Atlanta/New York Connection misses the mark by a mile
Anyone expecting a taste of the great Atlanta artist migration to Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs will surely be dis-appointed by the tepid representation of work on display at the Swan Coach House Gallery.
The Atlanta/New York Connection: Atlanta Artists Living in New York City sounds like a great idea, catching up with locals who have moved upward and onward into the loftier art markets. Atlanta's transitory status means there is a constant influx of fresh faces and new work, but also the inevitable desertion of many great artists and creative talent for the next big thing in New York City, Los Angeles or Seattle.
Therefore, considering its provocative and always timely theme, Connection is an astoundingly unhip show. You'd expect a show like this to give some taste of what makes New York such a mecca, and even a frisson of sadness at all the talent since departed. But Connection is not the kind of show to make one wistful. All the enticements New York offers — vitality, innovation, intelligence, cultural riches — are in more abundant supply at any number of local shows currently on view than this display of imports.
Viewers may be forgiven for momentarily expecting more considering the enticing featured work by John Hardy, which graces the show's invitation. "Fashion and the City" is a cityscape in oil of a pouting, couture-draped baby vamp painted on a towering building and throwing serious shade on the city's mortals down below. The image instantly evokes the often oppressive hipness and cruel hierarchies of New York. Hardy's artworks are one of the few instances of work in Connections that actually engages an idea of New York. Most of the work, in fact, suggests artists working in a creative vacuum, perhaps still beating the dead horse they rode into town.
Ryan Steadman's sports-themed work would make more sense moved just a few feet to the left and into the Swan Coach House gift shop, home to embroidered pillows and linen pinafores. One noxiously cheery image executed in cornball blues and paint applied like ceiling plaster features a cartoonish surfer dude being chucked off his board by a dolphin. In another, an irate golfer has his ball carried off in a pelican's bill. The work looks like something offered for sale at a second-rate pro shop.
Things move from worse to less worse in Sam Seawright's polite, ladylike and exceedingly dull homages to flora — like a watercolor of flowers on vellum. Beth Bogla's garishly colored paintings continue the floral theme with weeds and a giant abstract creature, half-donut, half-dandelion. The notion of such artists surrounded by concrete, steel and conceptual art galore choosing to whip up these flower studies is only one in the tangle of improbabilities raised by Connection.
There are some works that do manage to comment upon the city and its impressions, as in Robert Walden's fragile, web-like "map" of Manhattan and environs that somehow captures some of the illusory aspects of living in the city and its largely conceptual space defined by subway routes and bracketing rivers.
Jill Corson's photographs of grubby, quotidian street life reflected in luxe store windows evoke both the clash of divine beauty and humble living that makes New York such a paradoxical and often cruel place. Corson conveys the constant barrage of advertisements, commodities and flurry of consumable things no city dweller's daily pavement pounding lets them escape.
Too bad, then, that so many of the artists in Connection seem blind to that same inescapably frantic, inspirational and provocative city.
The Atlanta/New York Connection: Atlanta Artists Living in New York City runs through April 20 at the Swan Coach House Gallery, 3130 Slaton Drive. Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 404-266-2636.