The most far-reaching event of 2014 won’t even happen until next year: the announcement that director Michael Shapiro will retire in June after 20 years at the High Museum of Art. Whatever new leadership brings to Atlanta’s dominant art institution will impact the rest of the community. Add the changing of the guards at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (executive director Julie Delliquanti, chief curator Daniel Fuller) and the National Black Arts Festival (executive director Grace Stanislaus), and 2015 already looks like a path-altering year.
Not that 2014 was without import. This year saw the addition of a valuable community asset, Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University. Despite an inauspicious start with a censorship brouhaha (ultimately resolved), the museum, thanks to director Justin Rabideau, curator Teresa Bramlette Reeves and their colleagues, has distinguished itself by presenting some of the most original and thought-provoking exhibitions of the year.
There were many signs of the maturation among organizations young and old. A few examples: NBAF found its financial and strategic footing. The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia expanded its Education/Resource Center, enabling increased access to its permanent collection, historical archives and art library. WonderRoot arranged a 20-year lease of a city school and announced plans to create an eight-acre, mixed-use campus in Reynoldstown, to be called WonderRoot Center for Arts & Social Change.
Photography had a banner year at the High Museum, including the inauguration of the Lucinda Weil Bunnen Gallery for Photography. The museum also announced the endowment of photography and folk art chairs, thus completing its goal of endowing all its curatorial positions.
And, of course, there was art. ArtsATL critics have selected some of their favorite exhibitions. Please feel free to add your own in the Comments section.
Kongo Across the Waters at the Carter Center, offered an unparalleled look at the total range of artistic production of the Kingdom of Kongo and its successors over the course of some 300 years, alongside a parallel examination of the Kongo-influenced artistic production of the African Diaspora in North America and the Caribbean. It will almost certainly be a long time before we see a comparable array of religious paraphernalia, prestige goods and functional objects ranging from musical instruments to walking canes, simultaneously illustrating the daily life of a Central African culture and the creative transformation of its aesthetic on this side of the Atlantic. Full review. Jerry Cullum
Guess You Had To Be There. Shara Hughes’ Working Artist Project show at MOCA GA, demonstrated how many ways it is possible to make a successful and genuinely exploratory painting. Hughes seldom took the same road twice, and the result was a show full of pleasurable visual surprises. Each painting invited long, reflective looking and the focused attention required to discern the often circuitous but always accomplished pictorial and stylistic logic. With this body of work, Hughes extended a traditional medium in unexpected, truly innovative directions without departing from the application of layers of paint to canvas. Full review. JC
Wynn Bullock Revelations. The High Museum is to be commended for putting together this major retrospective of Wynn Bullock, the first one in nearly 40 years. The aptly titled exhibit attempts to reignite interest in a master photographer who was once hailed as a luminary alongside Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. Organized by curator Brett Abbott, the show tackles all aspects of Bullock’s photography, from black-and-white landscape, nature studies and nudes to experimental work with color and abstraction. Through January 18. Full review. Virginie Drujon-Kippelen
The Fence. Strolling by a 600-foot-long banner displaying great photography is an uncommon treat. Atlanta Celebrates Photography’s public art project made the experience possible for the thousands of people who used the Atlanta BeltLine this fall. Exhibiting the work of 40 international photographers outdoors was a wonderful way to reach audiences who don’t frequent traditional art venues. The range of the images made it not only a crowd-pleaser but also an invigorating photographic exploration of the meaning of community across cultural boundaries and geographic lines. VDK
Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art from the Pearlman Collection at the High Museum afforded Atlanta audiences rare glimpses into the formative years of European modernism. It also offered insight into the collecting impulse of Henry Pearlman, a businessman who became interested in modern art when he saw a painting by Chaim Soutine at an auction house in the mid-1940s. Over three decades Pearlman amassed a collection of more than 70 works of art including 33 by Cézanne, whose work moved him the most. Full review. Dinah McClintock
Grav•i•ty. It’s hard to put Fahamu Pecou in a box. Painter, performer, scholar and cultural critic, the Brooklyn-born artist makes work equally hard to pin down, and this multiplicity is its strength. The culmination of his Working Artist Project Grant at MOCA GA, the exhibit frames the hip-hop fashion trend of saggin as a deeply politicized cultural phenomenon with complicated history and resolve. Through drawing, painting and sound works, Pecou ruminates on the ways in which the style is an act of resistance, a “demand to be seen” and a social impediment for all its stereotypical associations. Refreshing for its social relevance and real-world engagement, the show proves Pecou a sophisticated thinker as he unpacks the ways hip-hop culture informs notions of masculinity, mobility and agency in young African American men. Full review. Faith McClure
