Review: MOCA GA’s ‘Gathered V’ reveals depth and diversity of Georgia artists

Gathered V: Georgia Artists Selecting Georgia Artists,” on view through March 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA GA), delivers a representative sampling of the work being made by the state’s artists that is both refreshingly diverse and organically cohesive.

The work was selected by a panel of three Atlanta-based artists: Krista Clark, Gregor Turk and Lucha Rodriguez. They culled the 46 works from over 850 individual submissions from more than 300 artists who answered the museum’s call for submissions for this year’s iteration of the biennial exhibition. Gathered began in 2006 as “Within State Lines.” The last iteration, “Gathered IV,” was in 2019.

The breadth of the work being made in Georgia, and the interests/concerns which inspire it, is just as varied as its origins. While the artists currently hail from 31 counties and 66 cities across the state, many of them arrived here from other states and countries, among them Colombia, Mexico, Congo and South Korea.

Unlike many group shows, there is no organizing theme beyond being Georgia-generated. Nevertheless, discernible themes emerge. Mixed media sculpture, painting, photography, embroidery and other handwork, along with various class-defying combinations of each, are grouped roughly alongside similar work in the three gallery spaces.

Surprisingly, since all the work was made within the last three years, there are only three works directly traceable to the current pandemic. Ellie Dent’s “Hospital Blues” incorporates medical materials on multiple small panels with undeniable associations, as do the pencil drawings in Eilis Crean’s “Essential Workers” series. And Benjamin Jones pressed pins and beads into found rabbit forms to create three sculptures made during, and inspired by, the COVID-19 lockdown.

Credit: Courtesy of MOCA GA

Credit: Courtesy of MOCA GA

Photography dominates as you enter the museum. The most striking are Jose Ibarra’s “Mario’s Garden” and David Clifton-Strawn’s “The Embrace.” The former addresses the artist’s concerns of the migrant experience in the American South and the latter is a celebration of what Clifton-Strawn describes as the “individuals and communities living in Atlanta.”

The small gallery to the right focuses on more sculptural works that seem to investigate the process of making, notably Mitchell Biggio’s clean minimalist wood and graphite construction and Ben Dunn’s satisfyingly vernacular one, along with Walker Keith Jernigan’s oil on canvas that serves as an examination of the art object itself.

Casey McGuire and MaDora Frey incorporate construction materials and rock (found, or in the case of McGuire’s, built) to deliver a sense of place, in a very different way from Ann Otterness’ “Georgia Red Clay” in the adjacent large gallery. Her smallish oil on canvas portrays the groundbreaking of the then-future home of the Atlanta Braves and features the open red ground — the literal stuff of place — familiar to all who live with Atlanta’s constant restless development.

To my eye, it’s the only work that references place so explicitly, though I do believe Jamele Wright’s most pleasing “FLAT SPLAT just like THAT” — a Sam Gilliam-like mixed media on found canvas — incorporates red clay on its surface, an artifact of place and time.

Painting proliferates in the large gallery space. Step back to see how “Eremocene I (spark)” — Pam Longobardi’s cosmic/underwater oil and enamel on copper — pairs in form and color, if not theme, with Wright’s. Color comes out to play in Carol John’s bright patterns which evoke Indigenous Australian dot drawings, and Melanie Eberhardt’s “Party at the Pool” in near-neon gouache.

All is not bright, however; and all is definitely not calm. Larkin Ford’s mesmerizing “The Deeds and Bodies of the Great Power” is a de Chirico-like dreamscape of a nightmare. Despite its beauty, Ben Steele’s large oil painting “The Shape of Things to Come (23)” pairs futuristic architecture with historical landscape painting to create a beautiful, but disturbing, vision of the future.

Credit: Courtesy of MOCA GA

Credit: Courtesy of MOCA GA

Antonio Darden, whose only brother and single closest relative was shot and killed by a Georgia State Patrol officer, delivers a powerful vision of the disturbing present and near past. His mixed media installation explores self-identity, what it means to be a multiracial man in the world today, and what it costs to assimilate.

Like Darden, several other artists ponder both the present and the past of the experience of being a Black American. Derrick Phillips’s “Conversation With Grandma” addresses what he calls the “tragedies and triumphs of what it is to be Black in America,” with a beautifully wrought mixed media work on wood.

And they are creating beauty. To my eye, “bulb/blossom,” Michelle Laxalt’s small wall sculpture, is among the most beautiful things I have seen — anywhere. Delicate porcelain folds in dusky amethysts, ivories, taupes and lavenders evoke in equal parts the labial folds of a parrot tulip, delicate seashells and other organic forms in a perfect balance of grace and mystery.

The artists in “Gathered V” have come from many places to call Georgia home. Where they came from may inform them, but it doesn’t define them. This group seems to ask the more important question of where we are going. Wherever that turns out to be, this state of the arts moment at MOCA GA proves that Georgia-generated is a great place to begin.

VISUAL ARTS REVIEW

“Gathering V: Georgia Artists Selecting Georgia Artists”

Through March 19. 75 Bennett St., Suite M1, Atlanta. 404-367-8700, mocaga.org.


Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

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