Atlanta is in love with the group show. Like Sam's Club members and McMansion owners, local curators are obsessed with the bigger-is-better concept, filling every square inch of wall space with beaucoup art.
Have we learned nothing from director Morgan Spurlock of the ill effects of super-sizing it?
Maybe "group show" isn't even the proper term, since there are plenty of locally produced shows of four or five, even double-digit artists that manage to maintain a great sense of focus and high artistic standards. Maybe "super-size show" is the better term for exhibitions that feel like the curatorial equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet -- indigestion included.
Having curated several group shows myself (including the recent 25-artistpalooza So Atlanta with Helena Reckitt at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center), I can understand the temptation, especially when you have a large space to fill. There is a lot of talent out there and it's easy to try and shoehorn in just one more.
One reason the super-size show is so popular is because Atlanta has a large number of art students and recent grads with no gallery representation and slim bodies of work. They may not be ready for a solo show, but they certainly have enough work for a group show. And with young artists/curators anxious to present the work of friends, the urge to get the work out there often seems to be stronger than the urge to select and discriminate.
The results can range from disappointing to maddening.
In every group show, there are invariably artists who have tailored new, relevant work to the show and risen to the occasion. But they are often out-numbered by artists who are content to just slap something together. And the bloated group show only encourages such laziness, as artists compete for attention not with a handful of artists but with a daunting mass. A prime example was the Emergency Room: Artists Respond to War behemoth at the Mattress Factory last year, which managed to weaken social protest with its large number of artists offering poorly thought out, sloppy, uninspired work. Equally aggravating was the Reading Between the Lanes: Artists on the Road exhibition at Spruill Gallery, where an insane profusion of artists made my head swim. A great deal of good work was lost in the fracas.
For a how-to guide to group shows, there are several talented individuals and collectives who manage to super size without dumbing down.
The local artist-run collective Dos Pestañeos has the distinction of making even super-size shows thematically tight. The group tends to look outside Atlanta for its ideas, which makes its themes broad enough to engage a larger sampling of artists, instead of focusing on an incestuous local phenomenon that attracts a lot of like-minded artists.
Curator Melissa Messina (unfortunately part of a recent mass exodus to New York) has also shown a special ability to organize large-scale shows like Common Objects: Artists Transforming the Ordinary at City Gallery East and Transit: Abstracting the System at Chastain that don't sacrifice quality for quantity.
And speaking of Messina's departure (for graduate school at Pratt), Atlanta has always been a kind of way station for artists who eventually move on to more vibrant art scenes in bigger cities where gallery owners are not afraid to take a chance on fresh, challenging work. But the city seems to be losing more than its fair share of talented artists lately: Yun Bai, Emily Diehl, Roger Foster and Traci Molloy among them. Several, like Dos Pestañeos members Hope Hilton and Andrew Ross, are relocating for graduate school. Angela Willcocks is heading to L.A. where she hopes the art scene will be more receptive to her work, while a shortage of full-time teaching positions has inspired sculptor David Isenhour to hightail it to New York. And undoubtedly expressing a common restlessness in artists who are afraid that stasis = death, J. Ivcevich says he's headed to New York for fear of the Atlanta undertow: that life becomes so easy you lose your fire in the belly.
ShedSpace curator and founder Joey Orr says his annual summertime art show series, which is staged in backyard outbuildings across the city, is not coming to an end, just undergoing a metamorphosis.
The final installments of ShedSpace (www.shedspace.org) in its original incarnation will take place over three weekends from Aug. 7-21, featuring artwork by Peter Bahouth, Susan Cipcic, Danielle Roney, Bo Zhang and True Heart Collaborations.
Because of the enormous amount of time involved in planning and pulling off the exhibitions, Orr has decided to make ShedSpace an occasional event held throughout the year as he finds time to stage it.
In future ShedSpace shows, Orr hopes to address the troubling issues of racial and economic segregation that he saw at work in many of the transitional neighborhoods where the events took place.
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