Friday, October 26, 2007

Deconform is now

available in limited distribution at several Atlanta and Decatur locations, including Java Monkey coffee house & wine bar, Eyedrum Gallery, Young Blood Gallery, Midtown Art Cinema, and Oglethorpe University Museum. After a month's delay, I'm proud to say that the Fall issue exists. And it looks great. Kudos to designer Robert Burroughs on a fine job overall.

The artist interviews are a good read: Kiki Blood, Ben Fain, Yusef M. Sharif, and Constance Thalken lay down their thoughts on art and politics with refreshing honesty and bravado. I was surprised to learn about Thalken's photo project on the brutal realities of alligator harvesting in the Southeast. Also, I think Rick Jackson's piece on the Subversive Absurdists is especially strong (Deconform p.23).

My own writing will not appear until the next issue. It was a collective, editorial decision, and there were handful of ideas that were left on the cutting table. Looking back at my notes from last month, I realize just how much my job was eating my brain. It was hard to tell at the time, but I was a nervous wreck. I've taken the time to recuperate, catch up on some reading, and fool around with Live Journal.

I posted below some approximations of writing I decided to abandon, pulled from various notes here and there. The August piece, which I don't feel too great about, is an opinion/feature surrounding shows I attended in July. The September feature story, which I think is a little better, centers on Beep Beep Gallery.

The next issue is due in January, and we plan to increase our distribution. Let me know if you think there are more businesses out there that would be a good home for extra issues.

See ya around. ;)


Notes and Unpublished Writing (September)


On one particularly hot and muggy Friday night, a friend pointed out to me that Green’s Package Store on Ponce de Leon attracts the most incredibly diverse set of customers. “And right across the street,” he marveled, “MJQ is packed with dirty Indie Rockers and Morehouse College kids, and they’re all dancing to Old School Hip-hop.” At the moment, I was too busy thinking about art shows to really consider the thought.

But he was right; that short section of roadway connecting Freedom Parkway and Charles Allen Avenue is a nexus of almost every demographic in the metro area. If you walk just two blocks to the north or south of Ponce, you can see a staggering range of development. Lower income housing rapidly gives way to the multi-story homes of Midtown and Virginia Highlands. The Majestic diner and the soon-to-be-demolished Old City Hall East stand opposite brand new condos, Whole Foods Market, and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Nested in these curious circumstances, Beep Beep Gallery sits on top of a uniquely Atlanta cultural nerve. For me, the location indicates more than a simple business decision. The gallery almost physically illustrates this fabulous collision between wealth and intense poverty, local character, and mass culture. When I stand on that corner straddling Charles Allen and Ponce, staring at the trees outlined by the glow of the Bank of America tower, I can see the bizarre evolution of Southern life appear like some impossible specter out of time.

Keep in mind that Beep Beep is no Faye Gold Gallery. Beep Beep is a tiny, single room art space with very little in the way of sophisticated ornament. A shelf of vinyl records and used books lines the front window, and a small staff booth, complete with a rack of collaborative ‘zines, guards the rear. Events typically feature Dunkin’ Donuts and Pabst Blue Ribbon; you would be hard-pressed to find anyone drinking fine Champaign. But the gallery is totally and adamantly loyal to local art, and it certainly knows how to have a good time.

Incredibly, space never seems to be an issue at Beep Beep events. This summer’s Concrete Jungle show, for example, made strategic use of limited wall surface. Gallery-goers regularly spill out onto the street, whether the evening’s call-to-arms happens to be a dozen monopoly boards by Ben Goldman and Sam Parker or a live performance by Atlanta’s Noot d’ Noot. During a recent photography opening, the venue’s back door yawned wide onto the rear side of the property. A repeating projection cast surreal illumination on the back lot, where smokers sat on a concrete bank clutched by dangles of tree root.

There could be no greater contrast between the feeling of that moonlit lot and Beep Beep’s reception at the Westin’s Sundial restaurant. At more than fifty stories in the air, the hotel restaurant is famous for its revolving dining floor. Tables set on the circumference of the tower literally revolve around the dial, allowing guests to see the Atlanta skyline from an effectively first person perspective. But Beep Beep regulars proudly displayed their tattoos and rapidly emptied their beer bottles while sampling fancy desserts from the Westin kitchen.

Five Atlanta artists were represented: Dosa Kim, Ann-Marie Manker, Michi, Bryan Westberry, and Shana Wood. Pieces by Dosa Kim, who practices a type of aggressive Asian comic book fusion, were especially popular. The combination of good art, floor-to-ceiling glass, and whole sections of moving floor was almost too much. My mind was dizzy with hilarious amazement coupled with a bit of authentic vertigo. I was looking at some of the most “low brow” artwork Atlanta has to offer, suspended up here thousands of feet above the ground.

Suddenly, “Rise:,” the title of the Westin exhibit, resounded as a powerful community statement.


