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Pretty is as pretty does

The Sensory Foundations of Mental Life at the ACA Gallery of SCAD

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The Atlanta College of Art Gallery has for a long time been a forum for cutting-edge, politically minded, socially engaged work -- work that often feels like a jolting, pleasant break from the well-heeled slickness of the Woodruff Arts Center. Because of that tradition of surly idea-art, one might be inclined to judge the current Monique van Genderen show The Sensory Foundations of Mental Life at the renamed "ACA Gallery of SCAD" now under the helm of the Savannah College of Art and Design more harshly.

Van Genderen's work is not political or difficult, though if noodly genre-exploration of what constitutes painting turns you on, the show may be a welcome change. It is about formal issues in art-making. It is often lovely and evokes, most immediately, the color-chocked patterns of late Matisse and the visual wit of Joan Miró.

Pleasant enough for its own formal qualities, the work investigates what painting "means" since van Genderen is just as likely to use vinyl cutouts (the L.A. artist's day job is designing vinyl museum and gallery signage) placed directly on the wall, as the traditional tools of paint and canvas.

The first, most arresting visual upon entering the gallery is a floor-to-ceiling 10-by-40-foot installation "Untitled (... The Sensory Foundations of Mental Life, Part I)." Van Genderen's color palette is vibrant and energetic, often quirky, full of fat splashes of hot pink, soothing tans, go-go-go orange spurts, puke green, pale ivory and silvery prismatic wiggles. Van Genderen's work, with its biomorphic shapes and attentive color choice, can feel distinctly vintage -- perhaps indebted to L.A.'s modernist architectural and design elements -- and would look right at home in a mid-century bank or ad firm.

Less impressive, even disappointing, are the watercolor diptych "Book Pages" simply framed and propped against the wall shown throughout the gallery.

Probably the most satisfying painting in the show is an enamel-and-oil-on-panel work, "(... the Sensory Foundations of Mental Life, Part II)." The intoxicating piece mixes vaguely floral forms and olive green with a blushing pink and reminds you of the deep pleasures that surface, color and line can provide.

Monique van Genderen: The Sensory Foundations of Mental Life. Through Jan. 2. ACA Gallery of SCAD, 1280 Peachtree St. Tues.-Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. 12 p.m.-5 p.m. 404-815-2931. www.acagallery.org.

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