It was a year of openings and reopenings in the Atlanta art world in 2022. Some galleries had limited hours, an apparent vestige of the pandemic lockdown, but there were plenty of opportunities for Atlanta art lovers to view exhibits large and small, in person, online, outdoors and even at MARTA stations.
The High Museum of Art kicked off the year in January with the “The Obama Portraits.” The lines were long, the selfies ubiquitous.
In March, United Talent Agency, a global juggernaut, announced plans to open UTA Artist Space Atlanta in Midtown; it’s the second art gallery the Los Angeles-based company has created and the first outside Southern California. Plans are to open in the spring 2023. In the interim, UTA Artist Space organized pop-up exhibits of work by emerging Black artists at a terrific new art space in Pullman Yards.
New leaders, new spaces
Two museums announced new leadership: the Michael C. Carlos Museum brought on the supremely qualified Henry S. Kim as director and Liz Andrews arrived from Los Angeles to lead the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, which reopened in August, after a long lockdown hiatus, with the “Lava Thomas: Homecoming” exhibit. Andrews brought on art consultant Karen Comer Lowe, who had been consulting since leaving Hammonds House Museum. That museum had closed abruptly in January and fired Comer Lowe. It reopened in May.
The Fulton County Department of Arts and Culture awarded an impressive $2.3 million to 190 arts organizations of all kinds, one of several organizations large and small that supported the visual arts this year.
The Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, led by executive director Camille Russell Love, announced a new project installing public art in the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive corridor — some of it’s already in place — while muralists continued to bring brilliant color and potent messaging to the BeltLine, high rise buildings, basketball courts and more.
Credit: Photos by Kimberly Evans
Credit: Photos by Kimberly Evans
MARTA got creative with its Railtalk Re-Connect project which brought interactive fun to the dull gray of subway platforms: It was a terrific collaboration between MARTA ArtBound, Flux Projects and Atlanta Design Festival. A similar collaboration between MARTA ArtBound, NEXT, the High Museum and five Atlanta creatives, including Atlanta’s Moth host Jon Goode and cellist Okorie “OkCello” Johnson, took place in November.
Many galleries ramped up their virtual presence throughout the year, but in June Najee Dorsey did the opposite. With a robust online presence already in place, he opened the Black Art in America bricks-and-mortar gallery in East Point with a weekend-long celebration.
Credit: Photo Courtesy of Najee Dorsey
Credit: Photo Courtesy of Najee Dorsey
In October, Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery opened its new space on Ralph Abernathy Boulevard in what was once an auto supply warehouse, and The Signature Shop (aka The Signature Contemporary Craft Gallery) celebrated its 60th anniversary.
The city was abuzz with activity at the end of September when Atlanta Art Week, the brainchild of art consultant Kendra Walker, brought the community together with exhibit openings, artist talks, panels and more.
Losses in Atlanta art community
A huge loss for the photography world, and for Atlanta’s art community overall, was the death in March of photographer, collector and philanthropist Lucinda Bunnen. The crowds at her celebration of life at Atlanta Contemporary were testament to her unprecedented impact on the arts in Atlanta.
We lost a champion of the avant garde as well: Robert Cheatham, one of the founders of Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery. His death was announced in January. After gallerist Bill Lowe’s death in December 2021, The Bill Lowe Gallery
reopened in April with Donovan Johnson as the new executive director.
ArtsATL readers will no doubt have their own best art experiences of 2022. Here are a few from ArtsATL art writers Jerry Cullum (JC), Virginie Kippelen (VK), Donna Mintz (DM), Louise E. Shaw (LES) and Deann Sirlin (DS).
Move over Van Gogh projections. The Michael C. Carlos Museum offered a truly immersive experience this year: “Making an Impression: The Art and Craft of Ancient Engraved Gemstones” was a journey to ancient Greece and Rome via exquisite carved gemstones. Drawn mostly from the Carlos collection, they are miniature masterpieces, status symbols and heirlooms among the elite.
Primarily carved from precious materials such as emeralds and carnelian, the gemstones had some practical uses as signets. They were also used as talismans, love charms and medical amulets. All were meant to be admired. The highly-skilled engravers were primarily anonymous, and it’s likely enslaved people were tasked to mine stones from as far away as India. Magnifying glasses allowed for close examination of the extraordinary craftsmanship and stories these miniature objects tell. A tip of my hat to the Carlos staff, including curator Ruth Allen and the highly skilled mount-makers, installers, and exhibition designers. — LES
For years, I have argued there aren’t enough opportunities in Atlanta to engage with geopolitical art on the pulse of current events. Furthermore, there is a dearth of exhibitions that feature contemporary international artists, particularly from the Global South. “And I Must Scream” at the Carlos Museum was a major, tightly curated effort to rectify both these situations. The works featured monsters, skulls, maimed limbs, marauding birds, giant bugs, hybrid creatures melding humans and animals — the stuff of dreams and nightmares. With monsters as stand-ins for the ever-evolving horrors of the human condition, this exhibit was a take on the existential crises that define our times, from environmental destruction to governmental corruption, human displacement and COVID-19. The exhibition succeeded by positioning artists as messengers with the power to call us to action, just by showing us good art. — LES
A healthy arts ecology includes galleries that serve as bridges between artists and collectors. In for the long haul have been long-standing gallerists Susan Bridges (Whitespace), Marcia Wood and Alan Avery, among others. Along with these committed professionals are Robin Sandler and Debby Hudson, whose partnership began in 1982. In May, impacted by market forces for the fifth time, their Sandler Hudson Gallery moved to a new Westside location. The thoughtfully designed space is host to challenging exhibitions, including Krista Clark’s “After Barkley” — an elegy to the pandemic experience. Clark has produced an exquisite body of work based on the poetic nature of basketball, drawing equally upon artist Barkley Hendrick’s 1969 basketball series and “The Last Dance,” the 2020 documentary series about basketball legend Michael Jordan. This exhibition underscores Sandler Hudson’s commitment to Atlanta and regional artists. — LES
