To continue the tradition we started with last year’s Best of 2008 feature story, BURNAWAY has recruited the talents of ten highly qualified, arts-savvy Atlantans to help ring the bells, bring in the fire, and shout the praises of the most inspiring arts events of 2009. Below you’ll find top picks by guest writers Whitney Stansell, Felicia Feaster, Louis Corrigan, Ed Hall, Jamie Gumbrecht, Heidi Aishman, Samuel Parker, Stan Woodard, Kelly McKernan, and Alana Wolf!
MARTIJN VAN WAGTENDONK: TRICKLE INTO A LOWER CHAMBER
The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia
February 7 – March 21, 2009
Whether it was the gritty-polished seduction of Matt Haffner’s outsized figures, or Maria Artemis’ minimal, poetic lushness of object, aura, and allegory, MOCA presented compelling work in 2009. At the top of this list was Martijn van Wagtendonk’s colossal installation, eliding the world between materiality and mirage. The artist cunningly coupled the boat and the bird—icons of navigation in the physical world, and mediums between earthly and spiritual realms—to pull viewers into and through his work, across the inky-watered divide, only to reward them with a startling aural assault. Equal parts gravity and levity, containment and bedlam, the show was not one to see, but one to experience from within. Trickle beckoned viewers, spat them out, and left them laughing in shock, surprise, and delight.
—Alana Wolf is a fan of signs and wonders. When not actively obsessing over her project on nineteenth-century anatomical museums, she is scheming to turn wild ideas into reality as the founder and artistic director of Public Acts of Art.
Featuring artists Ashley Anderson, Kombo Chapfika, David Hale, and Jason Kofke
Details at MINT Gallery remains clear in my mind, despite its having been shown in early 2009. It seems that many group exhibitions fail where Details excelled : It showcased a number of artists whose work, taken together, created a strong, cohesive dialogue while managing to retain individual aesthetic. The nostalgia that perfectly whelmed the room included subtle statements of social insecurity. Each artist’s work complimented the others—Kofke’s exquisite prints and quirky installations, Chapfika’s deliciously disjointed portraits, Anderson’s homage to our pixilated past, and Hale’s layered linework paintings. Their works created an atmosphere unique to the exhibition and its layout that I feel was successful enough to be among the best of ’09.
—Kelly McKernan is a local fine artist and illustrator who exhibits regularly in Atlanta as well as nationally. She is currently preparing for her upcoming solo show at Beep Beep Gallery. www.kellymckernan.com
March 20 – April 25, 2009
Featuring artists Avantika Bawa, Black and Blue, Philip Carpenter, Barrett Feldman, Jason Fulford, George Long, Jeffery Merrit, John Douglas Powers, Mario Schambon, Staci Stone, and Martha Whittington
The idea of “play” has gained a prominent position as a point of research lately, so for the Spruill Gallery to cover the territory was not a great conceptual leap. The implementation of the idea is where the power of the exhibition lay. Curator Hope Cohn’s statement directly addressed the sociology of play and set the stage to celebrate “artists [who] use the creative (playful) act to interpret the world around them.” While considering the potential of each individual artist’s work, the curator established new connections by her arrangement of works and thoughtful use of negative space. It may be the difficulty of developing themed group shows that has encouraged fewer of them being mounted locally; with a strong, simple concept, curator Cohn selected work from among a geographically diverse group of artists and proved the words in her curatorial statement. I’m encouraged that suburban Atlanta continues to provide a venue for exploring relevant ideas through contemporary art—to the benefit of supporters and artists alike.