Notes and Unpublished Writing (August)


The summer heat this year was paralleled by an impressive amount of creativity from the Atlanta arts community. From the wildly successful 2007 Folk Fest, a massive three-day exhibition held at North Atlanta Trade Center, to the smaller yet solid Sunday Southern Art Revival at Whitespace, area coordinators delivered a diverse, compelling season of events. Outside of mainstream venues on Miami Circle and the Castleberry circuit, Atlanta's more youthful venues, several located in the Grant Park, Decatur, Avondale Estates, and Ponce de Leon areas, gained a considerable amount of momentum. Notably, galleries such as Young Blood Gallery and Foundation One hosted consistently popular features by both local and nationally recognized artists.

Wine, music, chatter about politics, chatter about pop culture: there are number of things one can expect from an art show in any city. Although the scene in Atlanta generally complies with these expectations, the atmosphere of one auction or fundraiser can vary dramatically from the next. A benefit held at Lenny's Bar, for instance, tends to draw a crowd with a particular thirst for live guitars and Jack Daniel's served on the rocks. Events at Faye Gold Gallery, on the other hand, are more likely to feature chilled French wine served alongside platters of shrimp cocktail. Although openings tend to follow a somewhat predictable form, the possibilities for creative planning are wide open.

Consider The Vinyl Show held early this July at New Street Gallery in Avondale Estates. The annual benefit celebrated its third consecutive year with an energetic crowd of art lovers and music lovers alike. The evening began with a well-orchestrated silent auction boasting a number of affordable pieces painted and assembled according to a unifying theme. Artists were challenged to create works using the 12" vinyl record as a medium. Otherwise, each piece varied in terms of material and style, representing a generous range of skill and maturity. Although one would hesitate to compare the works highlighted that night to ones exhibited at The High Museum of Art, The Vinyl Show was highly successful as a community event. At the closing of the auction, the back of the New Street property came alive with memorable musical performances by the Atlanta group, Hubcap City, among others. At its most pleasant moments, the evening felt like a countryside honeymoon following the metaphorical wedding between music and art.

Art and music, however, do not always mix in a harmonious way. There was a heavily promoted event much later in July entitled That Big Ass Art Party. For a reasonable cover price, one could enjoy a cold beer, walk through an enormous industrial art space, and listen to tunes spun by local Atlanta DJs. The music, however, was at times much too loud, and the overall vibe of the show was fairly disorienting. Featured works tended to share an urban aesthetic, a style imitative of trends found in Juxtapoz Magazine. The quality of the art varied even more wildly than that of The Vinyl Show, a fact that added to the generally haphazard atmosphere. On the other hand, a few gems by artists such as Atlanta's Dosa Kim proved to be the saving grace of That Big Ass Art Party. As the event's title suggested, its managerial approach to art seemed less sensitive than it was sensationalist.

Alcove Gallery, which moves to a new location in Avondale this month, threw a very strong event with their 4 Score fourth anniversary celebration. Despite significant amounts of alcohol and a professional burlesque performance, Alcove succeeded in keeping the evening's sensationalism to a minimum. Event participants were respectful of the art as well as attending Alcove artists, and most everyone present at 4 Score appeared to be having an authentically good time. Upon entering the gallery, attendees were met with an entire wall of tiny mixed-media renditions of Abraham Lincoln by Matt Lively. The Lincoln pieces sold literally by the dozen, and by the end of the evening, "Old Abe" had left the building completely.

In general, the arts community continues to grow with every passing month. That tried-and-true cocktail of event planning, a mix of equal parts affordable art, smart management, and a general lack of cover charge, is an elixir for bolstering creative vitality. Fun, non-intimidating events will continue to attract newcomers from a wider cross-section of social backgrounds. Nurturing a "scene" of exclusive socialites is a masturbatory endeavor as well as poor business practice. Attracting a diverse group of gallery patrons, young and old, does not necessary hurt a venue's credibility. A poor college student should be just as welcome as a medical school graduate.

The lure of obscure music, rampant social networking, and availability of free booze at a gallery do invite the risk of distracting spectacle. Thankfully, openings this summer have generally demonstrated restraint towards over-commercialization, exploitive advertising, and other childish histrionics. Despite all of the glamor and excess, big Friday and Saturday night events are a necessary evil for most artists. But when the ingredients are right, a good opening can entertain tremendously as well as spark a genuine interest in local art.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


The Dalai Lama is coming to Atlanta on the 20th. Emory is hosting, but I hear he conducted a ceremony at Oglethorpe the last time he visited.

I've had the pleasure of hearing two separate accounts of that event from two very different men: Chuck Wingo, bookstore manager, and studio art professor Alan Loehle. These guys are so incredibly unlike, but I'm pretty sure that they both used the word "spiritual" in reference to the Dalai Lama.

I think that it's about time I see Alan's paintings in person. He works comfortably in that dizzying vacuum between photorealism and the surreal, creating images with the lucid character of a Francis Bacon or Lucian Freud. He loves doggies.

In person, Alan Loehle is a bit of a Harrison Ford type, masculine in the manner of an old Western. If you talk to him for few minutes, you immediately get a sense of his impressive force of personality. I am also convinced that he is a madman. When he starts to talk about art, or anything else that he's serious about, he gets that little spark of crazy in his eye. It's a little frightening. And endearing.