SATURDAY NIGHTS, LOCAL ART
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.