Anger vs. invention 

Dueling images of artistic inspiration

It's hard to deny anger as a motivating force in creativity.

Lenny Bruce, Michael Moore, Sue Williams, Lydia Lunch, R. Crumb, Barbara Kruger.

Angry, all.

It often feels like the art world especially needs to rekindle that angry spirit and occasionally dismount the careerist, navel-gazing horse it's been riding.

In recognition of a general mood in the culture at large, Natacha Roussel has curated an exhibition of artists unleashing their bad selves: Furious: The Angry Show at Eyedrum. The topic would appear to be an inspired and timely one.

But truth be told, there is probably more anger to be found on any given day at Phipps Plaza or driving Atlanta's highways than one could find in Furious. Specific works, such as Dietrich Wegner's Aryan kiddie suicide bomber or David Kasdorf's amusing "Capitalism" video, are well-executed and distill a certain bit of fury. But mostly, the degree and quality of angry venting is terribly disappointing.

Even Roussel, whose video work placed at the gallery entrance yells, "I fucking hate you," at gallery visitors, sounds a bit deflated in her curatorial statement. Concerning the divide between the kind of work a curator hopes to generate and what comes in, she admits, "I had visions of Eyedrum transformed into some kind of inferno ... ."

You and me both. One gets the feeling the gap between expectations of buckets of rage and this mildly pissy outcome is not entirely Roussel's fault.

These are hugely apathetic and inert times we live in, and the work of these artists reflects the tail-chasing, unproductive and vacuum-packed emotion that passes for fury in these days of online rants and bell-jar radio soliloquies. Fury reflects a culture whose justified rage has been media-neutered.

Like that often commonly entered into curatorial black hole called "erotic art," "fury" seems like a great idea – in theory. But, like "sex," anger is a difficult concept to translate into material form. More of the work provokes a feeling of fur-rubbed-the-wrong-way-grade irritation or bitter personal disappointment, as in Woody Cornwell's torn and tattered posters centered on his romantic breakup. The work conjures up "fury" the way Paris Hilton's prison time conjures up "sad." Fury looks like a less-spirited force than the invention celebrated at a venue that couldn't have less in common with the indie energy of Eyedrum, the Atlanta History Center.

Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World might suffer from a certain stodgy, museum-exhibition execution including some less-than-successful addresses to kid-viewers (an animated squirrel-guide, for instance). Yet it is a slightly frumpy but inspirational shout-out to this scandalously productive self-taught tradesman's son who came out of the womb running.

The exhibition details and often demonstrates, via witty Monty Pythonesque animated films, Franklin's innovations in electricity, diplomacy, satire, granny-chic (he invented bifocals), publishing and philanthropy as well as his personal obsessions, like penny-pinching and the health benefits of open windows.

Also included: oddball arcania such as the Franklin family marrow spoon and funny French souvenirs of Franklin's 1776-1785 stay in that country, where he succeeded in winning over the French to the American revolutionary cause by dressing as "the romanticized stereotype of a natural man from the uncharted wilderness of the New World" in folksy fur cap.

And in many ways this survey of Franklin's contribution to American free speech and public service feels like a topical extension of the plea issued by Michael Moore in his filmic health-care advocacy Sicko. Like Moore, who wonders where our native American desire to help and uplift our fellow human being has gone, Gentle Ben is a reminder that some native American virtues of community and service have been hijacked or refuted by contemporary pundits and politicians.

And it is that distortion of American history that seems truly worth getting angry about.

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