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.
A good many Atlanta galleries remain just short of flummoxed by the challenge of adapting their spaces to Covid-19 safety requirements and the problem of audience perception — too many potential patrons are still reluctant to attend exhibitions in person, no matter what precautions are taken. Virtual exhibitions as substitutes or supplements continue to flourish, but so far each attempt has its deficiencies and virtues.
One beauty of virtual exhibitions it that they can remain accessible long after the physical show has left the venue. Atlanta Photography Gallery’s Portfolio 2020 is still online more than a month after its gallery closing. The navigable on-screen environment begins with a vertiginous view of the atrium outside the gallery. A quick click of a mouse or trackpad brings you inside. There, individual photographs can be viewed almost full screen, and the artists’ statements can be brought to the forefront. This allows for relatively detailed viewing of such ambitious visual ventures as Karen Bullock’s arresting images of religious paraphernalia in ecclesiastical settings, from Palm Sunday crosses to Jesus-in-Gethsemane fans.
Although it takes prior knowledge to know exactly what you’re seeing, the photographs’ saturated color really does communicate, as Bullock says, “an ethereal sense of presence alongside themes of longing and loss.” Bullock’s work complements and contrasts with one of its closest neighbors in the gallery, the black-and-white photos of Eric Kunsman, in a series that promises to deliver Felicific Calculus: Technology as a Social Marker of Race, Class & Economics in Rochester, NY.
Amazingly, it does, once we’ve been able to absorb the implications of whether a neighborhood has pay phones left in place by a phone company that “decided to maintain pay phones in poorer neighborhoods for the good of the community.” Although subtle details are harder to discern in these on-screen versions of complex images, this is another example in which the virtual show may not equal the original but is a good enough substitute. The primary difficulty for discerning viewers: This version doesn’t include labels for individual works.
Kai Lin Art offers a differently focused tour of its rolling exhibition Forward, which has no theme and will replace sold and removed works with new ones. Navigation tools let viewers zoom in on individual pieces, but the only way to identify the artist is to go to the gallery’s online shop and match the image with a JPEG that can be clicked on to bring up name, title and price. Kai Lin can be visited in person by appointment, so this seems an adequate compromise for a show in which sales are the main focus. Truly committed online visitors can pursue further details about the artists, with some degree of difficulty. The online view of the gallery gives viewer some idea of scale but one or two are impossible to see entirely except at a distorting angle.
Marcia Wood Gallery deploys a much simpler online technique with David Humphrey: Gravity’s Deposit, online through October 3. These mixed-media monoprints can be seen at the gallery, but they exist as an exhibition only in a virtual format that includes a minimalist nod to scale by providing an option in which each work can be viewed on an otherwise empty wall, with a chair nearby to indicate size.
The Humphrey exhibit’s home page includes a very brief video. It shows how the artist added painted elements to images he sent to Island Press as digital files to be printed on the same day. Then they were transmuted. Humphrey by added direct gesture to digitally mediated versions of enlarged snapshots he’d transformed in his studio. When combined with the available JPEGS, this gives some approximate idea of the visual experience of this remarkable artwork but is still only approximate, although satisfying.
That brings us to the most difficult online translation, the Decatur Arts Alliance’s The Book as Art v. 8: Infinity. Artists books are meant to be opened by hand, usually in unconventional ways; the need to protect them from enthusiastic viewers typically requires showing them unopened and out of reach. This problem has been overcome by combining a 30-minute video survey of the works with shorter videos by several artists. In the shorter videos, the more complex books are presented in the successive iterations that a viewer’s thorough exploration would involve. Barring a form of digital presentation that would go beyond the Alliance’s budget, this is the best solution yet of the persistent difficulty of giving viewers a more complete experience of the extraordinary objects gathered annually from book artists worldwide.
The only thing that can’t be communicated on-screen is the delight of the books’ remarkable textures. It’s unfortunate that this exhibition — although set up in an exhibition space for video documentation — can’t be seen in person because of Covid-19 safety necessities and staffing and financing limits.
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