Anyone coming to art writing with vague recollections of reader-response theory rather than Greenbergian formalism may have fewer problems than most with the notion that purported art critics’ first reactions to work are “I like this,” or “I don’t like this, but it needs to be reviewed positively,” or “I like this, but I know I shouldn’t, and I need to explain why,” or “I don’t like this, but other people do, and it would be worth discussing why they do and perhaps ought not to,” or “I like this, and I need to do a lot of research so I can explain what else is going on beyond my first positive reaction,” or occasionally, “I like this, and the reasons I like it have nothing at all to do with why the work is good.”
That being said, I must confess that the pressures of earning a living constrain me from doing justice to “Outlines and Outliars,” a three-person show at Atlanta’s MINT Gallery. I initially misread the title as “Outliers,” for a good many of the isolated figures in this trio’s drawings and video could be read as lying somewhere just outside the boundaries of whatever ingroup they are not members of. The young women in the images seem to have greater emotional kinship with the birds and animals around them than with the human society that is implied by their different and distinct modes of dressing. Occasionally, as in Kelly McKernan’s Cuckold, the animals become purely allegorical, the bird tied by thread to the woman’s more perfunctorily rendered cuckold’s horns, a literary symbol older than Shakespeare.
But it would require more time than I have in the duration of this two-week show (open two more weekends, actually) to deal properly with the reasons why McKernan and her fellow artists Chelsea Raflo and Cristina Vidal have individual visions of particular interest. Raflo’s video and her diverse drawings all seem to focus on unexpected complexities, and experiences that prove elusive to the experiencer and the society around her (or him, but the focus is on the females). Vidal’s conceptually and imagistically elaborate drawings deserve to be revisited, and I hope that this initial shout-out of a blog post will evolve into something more like a full review as time goes by.
The work in this exhibition ranges from pieces only slightly more than simple drawing exercises to ambitious, immense compositions. It is in the interests of full disclosure that I reveal that I bought one lowest-price-range work each by Raflo and Vidal to accompany the McKernan postcard reproductions I bought at Artlantis the previous weekend. (McKernan’s original work at MINT is accompanied by some of her eminently affordable reproductions—let’s not confuse the issue by calling them “prints,” unless there is no original of the image other than the file on the computer. Does “digital re-creations” work as an intermediate category?)
I was instantly struck by the quality of the exhibition’s one video work, which had no label apart from the brief identification of the artist at the end, and found myself inquiring as to the artist’s identity, to someone who turned out to be the artist. Raflo identifies her influences as Casey Jex Smith, Alex Lucas (who I suppose is not to be confused with Alex Lukas), Alex McLeod, and Whitney Stansell. It was the loose kinship with Stansell’s work that struck me at first viewing, and it is a pleasure to find that Stansell is coming into her own as an influence so relatively soon after becoming a fixture on the Atlanta scene. (For the record, I have never bought any of Stansell’s work, and of course I am aware that Stansell has her own influences.)
This first-person exploratory account (not review) is an initial attempt at the type of hybrid genre we shall have to evolve in the world’s local art scenes—and one that should have evolved in global art scenes, given the extent to which art gossip has been based on which artist or gallery is presumed (not always correctly) to be financially or erotically entangled with the curator or critic. On the world’s local scenes, it is seldom the case that the curators or critics are trying to increase the value of their own minimal acquisitions—apart from such exceptions as major museum shows, they would fail dismally if they did try—and critics are more often complained to sarcastically than courted. Most local curation and criticism is effectively invisible and without impact beyond a minor viewership, even though the era of viral media may be beginning to change this.
However, as I have remarked over the years in the now-fading print media, artists had rather have their names in print, or accessible to a Google search, than not; and as Henry Kissinger noted long ago regarding the struggles of university faculties, the passions run high because the stakes are low. Credibility is built at first by accretion and only later by more substantial modes of validation. It is the more substantial modes of validation that kick-start careers, but it does begin with having one's name spelled right.