Jerry Cullum’s Notebook is a monthly survey that highlights some of the more notable art + design happenings in metro Atlanta. Cullum, the winner of a 2020 Rabkin Prize for arts journalism, has written about the art world in Atlanta and beyond for decades.
It seems appropriate in retrospect that 2020 began with the New Year’s Day publication of Forest McMullin’s book Late Harvest: On Back Roads in the Deep South. The SCAD professor’s photographs document a rural South that was already enshrouded, long before the pandemic, in a species of decay that’s romantically picturesque as long as you don’t have to live in it, and it highlights the still-looming conflict between a threatened present and an uncertain future that may recede but certainly is not going away.
No one anticipated that by the beginning of spring, Atlanta’s art scene would find itself also under threat in ways that were not only unexpected, but not even remotely imagined. In terms of symbolism, it’s felt like the scene in the staged photograph Flooding of Tate Britain, which Tew Galleries just received from the globally recognized British photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten. Other Fullerton-Batten photos at Tew come from her 2020 Lockdown Series in which she made the best of stay-at-home orders by arranging poignant views of neighbors looking out of their windows, in artfully composed images of isolation reminiscent of Edward Hopper.
Many artists, it seems, have taken the 2020 season of shutdown as their topic of choice. Marcia Wood Gallery has an online-only viewing room of Quarantine Lunch, drawings by New York artist Mie Yim. The viewing-room mix of image and text is a digital artwork in itself.
Atlanta artist Nancy VanDevender produced her own suite of quarantine works in New York while sheltering in place with her infant granddaughter. Rosalinda, on view at Poem 88 through January 30, explores architectural elements of the apartment and incorporates details from one of the paintings hanging on the walls. VanDevender also covers one of the gallery walls with digitally produced wallpaper that’s a graceful combination of all of these visual themes in a new and endlessly fascinating labyrinth of line.
It’s unfortunate that Poem 88’s appointment-only arrangement (the website is incorrect on this, although the phone number is accurate), which reflects the realities of diminished foot traffic, has been something of a deterrent to visitor appreciation of a show that deserves the extra effort. Perhaps the new year will allow for something like a daylong socially distanced reopening.
In a larger sense, we can only hope for a metaphoric 2021 reopening of an art world that has felt uncomfortably cramped even among the many galleries that have resumed normal hours while observing CDC COVID-19 guidelines.