Loading...
 

Lost landscape

Lodged a roadside tour of mid-century neon

Lodged is an exhibition that recalls the flashy strips of big city downtowns and the urgent appeals carved in blinking neon signage that once jumped out from the American landscape. Today, these icons of mid-century populist pop have been largely lost in desolate downtowns; decaying strips of faded independent businesses hopelessly left behind in the highway-accessible commercial strips of fast food and chain store franchises. Teresa M. Sims' small show of black-and-white and color photographs of vintage motel and restaurant neon on display at Atlanta's Swissôtel documents that prosaic architecture of old.The roadside Sims commemorates was once a unique promenade of local businesses luring customers, as in her image "Fine Food" of a grinning neon chef wielding a covered dish high above the restaurant's roof. Lurking at the periphery of Sims' old school images is the architecture of today — a sadly ubiquitous landscape of McDonald's and Burger Kings unchanging from town to town.
Using infrared film stock for nighttime shots, Sims emphasizes the glowing excitement of neon in images such as "Steamed Heat" or the signage for the "Chief Hotel Court" decorated with an Indian in feathered headdress. A comparable retro charm comes through in the gloriously atomic '50s design seen in "Tod Motor," whose parabolic frame supports a pink neon orb at its crest. Sims backdrops these luminous signs with a typically dusky evening sky; the neon connoisseur's version of the cinematographer's "magic hour."
Shooting these retro icons from a low angle, Sims creates a kind of ambulatory drive-by perspective of a passing motorist pulling into the sanctuary of these comfort zones and a time when even automobile travel was a novelty. It's a time before the McSpectacle of New Vegas and laser light shows, mock-Manhattans and all-you-can-eat buffets. Sims' artist's statement says she takes many of her images in Vegas. But Sims' haunt is the once spectacular Vegas in the cultural rearview, a now seedy — or vanished — strip of Old Vegas and a comparably faded time when the city conjured up scenes of roulette, surf and turf and women dressed to the nines rather than the 2.5 familial glassy-eyed hordes in sweatsuits and fanny packs pumping Junior's college tuition into the slots.
Such images, like Sims' "Jackpot Motel" now reference a seedier side of gambling at a motel where only the "Va" in "Vacancy" still glows at these lackluster digs in the family entertainment mecca's shadow.
Sims also mixes her iconically Vegas signage with a little homegrown tawdry pizzazz. "Clermont Lounge" is a black-and-white photograph of that Ponce de Leon institution of lowbrow shock in which background details retreat into black velvet night. The only visual beacon in Sims' inky night is the glowing white "Motor Hotel" sign, and in the distance, the smaller "Clermont Lounge" sign with its prim, bathing-suited ladies giving little indication of the flesh spectacle awaiting within.
Despite all the flashiness of pulsing flamingo pinks, aquamarines and scarlets and the often inflated promises of "Good Food," Sims' sign photos are mostly about the charming understatement of another age and how, from today's perspective, these once tantalizing nighttime beacons look like proud ships lost at sea, dwarfed in an ocean of far bigger, louder hype.
Lodged runs through Oct. 13 in the main lobby of Swissôtel, 3391 Peachtree Road. 404-365-0065.



More By This Writer

Article

Tuesday June 27, 2017 08:52 pm EDT
Sofia Coppola imagines female desire in 'The Beguiled' | more...

Article

Friday April 27, 2012 03:00 pm EDT
Local painter loses her innocence in a dark, abstract solo show | more...

Article

Monday April 23, 2012 05:00 pm EDT
Chastain Arts Center's new exhibit is quiet and contemplative | more...

Article

Friday April 13, 2012 04:00 am EDT
Duo's Beep Beep Gallery collaboration is the best kind of cultural time capsule | more...

Article

Friday March 30, 2012 10:30 am EDT
Solo exhibit transforms Get This! Gallery into dive bar | more...
Search for more by Felicia Feaster

[Admin link: Lost landscape]