BEEP BEEP: COMMUNITY PERSPECTIVES
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.