Sunday, June 7, 2009

How else am I going to celebrate my birthday? posting solo from Java Monkey on two art events of some significance

It may be merely coincidental that the Artlantis outdoor festival of alternative art and the Gather Atlanta conference of grassroots arts organizations and (mostly) younger artists were staged on the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings. As anyone who has ever organized such an art event can tell you, the process resembles a major military operation in terms of the coordination of large numbers of incompatible personality types and diverse sorts of recalcitrant equipment, with the same sort of inevitable wastage, unanticipated blunders, and moments of stark terror. If the results are less horrifically bloody, the ground conquered or recovered is frequently far less consequential to subsequent history, even within the art world in question. (And that is an outcome that such organizers expect, but they keep on keeping on nevertheless. And just as in long, slogging military campaigns, small movements forward sometimes bring about the resolution of what seem to be hopelessly protracted conflicts.)

Artlantis took place on the territory between Urban Outfitters and the Druid Hills Baptist Church, on one of Atlanta’s historic east-west traffic arteries. It is to be hoped that the event was digitally recorded for posterity; for the artists involved represent a significant segment of the global art world, whether they know it or not.

There were artists who have garnered major commissions from past shows in galleries, and who were offering deeply discounted items from their immense inventory. There were artists with substantial formal training who were offering a lifetime’s worth of idiosyncratic work. There was artwork ranging from subtle, careful and imaginative to appallingly awful, in many cases all by the same artist. There were savvy artists who offered almost no originals and a full range of reproductions from postcards to poster prints. There were artists ranging from the slickly commercial to the unmarketably earnest, plus a fair number of the options in between.

What they had in common was that the world in general has never heard of them, no matter how many enthusiastic regional collectors they might chance to have.

What they also had in common was the willingness to work and exhibit in the face of financial unsuccess, a willingness that they share with regional art writers (and with regional writers of any sort, for that matter).

What might be further done about the discontents of the local scene was addressed, at least embryonically, in the panel discussion at Gather Atlanta, an indoor event at Eyedrum art and performance space. Here, the information tables were occupied not by solo artists but by organizations ranging from nearly newborn to cutting-edge ones that are hitting the quarter-century mark.

What was surprising was the absence of a few organizations that seemed to fall into the same category as the organizations that did show up. As with any self-selecting event, there were doubtless reasons why some were able to put in an appearance and others were not. Frequently the reason is as simple as the incapacity to be in two places at once. Some organizations consist of not much more than a single charismatic figure enlisting the aid of a shifting group of unpaid staffers.

And every one of the artists exhibiting in Artlantis, and every one of the organizations at Gather Atlanta, would love to have their names come up high on a Google search featuring their keywords.

Anyone who has ever had the thankless job of composing the laundry list of participating artists in a big group show (or, worse, picking out the artists to discuss in a 350-word review) knows the pain inflicted by the inadvertent and/or structurally necessary omission of anybody.

And this is why I am naming no names, positive or negative, in this little essay. If you want to know who should be given credit for having pulled off these near-miracles in one specific art scene, kindly google (or bing, as the competition would have you do) the relevant terms, and honor the lists of names that pop up.

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