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Wonko: Sugar high

Alcove Gallery pays tribute to Willy Wonka

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Alcove Gallery may have found its groove.

After four years in the relatively funkless hamlet of Buckhead, Chris Warner's temple of underground art has settled into a new, 3,200-square-foot space in Avondale.

Exhibitions at Warner's 1,200-square-foot Bennett Street space tended to be crowded affairs, with art packed in like commuters on the Tokyo subway. But Warner's artists now have room to flex and preen, and the benefits of a little space are immediately apparent in Alcove's current group show Wonko, a tribute to that creepiest of kiddie yarns, 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. As close to a snuff film as children of the '70s were apt to get, the movie lodged in many nascent imaginations for its mixture of psychedelia, doom and a grown-up – Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) – with an adversarial, even sadistic relationship to his young charges.

"I was scarred. But in a good way," Warner says of the impact of Wonka on his childhood.

This fun, slightly naughty show full of scrumptious eye candy taps into a fertile thirty- to fortysomething streak of pop-culture nostalgia. The participating artists go gaga for the Wonka cast, from Valery Milovic's vixeny Veruca Salt to Johnny Yanok's addictive painting of the bad-trip Oompa Loompas. Artist Leslie Ditto imagines hero Charlie Bucket as a big-eyed Dickensian waif, while Barcelona artist Sergio Mora suggests a sugar-dusted Mark Ryden in his lurid and utterly seductive dinner-mint pastel canvases inspired by the recent Tim Burton version of the Roald Dahl yarn.

The most outrageously perverse and pleasurable piece in the show has to be Bethany Marchman's "Woncchus," a portrait of Gene Wilder's Wonka as a shirtless, muscled Caravaggio androgyne with desire-flushed pink cheeks, wet eyes like a Disney spaniel and a provocative cluster of fruit at his midsection. Like several of the Wonko artists, Marchman taps into a decadent, malevolent, sexual component of the 1971 film. Candy-lust is dangerous in Willy Wonka, and it's dangerous here, too, apt to make you gobble and gorge.

Wonko: 40 Artists Reveal Secrets of the Chocolate Factory. Through Jan. 20. Wed.-Sat., noon-7 p.m.; Sun., noon-4 p.m. Alcove Gallery, 2852 E. College Ave. 404-663-0159. www.alcovearts.com.

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