—Stan Woodard is an artist living in Atlanta. www.stanwoodard.com
Beep Beep Gallery
April 11 – May 3, 2009
I was most inspired by BORN’s Relief show at Beep Beep Gallery this year. His imagery has finally transcended the trap of clichéd subject matter. While images of flowers and skulls continue to appear, the way in which he handles them has become his own. There is a quality in this work akin to that of Christian Boltanski’s in which the art object seems to serve an unknown function, like altarpieces of an unfamiliar religion.. They are also playful, inviting the viewer to touch them explore them. In one work, the viewer who lifted a lever caught a glimpse of a coded message slipping behind a layer of windows; simultaneously, other viewers giggled with delight as a pendulum dropped elsewhere in the gallery, part of a chain reaction of pulleys. BORN’s connection to his found materials and his process of assemblage makes sense as an honest reflection of his career as an automotive mechanic. Keep up the good work.
—Samuel Parker. Professional Tattooist, and local art star.
CRAIG DRENNEN: MISTRESSES, APEMANTUS, AND FLATTERING LORDS
April 24 – May 16, 2009
Ever watch a base jumper or cliff diver and realize that you’re watching someone who is willing to take more risks than you? As an artist, it is rare and refreshing to see someone’s work that is so full of risk that it crosses a line into places I know I would dare not venture. Who actually makes a painting that says “I’m a @$#ing genius?” I can’t even write it, but Craig Drennen made his 36″ x 32″ painting out of graphite and watercolor. How many anuses would you paint and hang in a gallery? Craig painted five anuses (and they are technical masterpieces of realism to boot!). Craig Drennen’s work makes me want paint like I have nothing to lose. What better inspiration is there?
—Heidi Aishman is an artist and writer who lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia, where she has taken part in numerous group and solo exhibitions, including the recent More Mergers and Acquisitions at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. Heidi has curated numerous exhibitions and has been a contributing writer to Big RED & Shiny, an online arts journal, for over four years. www.heidiaishman.com
ART SIGN THE BELTLINE
WonderRoot Community Art Center
Every time I spot a BeltLine sign I haven’t seen before, it stirs the right emotion—surprise, curiosity, recognition, happiness, and hope. I love the story: how each painting was created by community members, installed in a mad, marginally legal all-nighter, and made to last in public spaces as long as the public would allow. Even without the details, though, I’d still love bumping into art while biking or walking the dogs, and making the connection to that other community-driven, community-tying project: the BeltLine. Art is most effective when it’s dropped into familiar spaces and makes us think differently about them. The BeltLine signs reveal something about Atlanta to each person that passes. What could be more powerful? www.wonderroot.org
—Jamie Gumbrecht is a journalist/adventurer with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She covers fun things to do around Atlanta for AccessAtlanta.com’s Inside Access blog.
BOOKMARKS: THE BOOK AS AN AESTHETIC OBJECT
The Gallery Walk at Terminus
July 16 – October 9, 2009
Featuring artists Aleta Braun, Jennifer Brook, Margaret Couch Cogswell, Joe DeCammillis, Brian Dettmer, Daniel Essig, Andrew Hayes, David Laufer, Joe Lester, Elizabeth Ryland Mears, Lindsey Mears, Susan Meier and Mark All, Palo Pallas, Richard Rusell, and Lisa Tuttle
Imagine a menagerie of grimoires: enchanted texts, the property of well-read witches and wizards, as capable as their owners of transforming themselves into beasts, furniture, nameless talismans. That’s what curator Marianne Lambert evoked with her show BookMarks. Caught behind glass, its artists’ works seemed ready to flee into another dimension once their cases opened. Daniel Essig offered a “sculptural book” as a life-sized trout, armored rather than scaled, hung with a collection of charms, a faux phylactery embedded in its head. Andrew Hayes infused Drift with a wave’s motion, though the piece is a stabile. Elizabeth Mears’ The Old Note bristles with glass “antlers.” At a time when books felt poised for a cultural vanishing act, these works simultaneously embodied books’ magical properties as vessels and flouted notions of books’ inviolability. Books were harmed in the making of this brilliant show. Bravo. www.terminus-atlanta.com
—Ed Hall collects books, among other things, and takes really good care of them. Under a pseudonym, he creates found-object assemblages.
