Contemporary art covers vast range of media, themes

Contemporary art is a big tent, as these two very different exhibitions attest.

“The Birds and Some Bees,” at Swan Coach House Gallery, is all about objects. Many of the paintings, sculptures and prints contributed by 14 Southern artists bespeak the venerable tandem traditions of naturalistic representation and craftsmanship.

Drawing on his experience as a printmaker, Tim Hunter has carved wood reliefs of birds in their habitats that combine the precision of Audubon with an expressionist treatment of surface.

Joe Walters presents similar subject matter in table-top sculptures, but he takes them out of the realm of ornithology into the poetics of time. Encrusted with gritty patinas, they bring to mind artifacts and human remains uncovered at Pompeii.

Chris Condon’s clever fashioning of wasp nests out of laminated wood, stone and other materials are, like the previously mentioned works, imbued with a sensuous vitality.

The visual experience is center stage here, along with good-natured cheer, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Still, the tone belies the motivations behind some of the work, which a little help from labels and such might have brought forward. For instance, that Hunter depicts endangered species would be lost on all but the birders in the audience.

The context even tames a painting by Sarah Emerson, otherwise known for discomfiting depictions of nature gone awry.

Through March 6. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesdays-Saturdays. Swan Coach House Gallery. 3130 Slaton Drive. 404-266-2636. www.swancoach house.com.

NO LAB, Big Easy

“NO LAB on Tour,” at the ACA Gallery of SCAD, is a collaborative work by Cao Fei, a hot Chinese artist, and Map Office, a pair of French architects based in Hong Kong.

A child of the new China, Cao draws from television and video game imagery and media to depict the world in which she lives. She is perhaps best known for creating RMB City, an environment within the virtual reality game Second Life.

Making use of their architectural training, Laurent Gutierrez and Valerie Portefaix conduct research and analysis of China’s seismic cultural, economic and urban changes. They channel that information into their multimedia installations such as the combination of photographs, line drawings and metaphorical sculptural component you see at SCAD.

The subject is New Orleans. Originally created for Prospect I, the Big Easy’s biennial, “NO LAB” has since appeared at two of SCAD’s other locations, gathering material with each presentation.

The photographs and line drawings depicting the post-Katrina devastation, lush landscape and signs of renewal hanging on the walls are the raw material for the video showing in the center of the gallery.

Video director Cao re-creates the inundation and its aftermath, using a combination of the animated line drawings and real footage of water. Set to eerie music, the disaster proceeds at a processional pace. We witness as we might see RMB City in a computer flyover.

The video is affecting, but the way the artists move back and forth between media old and new, between this world and the virtual one, is the project’s most compelling feature.

Through Feb. 7. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; until 8 p.m. Thursdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. ACA Gallery of SCAD, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-815-2931. www.acagallery.org .

Catherine Fox writes about art and architecture on www.ArtsCriticATL.com.