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Review: Georgia artists, chosen by Georgia artists, display their chops in knockout MOCA GA show

Steven Sachs: Inside Out
Steven Sachs’ “Inside Out”

Walking into “Georgia Artists Selecting Georgia Artists” at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia is like being a kid in a candy superstore. The museum is filled, through August 24, with engaging and thought-provoking work by 60 established and emerging Georgia artists.

In selecting the work from some 3,000 entries, Larry Walker, Xie Caomin and Martha Whittington, all MOCA GA Working Artist Project award recipients, seem to have been drawn to pieces that are more difficult to digest or less crowd-pleasing than the typical lineup of “greatest hits.” MOCA GA Executive Director Annette Cone-Skelton has hung them to spark dialogues among individual works and provide entry points for viewers.

This is immediately apparent in the entry hall, where Hudgens Prize winner Pam Longobardi’s “Anthropocene 4 (Fractured Atlas)” and Tom Francis’ “Oakland Twilight” offer boldly brushed visual documents of local and geological histories. Longobardi’s rich, painterly fields differ from Francis’ deliberate, pictographic marks, but both provide foils for the delicate graphite-and-watercolor drawing of “Gospel Singer” by Suzy Schwartz, also local history, and Junco Sato Pollack’s gossamer textile “Sky Clouds Wind,” from 2000, which seems both geological and eternal.

Elizabeth Sheppell's "Fat Series #30"
Elizabeth Sheppell’s “Fat Series #30”

The expressive potential of materials is a theme that link works throughout the show. Gallery I revolves around the artists’ playful engagement with the plastic reality of their mediums. A small, cabbage-like flower sprouts from the head of a smiling, cartoonish teddy bear in Tae Hoon Kim’s ceramic “How to Make a Baby Flower Blossom.” The golden and black glazes of the flower drip over the teddy bear character’s face like the unkempt hair of a carefree child, and they contrast with the pale blue glaze of its plump body and the deeper blues of the dog-like animal that it rides.

Tim Hunter trades sweetness for gentle irony in “Money Plant Seed Pods.” He presents the mythical money tree as an art nouveau design of black encaustic oval pods sprouting from thin black stems. Set against a radiant, gold-leaf background carved into a wooden panel, the piece resembles a precious medieval icon.

Across the gallery, the expressive and sometimes surprising exploitation of materials captures the conversation. Elizabeth Sheppell’s “Fat Series No. 24, 30, 20, 23, 31” makes the viewer emphatically aware of the manipulation of thick, “fat” layers of acrylic paint that disguise the flat square panel support. In contrast, Susan Blackmon’s “The Slide” thinly veils its patched canvas surface with dripped acrylic fields of pale blue over black and arresting cadmium red.

Maurice Clifford: "Love and Fear."
Maurice Clifford’s “Love and Fear”

Lines, marks and gestures over a mirrored plexiglass surface explode off the wall and spill over the corner of the gallery in Maurice Clifford’s exuberant “Love and Fear,” impelling the viewer into the drawing as do Frank Stella’s later three-dimensional abstractions. Jon Field collapses the distinction between “high” and “low” art in “The Slipper Tongue,” a deliberately clichéd black-and-white image of a cowboy created by sticking thousands of steel pins into a board covered in black velvet.

The flat, illustration-style, expressionless boy ascending a ladder in William Maze’s “Climber” seems to pause and look down to see the reality of his representation drizzling down into a tangible puddle of acrylic paint on the actual gallery floor.

The specificity of place links works in Gallery II. Sandrine Arons’ archival inkjet print “Casablanca Deconstructed” depicts the ruins of a building. A mural of the beautiful cityscape of the Moroccan city on one of the walls is framed by views of the actual city beyond.

“Scarborough Marsh #2,” Barry Vangrov’s photograph-and-pigment ink print of water and grasses, and Liana Repass’ untitled 2009 chalk drawing of turquoise waves that transform into pale violet woven lines transport viewers to the landscapes so depicted.

Liana Repass' "Untitled"
Liana Repass’ “Untitled”

Physical reality yields to the theme of memory in Gallery III. The enigmatic “Inside Out” by Steven Sachs is a giant shadow box or dusty dollhouse filled with personal artifacts and rustic mementos. Corinna Mesnoff’s “Flowing as Water,” a watercolor animation, depicts a fairy-tale journey of relationships and self-discovery.

Talismans — a real moccasin and keys — dangle from wires strung across Linda Mitchell’s painting “Beautiful Detritus: What on Earth Were You Thinking?,” in which floating images and other phrases collide over the surface with glazes of deep blues and greens and bright patterns.

Also puzzling, not to say surreal, the shadow of the African-American woman in Ruth Franklin’s painting “Untitled (#5285)” is independent of her body. And body parts take center stage in two pieces near the lobby. Polished red fingernails and a floral silk scarf become dangerous accessories in Jonathan Bouknight’s compelling videos (see image on home page). And Stephanie Eley assembles eyelashes, fingernails and genitalia in a fascinating and disturbing grid for her archival pigment print “Structure.”

By its very nature, a show like this can only offer glimpses into significant bodies of work that deserve more thorough and thoughtful consideration. But it serves the museum’s mission to showcase the rich and complex diversity of work produced by Georgia artists today and, in so doing, leaves the viewer eager to see more.

Image on our home page is “Nails and Buttons” by Jonathan Bouknight. To see more of the works in “Georgia Artists Selecting Georgia Artists,” please click here