With the tragic, unexpected death of well-regarded museum director Justin Rabideau in October and the more recent departure of curator Sarah Higgins, the Zuckerman Museum of Art may be entering a period of transition as it defines its vision in the larger Atlanta art world. In the past, the museum on the Kennesaw State University campus has specialized in large, occasionally uneven group shows on a variety of topics from the human figure to the occult with notable triumphs like the museum’s sprawling treatise on death and dying and AIDS, “Art AIDS America.”
The Zuckerman’s most recent, engaging group show “Louder than Words,” marries an array of local and national artists. Its focus is on ideas and meaning conveyed nonverbally. As you might expect music, dance and the ways human beings telegraph their intent in sound, expression and gesture figure prominently. Deaf artist Joseph Grigley’s “What Did I Say?” compiles slips of paper containing messages—the artist’s primary form of communication—passed between Grigley and friends and family into a colorful collage. Like many of the works in “Louder than Words” that wall of messages substituting for the human voice creates a suggestively buzzing cacophony that can remind one of how “sound” can be imagined, suggested and implied just as powerfully, in the absence of spoken language.
Video works figure prominently in the exhibition. They range from the contemporary to the historic, like the still-shocking Yoko Ono performance work “Cut Piece.” In that 1964 performance, a crowd of male and female spectators is invited onstage to cut away pieces of Ono’s clothing with a menacing pair of scissors, like buzzards picking at a corpse. The artist kneels, silent, but her darting sideways glance and the film of sweat on her face tell us all we need to know about her state of mind. In the end, she is exposed, wearing only her bra and the tattered remnants of her dress, and a point indelibly made about the thin line separating civilization from savagery. An equally mesmerizing time capsule, the game show “I’ve Got a Secret,” in 1960 featured avant-garde musician, John Cage, performing his composition “Water Walk.” As the studio audience titters and then erupts in gales of laughter, Cage “performs” a composition using a blender, bathtub filled with water, piano, a water jug, rubber ducky and a variety of other household objects in a kind of anarchic Rube Goldberg symphony of strange interrelationships between things. It’s a fascinating piece that comments upon the many symphonies that unfold in the course of a day, the strange medley of sounds that make up the soundtrack of our lives.
One of the most trenchant pieces is Atlanta artist Sarah Hobbs’ apocalyptic assemblage “Keep Sake.” On two gallery walls, the artist has arranged a collage of the type of photographs you’d find in news magazines inside an assortment of books, splaying them open to display her alternative tracts. In one assemblage of images pasted into those books, flood waters rise, devouring homes and cars, people piled into motorboats to escape. Another collage shows rivers and lakes turned fluorescent pink or purple, polluted with dyes from nearby factories. An entire group of images features plastic bags floating like jellyfish in the ocean, or beaches belching up a tide of plastic flip flops. We certainly have the words for some of this: global warming, pollution, disaster. But it’s the horrifying accretion of images that convey what we need to know here. The piece builds forcefully and powerfully, creating its own suggestive soundscape of disaster. It’s a cliché, but sometimes words get in the way of what is so visible, looming right in front of our eyes.
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