Artists have a long history of jabbing a pointy finger in the status quo's pendulous beer gut. But confrontational, socially minded art created outside the usual gallery setting and without profit in mind often seems underrepresented on the national and local art scenes.
One contingent of seven anonymous Atlanta artists calling themselves Stuff and Nonsense is doing their part to change all that. Their mission is to use humor to "highlight the absurdity of consumer excess and to suggest possible alternatives."
A Southern barbecue answer to the New York Guerrilla Girls, these artists don pig snouts and pork-product monikers -- Porcinella, Ham-let, Porkamuck, Oinkanette, Truffles, Sooie and Swine-a-rama -- in an effort to thumb their flat pink noses at the piggish incursions of corporate culture.
Earlier this month, the group staged a "Vacant Store Project" in the Fairlie-Poplar District. It consisted of placing realistic-looking shop signs on empty storefronts advertising wished for gentrification to come. The signs, all promising "Coming Soon," ranged from the optimistic -- "Yoga and Spa," "Used Clothes and Book Paradise" -- to pipe dreams -- "Reasonable Rents" and "Free Daycare."
"Basically the project was about our belief that downtown Atlanta suffers from the pathology of treating space as investment property rather than as building blocks in a vibrant community," says Porcinella, who's remarkably articulate considering a tendency to rut about in mud. "The signage was there to offer alternatives to empty property and envision a new way they could be used."
We are conditioned to think, in America's meritocracy, that good work naturally rises to the top. But the truth is that art is like any other business. Success is often determined by a serendipitous collision of great self-packaging and personal charisma, good luck, connections and other intangibles. A case for the randomness of success is made every day on a local art scene where there are too few galleries, too many good artists and few genuine "art stars."
The enormous pool of the city's untapped talent is evident in the collaborative effort Fresh. The show features 74 artists selected by the six-member Fifth Class collective (Jolen Bain, Errol Crane, Luther Lotz, Casey Marks, Chantelle Minarcine, Jordan Reece) and is currently showcased at the new NoNo gallery and performance space.
The show would be laughably capacious -- incorporating video, poetry, performance, music, DJs, installation, sculpture, cooking -- if it weren't also brimming with infectious esprit de corps. The video work in Fresh is especially strong, but there are standouts in every genre, including Hope Hilton's miniature abstraction-anime paintings, Matthew Rond's photographic analysis of T-shirt-defined identities, Christopher Fraker's cerebral Far Side illustrations, C. Thomas Smith's incisive consumerism-fights-terrorism "Sirens" video, and too many others to name.
If Fresh represents the legion of artists struggling just to get work shown, then Artwork by Faculty at the School of Art and Design, Georgia State University at the SunTrust Plaza gallery represents Atlanta's old guard. In fact, the GSU show features faculty who have taught many of the artists on display in Fresh.
Without forcing a generational divide, there is an element of wizened and less idealistic rumination going on in the GSU show with a more subdued melancholia. The show could be called Ripe. From the obvious issues of mortality summoned up in Don McCance's "Sterility Figure" to the more suggestive, crumpled impotence of a shark-figure in Joe Peragine's work, these artists testify to the hindsight and worldly perspective of the more advanced artist. Confirming that notion is Nancy Floyd's lonely look back on a happy family whose once vital homestead has become a decrepit eyesore and John McWilliams' highly compromised Southern landscapes where decay, muck and mire suggest not the dewy gothic romanticism of Sally Mann but a sad ruin of departed lives.
Every great arts scene needs both the establishment schooled in the long history of what came before and the barreling-forward youngsters who disregard every art world bylaw. Thankfully, both worlds can divide, come together, mix and recoil from each other in a variety of local venues.
Fresh ends June 7. 6 p.m.-midnight at Nono. 404-756-0987. www.fifthclass.com. Artwork by Faculty at the School of Art and Design runs through July 11 at the Lower Level Gallery of SunTrust Plaza. 404-816-9777. Stuff and Nonsense can be reached at www.stuff_n_nonsense.org.
For Art's Sake is a biweekly column covering the Atlanta arts scene.