Many artists reflected on nature as they escaped their urban studios during the pandemic. This moment of pause became for many artists an occasion to be in nature, to look, feel, and be in the landscape. In “Arcadian Interlude” at Alan Avery Art Company, Gregory Botts demonstrated his command of color and line with compositions he has been developing over the course of his artistic career. The paintings and drawings manifest his particular vision through plein air painting steeped in color. Significant about this exhibition was the painter’s visual language which blended a new version of Cubism with the American pastoral. The paintings exude the spirit of summer through color, form and light, with broad strokes put down cleanly and with much bravado. — DS
“What Is left Unspoken, Love” was an exhibition at the High Museum of Art assembled by curator Michael Rooks and composed of 70 works by 35 artists expressing different kinds of love. The massive exhibition was divided into six parts, each focusing on a different aspect of love. One of the most meaningful works was “Untitled (Perfect Lovers),” 1991, by Félix González-Torres, comprised of two identical synchronized clocks that press up against each other. The clocks, representing the artist and his lover, eventually go out of synch with one another to depict the tension between lovers as one slowly moves toward death. This deceptively simple work contemplates love, the inevitability of death, and the preciousness of time with a loved one. — DS
“Contemporary Landscapes,” curated by Madeline Beck at Marietta Cobb Museum of Art, was a provocative look at a scene grown strange. Landscape is often thought of as relatively decorative subject matter; in Beck’s show, even the usually safe theme of mountains turned emotionally disturbing, and images of literal displacements with earthmoving equipment became strangely alluring. Using nothing but works by far-traveled metro Atlanta artists, Beck presented an uncanny country in which climate change is scarcely the half of our present discontents. Rather than exploring political aspects of landscape, though, Beck’s show was weighted toward issues of beauty and the terrain of what used to be called depth psychology. — JC
“First Acts,” Craig Drennen’s retrospective survey at Atlanta Contemporary, was the first effort to assemble the parts of the idiosyncratic visual languages the artist has developed to address his topic of every character in Shakespeare’s play “Timon of Athens.” Covering 11 characters thus far in 14 years, the works in this unfinished series bear only an intuitive relationship to the details of the little-known tragicomedy.
This allows for an interesting mix of representational rigor and free play; Drennen’s visual metaphors range from trompe l’oeil cigarette butts to much more rude pictures of body parts, and his themes from Christmas and robbers to . . . but there is no way to summarize the separate bodies of work, coherently provocative within each part but uncertainly related beyond their citation of “Timon of Athens,” considered one of the bard’s least successful plays. There is much left to explore in this brilliantly diverse work in progress. — JC
“Kertesz: Postcards from Paris” on view at the High museum this spring was a high-caliber exhibit that put in perspective the relevance of the early work of the celebrated photographer after he moved to Paris from his native Hungary in the early 1920s. The show was the first of its kind to bring together Kertesz’s rare postcard prints in their entirety, allowing the visitors to appreciate his creativity and playfulness. The small size of his prints — some of them a few inches wide and tall — felt intimate and asked for our attention. Unlike today’s digitalized images, they were soft and bathed in warm tones, yet they retained an intriguing feel for modern viewers. — VK
Among many excellent photography exhibits this year at Jackson Fine Art, Tabitha Soren was certainly the most captivating. The former MTV journalist turned photographer exhibited three of her most recent series, one of them never exhibited before in a gallery setting. Although different in their approaches, the bodies of work possessed a connective tissue in their quest to explore mentally fraught experiences, from our addiction to technology to our anxiety in the face of the unknown. Her photographs were seductive in their way of remaining open to interpretation and of inviting us to reflect on our most profound emotions. — VK
In a year that highlighted our unfinished political and racial reckonings, photographer Gillian Laub’s “Southern Rites” at Atlanta Contemporary was challenging, vital and necessary. Her deeply empathetic photographs of Black and white prom goers in Georgia’s Montgomery County, and the first-person text that accompanied them, revealed a systemic racism that was impossible to ignore.
Reminding us of the power of the photographic image to effect social change, “Southern Rites” offers the unmediated truth about one place, and the incremental change Laub witnessed there and perhaps catalyzed. In so doing, the exhibit reflects a universal concern, compelling us to look until our looking becomes seeing, and that’s the way change happens. Because truly seeing compels us to not look away. — DM
With “The Gravity of Beauty” at the Zuckerman Museum of Art, curator Cynthia Nourse Thompson delivered on the poetry of her title in a show that pondered nature, humanity and loss, and the potential of beauty to serve as respite in times of grief and suffering. Her selection of 10 artists whose work in video, sculpture and painting interrogated or exemplified these concerns in various ways and to varying degrees, illustrated the fact that “beauty, in the words of art critic Peter Schjeldahl, “[is] an irrepressible, anarchic, healing human response without which life is a mistake.” Beauty, if it ever “left” at all, is back, now when we need it most. — DM
Speaking of beauty and politics, painter Deborah Dancy’s luscious abstractions shown this summer in “Body of Evidence” at Marcia Wood Gallery operate, in her words, “in a realm in which beauty and tension simultaneously exist without explanation or narrative.” Though they remain decidedly abstract, narrative found its way in, nonetheless, on elements of subversive beauty. Glittery, crushed black stone scrawled graffiti-like across the surfaces of a series of 2020 works on paper inspired by the murder of George Floyd. Personal investigation of the histories of her enslaved ancestors inspired a collection of old silver trays and pewter bearing thought-provoking engraved text reminding us that of course, the personal is political. — DM
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com