopia (of the deviating variety) is nailed, it looks like buildings and staircases crashing all around you in a mirrored box. Sound artist Brian Siskind created the accompanying “dark, deep and teeming sound environment.”

View of Vesna Pavlović’s installation at Seed Space, Nashville.

ŸMore Love: Art, Politics and Sharing since the 1990s. Independent curator Claire Schneider essentially put together from her home in Buffalo, New York, this traveling exhibition with the overarching theme of love. It started at the Ackland Art Museum at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in the spring and traveled to the Cheekwood Museum of Art in Nashville in the fall. Included are 45 works by 33 artists, including Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Sharon Hayes, Louis Bourgeois, Gillian Wearing, Dario Robleto, and Yoko Ono.
ŸSerbian-born, Vanderbilt University professor Vesna Pavlović puts people inside cameras, making you feel like you’re creeping around inside the passive brain of a camera, hearing and feeling the machine freeze and store time. In the Seed Space show Real Images, the act of viewing a photograph was more important than the photographs themselves. Pavlović explores aspects of the viewing experience that viewers don’t often think about. This is especially pertinent now in the current state of hyper-overlooking.

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