Public art can often summon up unsexy visions of giant steel cubes plopped onto corporate plazas or conceptual art plunked into resistant neighborhoods like Sol LeWitt's "Fifty-four Columns" in the Old Fourth Ward.
But a mark of Atlanta's growing status as an art town can be seen in the freeform blossoming of public art that flourishes without committees and commissions but seems to capture public interest in a more immediate way.
This kind of guerrilla public art is a feature of big cities like L.A., New York and San Francisco, and now local out-of-the-box thinkers have transferred that energy into Atlanta's public sphere in novel ways. Hilary Rogers has created the public access television show "Arts in Atlanta," devoted to documenting and showcasing the Atlanta art scene. And several Atlanta artists and/or pranksters have decorated the city's streets with their own public protests like the mock-advertisements lampooning the questionable "good taste" of gentrification in the "Lofty Lofts" posters spotted around town.
Fans of creative, self-motivated public art have also undoubtedly noticed the work of another artist who has created alternative signage for the city's streets in painted and screen-printed works on wood posted in Virginia-Highland, Little Five Points, Cabbagetown and other Atlanta neighborhoods.
Twenty-three-year-old Harrison (his quest for anonymity requires his last name not be disclosed) creates alternative guideposts for the city that insert a small, individual vision in place of a corporate and media-defined view. The works are installed on the sly in the prime pranking hours of midnight onward. The works are remarkably stealthy -- both highly visible but small enough to allow the less observant to breeze by them.
"I guess I'm a pretty secret person," says the Georgia State art student of his paradoxically public artmaking and his desire to remain anonymous. When friends or acquaintances sometimes mention the signs, he often feigns ignorance to get a more genuine response.
Like Harrison's most visible piece at the intersection of Moreland and Freedom Parkway, the works are often bolted onto utility poles and look like a child's building block. Where the fire engines or ducks would be, the cubes are often ornamented with comparably elementary images of a bicycle wheel, a diagram of a car, an old Remington typewriter or a camera. The cubes are about the mechanics and guts of things and the pleasurable visual simplicity of ordinary objects in unlikely settings.
"I expected it to be up for a day," says Harrison of the work, which has lasted a remarkable six months since he installed it in May.
It's no coincidence that both Harrison's drive-by artworks and Hilary Rogers' "Arts in Atlanta," -- which always opens with a driving tour of some segment of the city -- both allude to the city's driving culture. The public art produced by both acknowledge the role of the car in Atlantans' viewing habits and forces us to confront a mobility that often interferes with our vision.
"I think what builds a city's mythology or history of itself is seeing itself reflected in books and movies and songs, and so I wanted to sort of show Atlanta to itself," says Rogers of her show's function. "And I actually love driving around. There are some really interesting views."
A resident of the city for 10 years, Rogers first got involved in the art scene when she designed a website with listings of local art events, www.artsinatlanta.org. She started her television show, on AT&T Broadband Public Access Channel 25 in DeKalb County every Saturday at 8 p.m., to counter much of the negative press she'd been reading about the flight of a handful of talented Atlantans like Kenny Leon from the city.
Her half-hour program is an impressive visual survey of some of the city's diverse offerings, including an upcoming tour of Atlanta-based artist Cedric Smith's personal art collection Nov. 16 and a free-form tour of the recent Eyedrum show All Small Nov. 2.
An artist who has often used cartoon imagery in his work, Post-Pop artist Kenny Scharf has now made an adult-friendly "Jetsons"-style show for the Atlanta-based Cartoon Network about a funky planet called "Groovenia" that sounds suspiciously like his hometown of Manhattan. Narrated by a crop of now retro-hipsters -- Paul Reubens, Dennis Hopper, Ann Magnuson, Debi Mazar and Vincent Gallo -- "The Groovenians" (debuting Nov. 10 at 10:30 p.m.) reconfigures the subversive pleasures of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" as self-referential kitsch for semi-groovy adults. But as any Nobel Prize winner will tell you, if you stretch kitsch too far, like overextended Silly Putty, it will break.
For Art's Sake is a biweekly column covering the local arts scene.
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