Tit, a sad little form made of scrap materials coated with a pale polyurethane skin perching on a worn aluminum stool, greets visitors to the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center’s Be Here Now.
Andrew Boatright’s sculpture is an emblematic welcome. The Atlanta artist and his fellow participants, Mike Black and Sandra Erbacher, transform everyday materials into conceptually playful and viscerally intriguing objects.
According to the curatorial statements, the show, on view through August 30, “is like an edict from the artists and our Center: be present and sensitive to the conditions that surround you.” Its mission: to present viewers with art that “investigates presence, form and function” to “challenge gallery environments” and engage the “physicality and scale of ACAC’s galleries and adjacent spaces.”
Only Mike Black’s work answers the implied promise of site-specificity. In Disregard Series #13 (2014), Black physically extends the building’s gray metal ductwork into the “white cube” of the gallery. Recalling the 1960s minimalist installations of Robert Morris, Black’s HVAC ducts stand against the wall and run along the floor. Tufts of pink insulation peek out from joints, and it hangs in heavy bundles in the wall-hung piece Pink Panther (2014), calling attention to the color, texture and formal qualities of the otherwise disregarded material.
The duct sculpture offers itself for aesthetic contemplation — with a twist. It is functional: cold air flows from a vent at the end of one piece, and all of the conduits are cold to the touch, confounding the spectator’s expectations of “art.”
Sandra Erbacher’s clever conceptual appropriations thwart viewers’ preconceptions by putting common features of institutional settings on display as “art” in the gallery space, though for the most part there is little direct relation with ACAC’s galleries and spaces.
Hardware (2014), a small, gold-plated screw with a diamond-inlaid head, turns a “worker bee” into a precious display object that playfully satirizes the dynamics of display. Carpet, subway tile and a neon exit sign are similarly transformed into conceptual installations.
These are part of a body of work that earned Erbacher the 2014 Chazen Museum Prize to an Outstanding MFA Student at the University of Wisconsin. Transplanted to these galleries, however, some of her work loses its context. Resistance Weave (Assedic 2041) (2014) is an 11’8” x 15’4” rectangle of light brown carpet with the word Anarchy shaved into its pile. Its placement on the gallery wall conditions viewers to regard the humble material that they usually walk on as an abstract painting.
But this carpet could just as easily have been taken from a random office building as an art gallery. If there were similar carpeting at ACAC, the irony of its aesthetic transformation would seem more relevant.
“Assedic” is the name of a French labor organization, but its relationship to art institutions is unclear. Is the shaving of the carpet pile labor? As a commonplace functional object, is it supposed to relate to the “worker bee” Hardware? Are cultural institutions implicated? Anarchy implies many things, but detached from referents and without explanation, it is meaningless.
Like works by Erbacher and Black, Boatright’s biomorphic creations call attention to contrasting form and material presence. The Inner Experience of Wholeness (2014), for instance, is made of rebar, nylon stockings, foam, polyurethane adhesive, bleach, spray paint and, according to the wall label, “pathos.”
Standing on what appears to be a broken foot (or leg) with limbs outstretched, forming a supplicant X, the hybrid creature compellingly begs for compassion, even though it is just an agglomeration of industrial materials.
The figure in Crazy Horse (2014) poses atop a tower of cinder blocks, sword in hand, fighting an existential battle like the attenuated sculptures of Alberto Giacometti, until the humility of its materials makes its quest seem absurd.
Undeniably our expectations affect our experience of art when viewed in a museum or gallery. Even though the works don’t always manifest the stated curatorial concerns, the intellectually amusing and engaging installations in Be Here Now are well worth the visit.