The Altoids Curiously Strong Collection exhibition of emerging artists at the Atlanta College of Art Gallery is an inspiring, provocative look at what's shaking on the national art scene.
For four years, the Curiously Strong show has featured a selection of contemporary artists whose work is chosen by a team of curators and gallery directors for inclusion in this traveling show.
Curiously Strong could have easily been a corporate-mandated, committed-into-oblivion survey. But the work in this fifth Altoids show of 20 artists is, as the title promises, very strong. The overall excellence of the work is due in no small part to the street cred of its selection committee, with curators from New York's Pierogi 2000, the Walker Art Center and the New Museum in the mix. Though the playing field is varied, from Brooklyn to Minneapolis, and the subject matter is diverse, the show has the kind of cohesion and rhythm that makes the best group enterprises feel like a complex, complementary orchestration.
The teenage identity seems a recurring preoccupation in Curiously, perhaps because it addresses matters of nascent sexuality, gender differentiation and all things "liminal" that make art types weak at the knees.
Jay Heikes' stunning "Teenage Riot" puts the pop culture phantasmagoria of the teen years front and center. Heikes' immensely clever "sculpture" of felt, wool and denim cut-outs layered one on top of the other shows a variety of abstracted teen-graphics: goth, heavy metal, punk. The work is about as neat and compact a semiotics of "teen" as one could find.
Drawing is another recurring feature in a show centered on gestures of abject humility. They range from William Cordova's precise, plaintive drawing of hopes and ambitions sent aloft on a hot air balloon, to Edgar Arceneaux's evocative, atmosphere-drenched sketches of how disaster highlights the difference between glorified history and the shabby, forgotten fates of the rest of us.
The use of drawing in Curiously Strong also seems to fit within the show's many assertions of shell-shocked egos just barely slouching out of the teen years and a desire to shrug rather than rage at the world. The title may be Curiously Strong, but the work itself feels like a distinctly anti-monumental, humble generational response to the shrieking hubris of art past.
The Altoids Curiously Strong Collection runs through Sept. 28 at the Atlanta College of Art Gallery, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-5050. Tues., Wed., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thurs., Fri. 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. www.aca.edu. A series of eight artists' lectures will be held every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. Sept. 9-Oct. 2.