Micah and Whitney Stansell, Scarlet Air at Whitespace. Contemporary art too often rejects sincerity for irony and sentimentality for impenetrable theoretical musings. Addressing the hyperconnected maelstrom of the 21st century alongside the dawn of digitalization in the late 1980s, their three-channel video installation is unabashedly beautiful and full of feeling. It tells a loose narrative based on the artists’ older siblings, demonstrates nostalgia for the predigital and serves as a meditation of analog’s trendy revival among today’s urban youths. In step with Susan Bridges’ eye for quality, this work is a reminder that contemporary art can be honest and accessible while also sharp and penetrative. Full review. FM
Serving Face. Mounted by Barbara Archer Gallery at the Erikson Clock building, Aubrey Longley-Cook‘s exhibition offered a revitalized platform for queer art in Atlanta. The result of Longley-Cook’s RuPaul Cross-Stitch Animation Workshop (wherein 35 participants made cross-stitched portraits of the drag queen), the show fused the city’s drag subculture with a broader community-based agenda. The collaboration — fun and educational while also subverting stereotypes of gender and sexuality — opened the history and language of drag to wider audiences. The knockout show featured both the RuPaul works from the workshop and Longley-Cook’s own cross-stitch animations paying homage to Atlanta’s most talented divas. Full review. FM
See Through Walls. Artist-curator Teresa Bramlette Reeves and associate curator Kirstie Tepper have proven themselves the Zuckerman Museum’s dynamic duo. See Through Walls, the museum’s inaugural exhibition, set the standard as a gallery space eager for intelligent, comprehensive, risk-taking work. Commemorating the new complex itself, the show was a poetic expository on the language of architecture and its myriad metaphorical interpretations in the fields of culture, politics, environment and home. The mammoth exhibition exemplifed Reeves’ special gift: seamlessly weaving together divergent conceptual trajectories while also intermingling local, national and historical work. Full review. FM
Wishes, a work in Renée Stout’s Tales of the Conjure Woman at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, poetically delivered the idea that objects can contain worlds. A blown-glass sculpture in the form of a jar filled with puffballs of dandelion seeds was the silent still-point in the room, a stirring vision in white full of magic and mystery that struck me as the perfect, haunting metaphor for the Diaspora itself: people, dispersed, like so much blown dandelion fluff. Full review. Donna Mintz
The Forty Part Motet. Canadian sound artist Janet Cardiff is interested in how sound can physically construct a space in a sculptural way. Her sound sculpture, comprising 40 speakers and the recorded sound of 40 voices singing a 16th-century polyphonic chorale work, transformed a fourth-floor gallery space in the High Museum into a Gothic cathedral. Visitors were invited to walk among the speakers and hear the individual voices, but the cumulative effect was such a transformative, soul-stirring and transcendent experience, why demystify it? The soaring and collective power of the human voice made it impossible to listen without gazing heavenward. Full review. DM
The Universe Next Door. Photographer Abelardo Morell made magic at his High Museum retrospective, which left no doubt that he is also a poet. Surrealism, magic realism, the scientific principles of light and an inchoate sense of longing informed the dreamlike photographs, especially the large-scale camera obscura works, which invited the rational and the irrational to exist in the same room — juxtaposed images that felt like artifacts from the land of dreams and memory. Full review. DM
Laboratory, at the Zuckerman Museum, is an object lesson in what a university museum can do to inform, enlighten, challenge and wow its visitors. In an interactive exhibit designed to draw parallels between art and scientific research and methodology, contemporary artists’ works were paired with historic texts from the university’s collection in a way that illuminated — and benefited — both, and reminded us of the ways in which art and science are analogous practices. (Full review when museum reopens in January) DM
The Doors of Perception: Recent Sculpture at Marcia Wood Gallery. Clark Derbes’ polygonal painted sculptures, carved by chain saw from elm, butternut or silver maple, demonstrated a remarkable shape-shifting quality enhanced by intricately detailed surface designs painted in gouache. Whether rough-hewn beauties in earth tones or frenetic explosions of bright color, they reveal influences from southern vernacular art traditions and muralists such as Keith Haring. The overall effect is a mesmerizing combination of the primitive with the futuristic. Jeff Stafford
The Book as Art: Expanding the Limit at the Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur. As the kickoff event for the AJC Decatur Book Festival, this wildly eclectic 39-piece exhibition challenged traditional perceptions of the book in analog form. Utilizing pop-up illustrations, hand-dyed silk pages, scrolls or materials made out of everything from bamboo to aluminum, international artists found new and often startling ways to reimagine not just the physical format of a book but also the ideological essence of the content. JS