Where's the party? 

The Contemporary cancels ArtParty

The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center has decided it can do without its highest-profile event of the year. The institution is axing this year's ArtParty fundraiser, which is typically held in September and unofficially inaugurates the city's art season. Begun in 1982, the annual event has become legendary for drawing an eclectic crowd of regular art-goers as well as more secular party animals who appreciate the event's combination of artwork, performance art, live music, drag queens and the occasional unscripted moment, like last year's Naked Guy.

Contemporary Executive Director Rob Smulian promises the event will return in 2004. One reason for this year's cancellation, he says, is that it would have overburdened the staff, which just threw a 30th Anniversary Gala in June that raised $60,000. Because of funding cuts, the institution has had to reduce its staff in recent years from 12 to six.

As a fundraiser, ArtParty has proven unpredictable. In 2001, the event cost about $120,000 to put on, and it not only failed to generate a profit, but it actually lost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Rain dampened the party in 2002, reducing the number of revelers to about 1,000 -- 500 less than projected. That year's event cost $40,000-$45,000 to produce (a final audit is pending), but it only made a profit of $15,000-$20,000.

"I think we have to look at realistic ways to make it a much more profitable event," says Smulian. "Fifteen thousand dollars is great, but that won't get me through a month." To make ArtParty worth the staff's time and effort to produce, "I would think we would have to net at least $50,000," he says.

The key to success, says Smulian, is to put more emphasis on securing sponsorship and less on ticket sales, which can be unpredictable and subject to the cruel whims of Mother Nature.

But Smulian is adamant that the ArtParty is not going the way of the 22-year-old Nexus Press, which closed shop last February.

Like an overexposed party girl, the event is just taking a year-long sabbatical.

"It's a great party. Everyone loves it, it's got a great brand name and none of us want to see it go away," he says.

If the national media and museum exhibitions are to be believed, architecture is sizzling hot right now.

From all of that ink spilled on Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Daniel Libeskind's World Trade Center design and other high-profile projects, you'd think a trickle down might have occurred. But non-brand name architects say the cream has tended to stay at the top, and regional architects feel slighted when it comes to press coverage. The third annual "Emerging Voices" Atlanta architecture competition seems partly aimed at raising the profile of younger visionaries in the field.

This year's winner, Kathryn Bedette, of Goode Van Slyke Architecture, offered a refreshingly clean design combined with witty visual flourishes in her transformation of a 260,000-square-foot former turntable rail yard into the Northyards Business Park near Georgia Tech.

Bedette will speak about her work in a Sept. 18 lecture at the Foundry at Puritan Mill, 916 Lowery Blvd., at 6 p.m. An exhibition of her award-winning work will also run at the Foundry Sept. 18-Oct. 30.

The High Museum will be the last stop for The Quilts of Gee's Bend, which appeared this winter at the Whitney Museum in New York. As a preamble to that blockbuster show slated for December 2005, Modern Primitive Gallery has created its own spin-off show, Crossing the River: The Quilts of Gee's Bend, featuring 14 quilts produced by a community of seamstresses in rural Alabama.

The Gee's Bend quilts are noted for their humble materials like denim and for their off-kilter sensibility. Several of the quilts in the Modern Primitive show are like a mind-bending blast from a 1975 high school yearbook. Mary Lee Bendolph's "Work Clothes," for instance, brings back the textures and flavors of the recent American past faster than the opening bars of Heart's "Magic Man." The quilt is a fanciful combination of camouflage, rust-colored corduroy and those ludicrously disco-stitched jeans pockets that provided the perfect place to display plastic pick combs.

Part of the appeal of these quilts is the charming intimacy of the pieces -- like conceptual art executed not by somber design grads but by grannies smelling like Coty face powder and violet water. Essie Pettway's "Untitled" quilt, which has interlocking lines of crazy patterns and colors disappearing into a vanishing point of fashion "Don'ts," looks like a marvelous piece of Op Art as interpreted by JCPenney. Forget tea towels and crocheted doilies, my friend, and get thee to the crazy quilts at Modern Primitive (www.modernprimitive.com) through Aug. 17.

felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com


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

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