Friday, September 12, 2008

three or four Atlanta shows I haven't written about

One of the first letters I ever received from Xenia Zed, who would later become editor of Art Papers and set me off on a career that I had never even envisioned (much less intended), contained the marginal note “There simply is not enough time.”

She was quite right, and having turned out an AccessAtlanta column and a catalogue essay yesterday and a 1250-word blog post tonight, I am left with unassuagable feelings of guilt at the interesting Atlanta art shows I have left undescribed, never mind evaluated or set in context.

Harry Zmijewski’s wondrous return to architecturally informed sculpture is about to leave Callanwolde, and not even my attempt to interest the AJC in a human interest angle (the metal from which Harry Z’s conceptual geometrics and sculptural furniture is fabricated was gotten for thirty dollars at a sale disposing of signage materials) succeeded in getting the mainstream coverage it deserved. The show was and is far too intellectually challenging to be squeezed into AccessAtlanta’s “popularly accessible art” criteria.

But I ought to have blogged about it early on, instead of leaving it for another day.

And I ought to be blogging now about, and pursuing non-Atlanta review possibilities for, Toby Martin’s lovely, spare yet diverse sculpture show at Mason Murer Projects in Buckhead. One can see that Martin’s admiration for the great quintessential modernist sculptors, and for West African artistic and intellectual systems, and for the artistic productions of certain African Americans who have not always been approved by his colleagues, have all come together to result in an accomplishment that is certainly among the best of his career and perhaps—even probably—both the most ambitious and the most coherent. (He would most likely not approve of my saying that, but hey, I’m just saying. I’m not God, nor am I—for which, God be thanked—Clement Greenberg.)

But I’m tired. And the new work is challenging to write about in its own several ways, sometimes funny, sometimes achingly pure in its studied simplicity, and sometimes breathtaking in its transformations of materials that were still in their raw state less than three weeks before the show opened.

So I shall file it in the Guilt Box alongside the remarkable drawings by Roger Palmer currently at Marcia Wood Gallery (with a freedom of line and delight in conceptual interruption that rivals Martin’s, but in a completely different medium and with a completely different set of aesthetic and political issues).

And I drop them thus into the Guilt-Arousing File of Unfinished Ventures alongside the marvelous exhibition by Whitney Stansell at Stokes Gallery, next to Marcia Wood. I wrote the “how-to-approach-this-show” foreword to the artist’s book of “A First Date, A Funeral, and Moments in Between”—which I suspect is actually titled “A Funeral, A First Date, and Moments in Between”—so I suppose I could beg off on grounds of conflict of interest.

But since the show also embodies those exquisitely unexpected separations and stylistic paradoxes that enliven the oeuvres of Zmijevski, Martin, and Palmer in their own distinctive ways, I should have a go at expressing something, however fragmentary, about Stansell’s accomplishment.

The drawings, unlike the paintings, are not unitary objects. They’re bits and pieces laid together to form a whole that is more than the sum of its parts both aesthetically and conceptually…just as the family history that is apparently related in them is more than one story, images of mother and of daughter appearing in the same picture as children of the same age. The generations repeat, and what is repeated is contained in memory and in the story Stansell tells about memory.

In her paintings, the components are numbered and keyed to often mysterious or faintly amusing footnotes below, like the punchline of a New Yorker cartoon. In this exhibition, that text has been transferred to a handset-type artist’s book, and the key elucidates things, in most cases, even less than before. Yes, the mourners as the casket is carried to graveside are all holding gamecocks. Next question.

I remarked to Stansell that my blog post about her show should be titled “A Funeral, An Art Reception, and Moments in Between,” since my Saturday had begun with a memorial service for my onetime mentor Robert Detweiler, who would have delighted in the seriocomic juxtapositions and disjunctures with philosophical implications that fill Stansell’s exhibition. Bob is gone, and those of us who remain at least for the moment are forced (as we have been for decades) to make sense of such things, and take delight in them, on our own. And my tribute to Detweiler has already appeared on my other blog.

And maybe one of these days I will be able to get something coherent written about these shows before they come down. Or maybe I will leave it up to my fellow bloggers, since there is so much else to do with the few hours of relative mental clarity available.

No comments: