Having seen countless rambling group art shows purporting to have a theme, I used to joke that I should organize an exhibition and call it “Stuff I Like” or “Artists I Know.” It seems as good a premise as any.
Something like that is now on view at Get This! Gallery, a group show curated by Atlanta artist William Downs, who has selected artists he knows, through work, teaching, music or friendships, in various places where he’s lived: Baltimore, New Orleans, New York City and upstate New York. Downs has even provided a hand-drawn diagram that delineates his connections to the artists, available at the desk.
Titled “In Unison,” the show is anything but. It’s a stylistic cacophony, but one that perfectly captures the diversity and complexity of art today. For Downs, the works are united by their shared use of light and nature themes, which is a tough sell when works such as Will Oldham’s photographs of items on hotel walls — a tacked-up poem and a drawing of a masturbating woman — are devoid of either.
Group shows are great for their roster of names if the works encourage further inquiry on the part of the viewer. But they have challenges (not to malign all group shows; many are rigorously thought out and informative). They offer breadth but little depth. We get only a snapshot of an artist’s output. Works are usually bereft of context or explanation. Selected pieces can be minor or represent just a small part of a larger project or diverse body of work.
For example, based on the small collage drawing of a Cubist-like head, viewers might never guess that Derrick Adams has a multifaceted practice that includes compelling performances, video and sculpture. Scott D. Silvey’s painting seems little more than a well-executed benign botanical, but its medicinal title, “Blood Sugar, To Lower,” hints at more. According to Downs, Silvey has depicted plants that will “kill you or cure you,” which gives the pretty painting some teeth.
Two small paintings by Lisa Sanditz, who benefits from having more than one work in the show, boast energetic brushwork and roughly described forms. In one, a bright yellow splotch at the center is barely recognizable as “Deflated Sponge Bob.” Across the gallery, the other, rendered in luscious impasto, is a mottled gourd dubbed “Rotting Jack-O.”
The appeal of Alyse Ronayne’s silver floor piece “Math (Suit)” lies in its ambiguity. It suggests a teepee, a vagina and a Mylar balloon. It could be a flimsy construction or a trompe l’oeil cast-metal piece (it’s the former).
Atlantan Carolyn Carr has created an enigmatic assemblage involving a small painting on paper, a plaster figure, a gold-painted brick, an antique table and a wine bottle. Titled “Portrait of a Guest,” it is resolutely cryptic. Carolyn Carr’s “Portrait of a Guest”themed images is attached.
Social networks being what they are, there are, of course, various connections among the artists in the show. Among the more obvious: Carr and Atlantan Michael Gibson are married, as are Jesse Cregar and Sarah Emerson.
Connections are indeed what makes the art world go ‘round. Because artists are usually the best conduit for discovering other artists, the “Artists I Know” curatorial premise turns out to have merit. The challenge is in creating a show that is more interesting than those connections.