Spotlight shines on women artists, curators and gallery owners this fall

Artist Kelly Taylor Mitchell will be featured in a solo exhibition this November at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.
Contributed by Nydia Blas

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Artist Kelly Taylor Mitchell will be featured in a solo exhibition this November at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. Contributed by Nydia Blas

Atlanta bucks a national trend that favors white male artists.

It’s become something of a cliché in the art world — because it has the ring of truth — that there are more naked women on gallery walls than there are women artists.

According to a 2019 report by Artnet News, just 11% of museum acquisitions at 26 prominent American art institutions between 2008-2018 represented work by women artists. For African American artists, the picture is even bleaker. Black artists make up just 3.3% of the total number of female artists whose work is collected by U.S. institutions.

But Atlanta can sometimes seem to occupy a different reality. When it comes to women in arts leadership positions and on gallery walls, the city has often been the exception to the rule. That is especially true this fall, with exhibitions of women artists dominating the arts calendar, including a major retrospective of Georgia artist Nellie Mae Rowe at the High Museum and a certifiable lady fest at Atlanta Contemporary featuring New York-based painter Adrienne Elise Tarver and Atlanta artists Yehimi Cambron, Tricia Hersey and Lucinda Bunnen.

“When you’re in New York, or even Los Angeles, I don’t think that women are making their mark in quite the same way,” says Robin Bernat, owner of the Atlanta contemporary art gallery Poem 88, who will be featuring Atlanta-based artist Hannah Tarr at the gallery this fall.

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Poem 88 owner Robin Bernat has made featuring women artists part of her gallery's mission. Contributed by Jon Ciliberto

Poem 88 owner Robin Bernat has made featuring women artists part of her gallery's mission.
Contributed by Jon Ciliberto

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Poem 88 owner Robin Bernat has made featuring women artists part of her gallery's mission. Contributed by Jon Ciliberto

Part of the increasing representation of women artists in Atlanta is undoubtedly due to the number of women gallerists like Bernat who have historically dominated the scene. In fact, most of the city’s leading contemporary art galleries and museums, from Arnika Dawkins Gallery and Marcia Wood Gallery to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia and Atlanta Contemporary, are helmed by women.

In addition, the region’s leading art publication, Art Papers, is led by women, and Atlanta Celebrates Photography just hired its third female executive director, Stephanie Dowda DeMer. Mint Gallery, Hammonds House, the High Museum and the Creatives Project have all recently hired new curators and executive directors of color.

In the wake of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter and the attention they have drawn to a power structure that often excludes women and people of color, Atlanta galleries and arts organizations seem to be making progress in exhibiting not just women artists, but in opening up their institutions to visiting female curators.

Increasingly, it is the contributions of women curators who have imprinted Atlanta with a uniquely female point of view. A growing class of diverse women curators, including Makeda Lewis, Jordan Amirkhani, Lauren Tate Baeza and Karen Comer Lowe, are bringing a fresh vision to the city and tapping into new veins of talent.

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Daricia Mia DeMarr (left) and Lauren Jackson Harris (right) are the co-founders of Black Women in Visual Art dedicated to promoting the work of black curators and other behind the scenes art players. Contributed by Mel Alexander

Credit: Melissa Alexander

Daricia Mia DeMarr (left) and Lauren Jackson Harris (right) are the co-founders of Black Women in Visual Art dedicated to promoting the work of black curators and other behind the scenes art players.
Contributed by Mel Alexander

Credit: Melissa Alexander

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Daricia Mia DeMarr (left) and Lauren Jackson Harris (right) are the co-founders of Black Women in Visual Art dedicated to promoting the work of black curators and other behind the scenes art players. Contributed by Mel Alexander

Credit: Melissa Alexander

Credit: Melissa Alexander

Daricia Mia DeMarr and Lauren Jackson Harris are co-founders of Black Women in Visual Art, whose primary mission is to promote and support black women who work as art managers and curators.

