Last Thursday afternoon, I tried to attend a performance at Atlanta Symphony Hall of "The ATL," the new Dallas Austin-penned Atlanta theme song that touts the city's charms. I missed the event, however, because I got caught in terrible traffic. Somehow, that seems appropriate.
I did not, however, miss the week's other big unveiling, the grand re-opening of the newly super-sized High Museum. I and, according to the AJC, 11,999 other people, showed up to see the three new buildings and the new art, and to take advantage of Saturday and Sunday's free admission.
I visited on Sunday. My first stop was the new Anne Cox Chambers wing, a glass-walled space currently hosting an exhibit called Celebrate Architecture! I love that exclamation point. It feels like a command.
According to a blurb printed on the wall, the wing "creates a harmonious environment for viewing art." The room is filled with amazing scale models of modern buildings made of wood. I viewed them harmoniously.
Next, I headed over to the main new building, the Wieland Pavilion.
Named after developer John Wieland, the building, I'm sorry, pavilion is connected to the old building by glass-enclosed bridges. After darting back and forth a few times, I got a little lost and don't really know what building I was in when I saw Russell Crotty's "Great Comet Over The Acid Hill." Suspended from the ceiling in the middle of a room at eye-level, the piece is the shape of a giant beach ball. I asked the guy guarding it if kids come up and hit it.
"Actually," he said, "it's the adults."
In an adjacent room sat one of the most stared-at pieces I saw all day: 11 giant, identical polished sheets of glass leaning against a wall, one behind the other. Looking at the piece was like looking in a mirror before putting your contacts in. The text on the wall explained that "Richter's work questions the conventional roles of painting and photography and the inherent ideas regarding the representation of reality." No wonder people hate art.
My favorite new artwork ("new" meaning I'd never before seen it) was Vik Muniz's "Kyber Pass, Self-Portrait as an Oriental, After Rembrandt (Pictures of Junk)." From a distance, it's a grainy, washed-out, wall-sized self-portrait. Step close to it, though, and you see it's not actually a photograph of a person but a photograph of hundreds of pieces of garbage arranged to look like a person. It's amazing.
After an hour or so, I stepped outside to take some pictures of the building from the plaza, I mean piazza. Soon after I stepped out, I heard a loud whistle. Turning, I saw Baton Bob. Wearing a blue marching band hat and jacket, and a red mini-skirt, he proceeded to march back and forth, as if leading an imaginary marching band through the piazza. He even paused every few seconds to twirl his baton.
Most people just stared without expression. A few people laughed and some looked annoyed. Among the annoyed were two police officers and a museum employee who asked Baton Bob to kindly march off the premises. He did.
Extra!: Last week, New York Times columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman spoke to a packed audience at Georgia Tech's LeCraw auditorium, part of the College of Management's impressive Impact Speakers Series.
Friedman's speech was essentially a breathless summary of his new book, The World Is Flat. The book explains what economic globalization will mean both to countries and to people.
His columns sometimes annoy me, but enthusiasm about ideas is infectious. And, as a writer, I'm frankly awed by his ability to explain abstract concepts to non-academic audiences without dumbing them down.
Free form Friday: Last Friday night, I tore myself away from A&E's two-hour biography of the Bee Gees long enough to visit Eyedrum's Improv Festival, a gathering of improvisational musicians and their music.
Recommended by a friend, the group I came to see is a local ensemble called GFE. GFE stands for Gruppe Freie Elektronische.
Incidentally (or perhaps intentionally), GFE also is a term used by the escort industry that means "Girlfriend Experience." Needless to say, Googling the phrase "GFE Atlanta" to try to gather info about the band was an interesting way to kill 20 minutes.
GFE plays anti-melodic, anti-rhythmic, highly abrasive music using traditional instruments (bass, drums, sax, keys) augmented by electronics (sampled dialogue, a theremin). Eyedrum's website quotes one person describing the band's music as the sound of an "orchestra tuning up."
That's a funny description, but not quite right because it implies formlessness and aimlessness. GFE's piece, titled "The Black Abyss Around Your Heart, I Hate You" was free-form, but it wasn't formless. It wasn't pretty, but it was pure sound that, like meditation, is supposed to erase all thoughts and worries from my mind -- resulting in a blissful state that I quickly ruined by rushing home to watch more A&E.
The next evening, I stopped by Saltworks' opening reception for Gimme Shelter. The show features the work of five artists broadly exploring the idea of displacement. The piece everybody was going cuckoo for was Charles Nelson's video installation mixing Fritz Lang's film Metropolis with new music and robots.
My favorite experience of the evening, however, was eavesdropping on a pretentious guy trying to impress his friends with his ability to generate nonsense-artspeak about Wardell Milan's photograph "Sow The Seeds of Victory."
The highlight was when he explained to his friends how Milan's blurring of certain parts of his image was his way of "attacking the very idea of photography!" He also noted how the photograph also focused its attack on Republicans, even though the political figures depicted in the piece (Washington, Jackson, Franklin) predate the Republican Party's existence. No wonder people hate art.
For more of Andy's adventures, visit Scene & Herd at andy2000.org.
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