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A home for local artists 

Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia promises to change Atlanta's cultural landscape

David Golden has been an avid collector all his life. In his youth, coins fascinated him. As he matured, his interests changed, but not his penchant for collecting. Today his home is embellished with a wealth of art deco radios, clocks, martini shakers and cigarette lighters, all acquired in the last 15 years.

Out of all Golden's collections, though, there is one that stands to have a major impact on Georgia, and that is his collection of contemporary art.

"I've loved art all my life," says Golden, who bought his first piece -- a lithograph by Austrian artist Freidenreich Hundertwasser -- when he was in his 20s. Today his private collection includes work by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Louise Nevelson, among other internationally known artists.

Golden's love of art carried over to his professional life. As president of CGR Advisors, a real estate investment advisory company, he started a corporate art collection in 1990 focusing on works by Georgia artists.

"When we started the collection," recalls Golden, "there were 25 employees working for CGR. They might have been surprised at our choice to begin investing in art, but over the years, they developed a true affection for the collection and relationships with many of the artists who came in to talk about their work."

But when Golden decided to downsize his company's offices a couple of years ago, he was presented with the dilemma of finding somewhere to place the corporate art collection.

The solution? A new museum in Atlanta. Touting a permanent collection of 250 works by 110 Georgia artists, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia opens in its newly renovated, 3,000-square-foot space on Peachtree Street Feb. 3.

Playing a major role in the museum's development is Annette Cone-Skelton, a highly respected minimalist painter and former arts consultant who curated the CGR collection. She is the museum's director while Golden serves as chairman of its board of directors.

"David and I have had a working relationship for a long time," she says. "We had put together this collection and needed to think about its future existence. We saw a need, a niche to fill -- to focus on Georgia artists and place them in the context of a global environment by showing their work alone and in group exhibitions with national and international artists."

The museum is funded in part by the Fulton County Arts Council, a grant from the Livingston Foundation and private donations. Located at 1447 Peachtree St., the nonprofit venue is ideally located in walking distance from the High Museum and the MARTA Arts Center stop. Designed by interior architecture specialists Gandy/Peace Inc., the space features lots of openness, movable walls and a storeroom that provides easy access to the entire collection for curators and scholars.

The names of those represented in the collection, which includes paintings, prints, sculpture, photography, computer-generated images and installations, reads like a who's who of Georgia artists. Among them are Maria Artemis, Radcliffe Bailey, Genevieve Arnold, Beverly Buchanan, Jim Waters, Rocio Rodriguez, Edward Ross, Harry Callahan, James Herbert, Art Werger, Kojo Griffin, Ruth Leitman and Amalia Amaki.

Golden sees the museum as a home to these artists -- a place where their works will be displayed in creative ways. In that respect, the museum hopes to fill a gap left by the only other local museum with a dedicated curator of contemporary art -- the High Museum of Art, host to a seemingly endless procession of popular Impressionist shows and other safely conservative exhibitions. (Although the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center has a reputation for exhibiting Georgia artists, the center is not a collecting institution.)

A solo show by Martin Emanuel, long-time Atlanta sculptor and teacher, will inaugurate the museum. Variously constructed from rawhide, wood, granite, marble, rammed earth and light, Emanuel's narrative works hold a distinctive global and environmental awareness. "My hat's off to David and Annette. It takes guts to stick your neck out for Georgia artists," he says.

The sculptor hasn't had a solo since his 1980 show at the High, where one of his installations is in the permanent collection. In the interim, though, he's participated in group exhibitions, received an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and has been commissioned for several public art projects.

The museum's exhibition schedule will continue with a tribute to the former Heath Gallery that explores the relationship between Georgia artists and the national spectrum of artmakers who were exhibited there. That exhibition will be followed by a show of selected artists from the museum's permanent collection; solo shows by Cheryl Goldsleger and Kojo Griffin; and Color, Culture and Complexity, a visual perspective on race relations in Georgia co-curated by Ed Spriggs and native Georgian Dan Talley, gallery director of Pennsylvania's Kutztown University.

In the future, Cone-Skelton plans to work with guest curators such as Gudman Vigtel, John Howett and Laura Lieberman, among others. And she plans to begin a series of outreach projects modeled after in-house programs that she initiated at CGR years ago. "We want to continue setting up situations where artists will meet with small groups of our public, especially in the corporate environment," she says.

Besides archiving the work of Georgia artists and providing an educational research center, the museum's mission will be to continue collecting.

So far, response from the local arts community has been openly supportive.

"David and Annette have been good friends of The Contemporary for many years," says Sam Gappmayer, director of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. "The unmet need that MOCA will fill is as an exclusive repository for the work of contemporary Georgia artists ... No other institution in our community pursues that direction with the same level of focus and commitment."

Ed Spriggs, director of Hammonds House Galleries (a nonprofit venue dedicated to works by African-American artists and artists from the African diaspora), agrees. "As a collecting organization, the museum is going to be significant for tracking Georgia artists. The diversity of the core collection sets the tone for what we will expect in the future."

The museum has the potential to play a vital role in the lives of local artists. The prestige of the right museum show is known to catapult some to stardom. "I am always seeking the proper home for my art," says painter Deanna Sirlin. "It is significant that my work is seen where I live. When my installation 'Retracings' was shown at the High Museum, one of the real joys for me was meeting many viewers who appreciated the work. I hope MOCA GA will be a meaningful home for art by many artists in this community."

That is definitely the intention of this new museum's founders. Says Cone-Skelton, "MOCA GA will be telling the history of contemporary art in Georgia, showing the depth and diversity of the art in the state and the relationship of our artists to the national art scene."

cathy.byrd@creativeloafing.com

Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia opens Feb. 3, 1447 Peachtree St. Tues.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat.-Sun. noon- 5 p.m. 404-881-1109. www.mocaga.org.

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