“These sort of traditional staple spaces like the Atlanta Contemporary, for example, are really seeking alternate voices,” says DeMarr. Part of that is undoubtedly due, she says, to budgetary and staffing constraints. DeMarr has curated exhibitions at galleries including Mint and Atlanta Contemporary and is mounting shows next year at Columbus State University and Steffen Thomas Museum of Art, where she is guest curator for “A Feminine View of Brotherhood,” a show featuring women artists.

Instead of hiring a replacement when curator Daniel Fuller left Atlanta Contemporary in June 2019, Executive Director Veronica Kessenich made a concerted effort to bring visiting women curators, both emerging and mid-career, into the fold. And they in turn often highlighted the work of women artists. As a result, women artists currently represent 76% of artists on view, with 20% male and 4% gender non-conforming or non-binary.

“It was, for me, a really beautiful way to be thoughtful in who we’re working with and how that changes the exhibitions and the programming — public facing as well as internally,” says Kessenich. “It’s definitely a path that we’re going to continue on, to really make sure that we offer these sorts of curatorial programs and opportunities to people who may not have had opportunities in the past.”

That focus makes sense, says Kessenich, since 71% of Atlanta Contemporary’s audience is female and the majority of visitors are also people of color.

“People want to uplift people who are doing really good work,” she says. “And I just think that there’s a lot of women who are doing really good work.”

With so many women owners and directors of art spaces in the city, Atlanta is poised to lead the charge in creating an art landscape that’s not dominated by white men.

“In my own business, I can change,” says Bernat. “I can flip that around. So it would just seem like the right thing to do.”


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Atlanta-based artist Yehimi Cambron (shown here with her Atlanta Contemproary installation #ChingaLaMigra) is one of the many women artists featured this fall at Atlanta Contemporary. Contributed by Sergio Suarez

Atlanta-based artist Yehimi Cambron (shown here with her Atlanta Contemproary installation #ChingaLaMigra) is one of the many women artists featured this fall at Atlanta Contemporary.
Contributed by Sergio Suarez

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Atlanta-based artist Yehimi Cambron (shown here with her Atlanta Contemproary installation #ChingaLaMigra) is one of the many women artists featured this fall at Atlanta Contemporary. Contributed by Sergio Suarez

ART EVENTS

“Wild Chrysalis Bloom: Zipporah Camille Thompson.” Through Oct. 23. Free. Whitespace Gallery, 814 Edgewood Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-688-1892, whitespace814.com.

“Andrea Clark: Cave” and “Maria Korol: Tidal Range.” Through Oct. 16. Free. Marcia Wood Gallery, 764 Miami Circle, NE, Suite 150, Atlanta. 404-827-0030, www.marciawoodgallery.com.

“Really Free: The Radical Art of Nellie Mae Rowe.” Through Jan. 9. $16.50. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-4444, www.high.org

“Hannah Tarr: Angel of the Industrial Park.” Through Oct. 30. Free. Poem 88, 1123 Zonolite Road, Suite 8C, Atlanta, 404-735-1000, www.poem88.net.

“Adrienne Elise Tarver: Underfoot”; “Lucinda Bunnen: Inward, Outward, Forward”; “Tricia Hersey: A DreamSpace Reclaimed”; “Yehimi Cambron #ChingaLaMigra.” Through Jan. 9. Free. Atlanta Contemporary, 535 Means St. NW, Atlanta. 404-688-1970, atlantacontemporary.org.

“Katarina Janeckova Walshe.” Through Oct. 30. Free. Alan Avery Art Company, 656 Miami Circle NE, Atlanta, 404-237-0370, www.alanaveryartcompany.com

“Jeanine Michna-Bales: Standing Together.” Through Dec. 3. Free. Arnika Dawkins Gallery, 4600 Cascade Road, Atlanta, 404-333-0312, www.adawkinsgallery.com

Kelly Taylor Mitchell: Reunion.” Nov. 6-Jan. 1. $5. The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, 75 Bennett Street, Suite M1, Atlanta, 404-367-8700, www.mocaga.org