Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Atlanta's Got Talent?

The Contemporary's "Atlanta Biennial" called Talent Show opened on June 8th and I spent last Saturday afternoon there (July 21st) watching various performances that seemed as varied in subject and style as the rest of the show. It was the first "Biennial"organized by the new head curator of The Contemporary, Stuart Horodner.

I had trouble getting into the Talent Show theme of the group show and it seemed more like an odd assortment of arts and crafts than a celebration of Atlantan's talents, the term "Biennial" seeming inappropriate. For me the show highlighted the great question in Contemporary art of how exactly one goes about defining what is "good" art in an artworld that embraces any practice, from graffiti to knitting, if it has the right spin (and curator) behind it. For example, the image above is a video by the very accomplished Atlanta artist Charles Huntley Nelson, who created a video "examining aspects of race, identity, and transformation" using references from the films The Invisible Man and Metropolis. Below is an image from a wall littered with paintings by the "Open Studio Art Group" which is a "weekly therapeutic art program for the residents of The Jewish Tower" (a retirement home I think).

While retirees are just as capable of making pertinent contemporary art as anyone else, the contrast between these images speaks for itself and I couldn't help but think that many artist in the show may have found their work a bit devalued by the work it was shown along side. In many ways, for me, it comes down to the artist's intent and a discrepancy between intellectual ambitions of the works.

Another example: the intricate and conceptually layered painting above by Jiha Moon, who is represented by Saltworks Gallery, was shown in the same gallery as the embroidered picture below by Lana Adams.

This show could easily start that never ending debate over "what is art?" and also tosses in the question "what is talent?" without giving any definite opinion. Perhaps the show could have more successfully answered that question if the public was able to curate the show instead of Horodner. Horodner likened the show to "Project Runway" and "America's Got Talent" but then curated the show, projecting his own agenda into something supposedly democratic. What if all of the entries had been put up on a website, to be voted on by the public? How different would the outcome of that show have been? It certainly could not have been any more random, but would have offered much more insight into how Atlanta does define "talent".
Another highlight of the show by Suellen Parker's digital photographs examining our culture's obsession with beauty and the abuses we endure in pursuit of it.

I enjoyed the performances on Saturday and found them more successfully fulfilling the promises of the show than the visual art. As always, the performance by Ronnog and Steve Seaberg was great, and seeing them for the first time indoors I was able to hear more of the spoken word poetry, the assertion "presidents are maggots" still resounding in my brain.

Shana Robbins performance outdoors was mesmerizing as she moved about the courtyard in a dress and mask made of broken mirror that reflected brilliant little bits of light on the ground all around her like a swarm of fireflies.

Talent Show at The Contemporary is up through August 11th 2007. More info at http://www.thecontemporary.org/

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Jonathan, thanks for holding the blogging banner aloft. Makes me want to get back in the mix.

What may have made Talent Show work better would have been a complete floor-to-ceiling, salon-style barrage of artwork where barely an inch of wall space was visible. Just everything all crammed in there. That would have given it a kind of carnival atmosphere that would have fit the vibe of trash and treasure (imagine quotes around those words of course) all crammed together where it's up to you to figure out which is which. Instead it was hung like a straight show, lots of gallery whitespace, etc. which made both the mid-career artists and the untrained artists both look strained against each other.

Anyway, thanks for the writeup. -cinque