Social dis-ease

Out of Order examines our physical world

By turns apocalyptic and optimistic, Out of Order: Mapping Social Space at The Contemporary explores the common impulse of visualizing the hidden operations of the physical world.

Drawing a line from the abstraction of Peter Halley to the utopian architecture of Barry Berkus, Out of Order suggests that our buildings have the ability to entrap us, but also to liberate us if — as Berkus contends — they are designed with our current needs in mind.

The various artists in Out of Order at times fit haphazardly together, making the connections between them hard to ferret out. But when the themes of the show do click, the impact is enormous.

Guest curated by Susan Krane, the High Museum's former curator of contemporary art, Out of Order looks at how dramatically our sense of self is tied to our physical world. And the seven artists and one architect represented in Out of Order do a fairly neat job of laying bare that device.

German photographer Andreas Gursky — the subject of a recent Museum of Modern Art retrospective — is perhaps the quintessential globally minded artist who peels back the skin of our social body to give us a better look at its entrails. Two of the artist's enormous photographs are on display in Out of Order.

One shows the frenzied hive of activity on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, the other, the gaping atrium of Atlanta's Hyatt Regency. The latter shot was taken from one of the hotel's balconies, where the floors, with their repeated swaths of pink carpeting, ornamental plantings and white balconies, blur into an abstract vortex. The stock exchange is a whir of suggested noise and the hotel interior evokes the midday calm of a distant vacuum cleaner and the rumbling of an ice machine, but there is the hum of imminent implosion in both.

While Gursky's is an architecture of the actual (though computer-tweaked for maximum surreality), Argentinean artist Guillermo Kuitca's architectural drawings are blueprints of memory and the imaginary.

The son of an accountant and a psychoanalyst, Kuitca's schizophrenically mixed herAtlanta Contemporary Art Centeritage couldn't be more evident in his work. His architectural drawings on large canvases are a tug of war between the rational and the irrational, between order and the foggy drift of the unconscious.

In "Tablada Suite VI," Kuitca offers an overhead, God's-eye view of a nightmarish structure organized with a bureaucrat's precision, where dozens of tiny rooms hold a single cot and toilet. Reminiscent of slave ship diagrams, whose berths overflow with bodies, the work also recalls French theoretician Michel Foucault's link between institutional buildings and the creation of social order. Foucault saw a profound relationship between the spaces that contain us and how our identities and relationships are also subtly molded and structured.

Architecture in American artist Mark Lombardi's work is a nefarious, invisible network of power. His oddball diagrams suggest the flow chart of a genius trying to persuade a disinterested world of his findings. In humorously detailed diagrams of arrows, bubbles and lines delineating complex relationships, Lombardi has visualized the billionaire boys club behind "Casino Resort Development in the Bahamas c. 1955-1989" and, more troubling, the network of graft and tainted money connecting figures as distant as Nixon, the Vatican and Lech Walesa in "Inner Sanctum: The Pope and His Bankers."

Such work illustrates how inter-connected our world is on levels few of us can appreciate, whether via Lombardi's circuitry of corruption or in the simple connection that links an entire city block with a shared network of power lines, water and communication cables.

Out of Order is the kind of show that makes great demands on its viewers and expects nothing less than intelligence from its audience. Out of Order is a challenging, not-to-be-missed exhibition because it assumes its audience is willing and able to participate in such cerebral jigsaw puzzle-piecing, and it is ready to reward them for their efforts.

Out of Order runs through Aug. 18 at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, 535 Means St. Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 404-688-1970.??

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