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Multi-tasking curators shape the future of Atlanta's art scene



Traci Molloy, along with Kristin Powers Nowlin, is the co-curator of Common Culture at the Spruill Gallery in Dunwoody. She invited a group of national and local artists -- some printmakers and some not -- to use the printmaking format to create works that address ideas of race and gender in the South. Some of the artists rose to the occasion, treating Southern frat boy racism, women as mud-flap sex objects and the harsh prison sentences doled out to black youths. Others seemed to have misplaced the homework assignment or did their work in the bus on the way to school. Either way, the show -- Malloy's third curating effort -- serves to elucidate some of the challenges faced by curators in bringing disparate voices together, managing fragile artist egos and making sure everyone turns their work in on time.

I asked several local curators what they considered the hardest part of the job. For Molloy, the biggest challenge in Common Culture was the gentle, continual prodding some of the artists needed to get their work submitted in time. Karen Comer, curator at City Gallery East since 1999, says the hardest thing about curating is working with artists who don't put enough effort into the packaging of their work. Work that is sloppily presented or artists who don't know how to put a resume together are problems she confronts on both a local and national level.

Perhaps the most telling response, though, comes from Teresa Bramlette, formerly the longest-term curator at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center/Nexus who now teaches at Georgia State. She said the hardest part of curating is dealing with "people's short memories ... You do solo shows, they want group shows. You do group shows, they want solo shows."
Curators in Atlanta tread a fine line as they juggle the demand for local and nationally recognized artists, try to pull financial resources out of thin air and do their best to keep art spaces not just vibrant, but open for business.

Former Cabbagetown dweller and New York transplant Chris Verene brought performance art alter-ego Cheri Nevers to Fay Gold Gallery June 18 with the opening of a new incarnation of his Self-Esteem Salon: The Baptism Series. The Tuesday night opening had the ambiance of a kid's birthday party where the balloons have been inflated and the birthday boy has put on his clip-on bow tie, but no one shows. A sadly slim crowd looking unsure about what to do next was given cheery "Hello, My Name Is" nametags in a strangely institutional, dispirited sense of "fun." It was hard to get a read on the nature of this new variation on the Self-Esteem project, except through an accompanying brochure that suggested a spoof on the packaged self-help healing hokum of New Age therapies.

Jacob Lawrence, featured in the High Museum's traveling exhibition Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence, could almost be an edgier, politicized response to the High's blockbuster-show-to-end-all-blockbuster-shows, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, which debuted in 1999. Lawrence's work often suggests an African-American Norman Rockwell without that artist's casual sentimentality.

Lawrence charted the hardships, everyday labor and working-class bonhomie of regular Americans who also happened to be black. The same sense of animation that governed Rockwell's illustrations, where bodies are propelled cutely forward with the force of Rockwell's aw shucks enthusiasm, also marks Lawrence's figures, whose hunched shoulders and agile, kinetic forms are at times woefully tied to earthly labors and at other times rise miraculously above it. If Rockwell tended to fixate on faces, Lawrence favored a more anonymous approach, often making his laundresses, secretaries and blue-collar working folk stand-ins for an Everyman and Everywoman.

David Isenhour's slick and seductive Saturday Morning sculptures at the Swan Coach House Gallery are witty, smirking distillations of forms gleaned from science fiction, comic books and cartoons. With their gleaming auto body colors and mutating, animated forms, his sculptures blur the line between abstraction and

Looney Tunes. Isenhour's works convey a childhood fascination with the alien worlds treated in tales of super heroes, Martian invaders and other aspects of fantastical popular culture.

He is the winner of the 2002 Emerging Artist Award given by the Forward Arts Foundation, and his show is notable on two fronts. While the award and exhibition give recognition to a talented local artist, it also offers a promising indication that there are some in the Atlanta community, like the Forward Arts Foundation, who support the local arts community with money and exhibition space.

Common Culture runs through Aug. 31 at the Spruill Gallery. 770-394-4019. Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence runs through Sept. 8 at the High Museum. 404-733-4437. Saturday Morning runs through Aug. 3 at Swan Coach House Gallery. 404-266-2636.

For Art's Sake is a biweekly column that covers the local visual arts community.

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