Renzo Piano Piazza, The Woodruff Arts Center
July, 24, 2009
Dancemaker Lauri Stallings takes a swift breath from her gut, locating the energy driving her insideout Gaga technique. The action leaves the viewer breathless, sympathetically drawn to her movement, and well, rapt. Working with her new gloATL troupe of dancers and multimedia artists, Stallings’ July performance of rapt similarly enthralled with a spectacle that turned the Woodruff/High complex inside out, magically fulfilling Renzo Piano’s dream of a piazza that might serve as a creative gathering place. gloATL’s expressive dancers even took their art to Peachtree Street, shattering the “fourth wall” restrictions of the proscenium stage as they reached for a passionate and playful intimacy with an audience who could not help but engage. This was the night Atlanta saw the future.
—Louis Corrigan serves on the board of Atlanta Celebrates Photography and Art Papers magazine. He was so thrilled by rapt that he commissioned gloATL’s pour for Le Flash.
SARAH EMERSON: SOFT TRAP
September 4 – October 10, 2009
I like the complicated feelings Sarah Emerson’s work inspires in me. Her paintings are sweet and seductive, candy-colored and dreamy. But they also have a dark, ominously creepy tone that sticks in your throat while going down. I think part of Sarah’s unique skill set is how she is able to use some of the arsenal of girliness in a rather subversive way. Her pastel butter mint colors, rhinestones, animals, Disney veneer, and paint-by-numbers artifice promise softness and light but deliver something very different. Beneath that seductive exterior lurks troubling content. Her images in Soft Trap of piles of skulls, blood-streaked animals, and swarms of insects, and the leitmotif of feeding/devouring, gets under your skin. There is something primal she is tapping into: a fear of being consumed. I think of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist and his similar affirmation that there is decay and death that makes nature as horrible as it is beautiful. www.whitespace814.com
—Felicia Feaster is a senior editor at The Atlantan, specializing in art and culture. Her writing can also be found in Art Papers and Charleston City Paper.
JEFF GUY: NEIGHBOR/ACCOMPLICE
Twin Kittens Studio
In November, 2009, Jeff Guy presented Neighbor/Accomplice at Twin Kittens, a new gallery space in the Westside Arts District. Jeff created a site-specific installation of oversized text. Featuring the patina of aircraft aluminum and measuring eight feet in height, each letter rested against the main wall of the gallery. In front of the substantial text rested the artist’s mother’s bowling ball and customized bowling bag, respecitively engraved with the text “Little Boy” and “Enola Gay” (recalling the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and the B-29 bomber used to deploy it). Guy’s grandfather lived and worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, along with 75,000 other U.S. citizens who engineered these bombs at the height of the World War II. Neighbor/Accomplice is a visually striking and conceptually engaging work that finds the artist thoughtfully balancing ideas of personal family history and questions of social responsibility.
—Whitney Stansell is an Atlanta-based artist who uses drawing, painting, printmaking, and fibers to create work that explores oral narratives, memory, history, and the imagination. www.whitneystansell.com
P.S.—Please keep in mind that each nomination was a tough decision between many, many noteworthy candidates. Honorable mentions include George Long and the Sunday Southern Art Rival at Marcia Wood Gallery, the two Fourth Ward art walks Showtime and AXIOM, and Le Flash 2009. In the case of AXIOM and Le Flash, more than one of our guests were unfortunately unable to vote for events in which they were involved.
P.P.S.—Although it might sound boorishly cliché for this time of year, our Favorite Things survey was devised with the mission philosophy of giving back, paying it forward, throwing down old grudges, honoring the city we call home, and treating it the way home should. (And–yes–I realize I just dropped the whole “loving thy neighbor” thing on the lot of you. Shame, shame on me.)
P.S.S.—Honestly! We hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and, of course, keep reading BURNAWAY!
Yours very truly,