Tough sell
Local exhibitions make the case for abstract art
 
BY FELICIA FEASTER
 
 
From Hitler to Jesse Helmes, contemporary art has always had its naysayers.
 
But two art movements in particular seem to raise the hackles of art skeptics. On one hand, there is minimalism, whose clean, formalist lines are, for some, Seinfeldian art about nothing. That view of modern art as a sinister conspiracy of "nothingness" was best illustrated in Yasmina Reza's play Art about three friends viciously divided when one of them buys an esoteric, white-on-white minimalist painting.
 
And then there's abstraction, the other lay person's head-scratcher. Where minimalism is perceived as confoundingly pretentious, abstraction a la Pollock is viewed in even more insulting terms, as a "my kid could have done that" amateur hour.
 
"Abstraction is a tough sell," concedes abstract artist and curator Heather Stevens Reese.
 
"A large amount of the general public outside of the art community think abstract work deserves less merit because representational work takes more skill and talent to create."
 
Reese recently expressed her frustration at abstraction's poor reception locally by taking her show on the road. Transatlantic (www.transatlanticart.com) is Reese's exhibition of 10 emerging abstract artists from Atlanta whose work will be shown at the Berlin Gallery twenty-four in June.
 
Part of abstraction's conundrum is its inherent ambiguity. For some it's decorative sofa art devoid of meaning, while for others it's too top-heavy with the kind of theory you need decades of schoolin' to access.
 
In a quirky spin on the fear that abstraction is a form for insiders and converts only, abstract artist Daniel Motz, whose work is currently on view at Global Art Galleries (www.globalartgalleries.com) near Howell Mill Road, often encodes his kinetic, vibrantly hued paintings with biblical Scripture. Where abstract art was once seen as impossibly cerebral and secular, Motz makes it, quite literally, spiritual.
 
Motz's is just one in a virtual blitzkrieg of abstraction-centered exhibitions this summer, including the brainy sci-fi abstractions by Drew Lowenstein at Solomon Projects through June 12 and Selma Glass' African-American abstractions at the new Limelight Gallery at Binders (bindersart.com) through June 6. This abstraction flurry demonstrates that there is still opportunity for the contentious form to find a niche in the city.
 
One of the best local examples of abstraction's potential is independent curator and abstract artist Melissa Messina's Transit: Abstracting the System at City Gallery Chastain through June 25. The five featured artists include Michael Gibson, whose organic, cellular forms seem to glow with energy, and Mark Sheinkman, a New York-based painter whose sublime, vortical works draw viewers into his paintings with mesmeric force. Both illustrate abstraction's ability to convey movement and chaos with the subtlest of effects.
 
Any Atlantan could relate to the schizophrenic landscapes treated in Steve Steinman's sculptural works at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (through July 7). Organized by Donald Keyes, Steinman's solo exhibition Sculpture of Space and Time uses disparate materials -- wood, fabric, metal -- and shapes to evoke the often delirious patchwork of the modern landscape.
 
If any local artist has the potential to leave art-phobes reaching for their wallets instead of calling their shrink, it's the practically huggable abstraction practiced by self-taught painter Grady Haugerud. Haugerud's paintings on view in Transatlantic and at the Buckhead furniture store City Issue through July 15 could hog tie even the most cynical viewer. With their eyeball-soothing retro shades and familiar associations to cave paintings, folk art and Joan Miro, Haugerud's paintings offer enough visual foreplay and evoke enough cultural associations to capture the imagination of even abstraction's most onerous foes.
 
 
 
 
Creative Loafing 05.27.04
 
 
 

Copyrightę 2004, GRADY HAUGERUD, ATLANTA, GEORGIA. All rights reserved.