Busting boundaries 

Genema Gallery merges art and religion

When Jerry Falwell famously took a swipe at the pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians and members of the ACLU, whom he said inspired the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he didn't include the "art world" in his condemnation.

He didn't have to, since it was probably implied in his litany of contemporary degeneracy.

Ranked just below pornography and abortionists in right-wing fundamentalism's Big Bad Guys hit parade, contemporary art is rarely invoked by media-hungry moral crusaders unless it's in furious letters to the editor. And the contemporary art world hasn't looked too kindly on organized religion either, whether invoking it for irony's sake or for critique.

But church and culture are officially kissing and making up at Atlanta's ChristChurch Presbyterian, which currently boasts the group exhibition Shadows: Interrupted Light through Aug. 31, juried by local gallery owners Marcia Wood, Anne Irwin, Carl Linstrom and High Museum preparator Scott Ingram. The Genema Gallery (81 Peachtree Park Drive, www.genemagallery.com) inside ChristChurch's lobby has been hosting five art shows a year since 1996 and is committed to bringing the work of local and national emerging artists to the space.

In place of institutional carpeting, hushed voices and air redolent of candle wax, Genema Gallery boasts an airy entrance filled with a range of media dominated by Sydney Atkinson's commanding steel sculpture "Tres Equis." Much of the work in Shadows is the kind of well-executed fare involving landscapes and portraiture one might find in a traditional gallery. But a contemporary edge is provided by Drew Newman's psychologically loaded black-and-white photographs and Iowa artist Tyrus Clutter's elegant woodcuts.

Everything about ChristChurch, beginning with its steeple-free, yellow brick exterior, defies Sunday school expectations. With its faux- marble tiled floor and au courant sponge-painted walls, the Genema Gallery suggests a well-appointed suburban home heavy on the art. Instead of Jack Chick tracts or Guideposts in the lobby, there is a pamphlet discussing the themes of Shadows with references to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, J.M. Barrie and Carl Jung.

ChristChurch's pastor Al LaCour is a tall honey-voiced man in blue blazer and easygoing demeanor. He stands in Genema Gallery along with three members of the church's arts group, Carol Moore, Suzy Schultz and Jane Carter, who chime in to discuss their commitment to bringing art into the surprising context of a church.

"Historically the Christian church has seen creation as revelation of God's existence," says LaCour of the formerly okey-dokey relationship between God and gesso before "Piss Christ" came along. "Sadly there's often been hostility between art and church, or a patronizing relationship between art and church. Replacing that historic hostility -- that's been one of the most gratifying things to me.

"When artists ... come to me and say, 'Thank you for your hospitality,' or, 'Thank you for creating a venue,' it's so encouraging to know that we are actually serving them and their desire to pursue vocations like art," says LaCour.

"Obviously this is just wonderful for us," affirms Carter.

"But hopefully it exposes -- not just to the artistic people, but to even our church community -- the validity and beauty of art. So it's a win-win situation."

Shawn Vinson is realistic about the art business he runs from his 4-year-old eponymous Decatur gallery.

In a nasty economy, Vinson says he's often required to feature work that will sell rather than curate shows of work he loves. People want prints of sun-dappled springtime meadows and other toothless landscapes. They are less likely to buy photography by Atlanta artists like Marvin Rhodes and the German Expressionist-style etchings by Gary Goodman, both of whom regularly show with Vinson. As a concession to the market, Vinson offers a fat file of Dutch landscapes in the gallery. He has also made the not-unwise decision of selling his own photographs, which currently hang in the gallery, on a sliding price scale from $50-$450 depending on size.

Vinson is currently featuring the kind of work in Decaturscapes that both gives consumers what they want while spotlighting work closer to his heart. Highlighted in Decaturscapes are quirky and romantic views of this burg of women who love women and progressive politics. Vinson's photographs capture the neighborly vibe of Decatur's "Old Court House" bathed in God's own blessed golden rays, beer fests where baseball hats bob like whitecaps on a human sea and St. Patrick parades where one grandmotherly type gets jiggy by poking her green-festooned bad self out of the sunroof of a parading car.

Also on exhibit are skillfully rendered paintings by Vinson's wife, Ruth Franklin, drawn from a wide swath of art history that incorporates Vermeer and Diane Arbus, and graphic, punchy mixed-media assemblages by Cuban-born artist Luis Garcia, all at Shawn Vinson Gallery (www.shawnvinsongallery.com) through June 15.


For Art's Sake is a biweekly column on Atlanta's visual arts scene.


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