Usual suspects

Georgia Triennial offers a taste of local artists’ works

The first ever Georgia Triennial 2002/2003 is a fresh, smart sampling of contemporary art. On view at City Gallery East this spring, the show joins other recent efforts to showcase the importance of resident contemporary artists. The exhibition follows close upon the debut of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, a venue dedicated to the state’s talent. And while the exhibition lines up many of the usual suspects, several of the artists reveal new levels of sophistication in their work.

Savannah’s Telfair Museum Director Diane Lesko generated the idea for the Georgia Triennial that begins here and travels to Macon, Savannah and Albany. Guest curator Louise Shaw, former director of Nexus Contemporary Art Center (now The Contemporary), made 70 studio visits before selecting the 30 artists included in the show. In her catalogue essay, she considers the profound effects of last September’s terrorist attacks on the U.S., noting how certain works created before that event now seem prescient.

True to the usual group-show gestalt, this one gives only a taste of what most of the artists are about, sometimes limiting our look to only one painting or sculpture. Lovely paintings by Herb Creecy and Elizabeth Cain fall into that category. Happily, the delicate ghostly white blooms in Creecy’s “Swirls and Gray” and Cain’s creamy, green-streaked “Mud Island Spin” are well-placed in visual dialogue with the trumpet flowers of Michael Murrell. The flesh-colored, translucent forms of his “Requiem” lie clustered on the floor, severed from their environment. Karen Rich Beall’s recent sculptural works reflect the same disquieted nature. Incredibly well-achieved, her “Drifting Blooms” represent metastasized algae with lyric sprays of tiny red blossoms rising up from flat green ellipses. Both Beall and Murrell comment on humanity’s toxic touch.

A number of works contemplate death and dying. Jill Larson’s photographic abstractions of dying flowers speak to the beauty in loss. Joe Peragine’s “Fountain,” a fiberglass sculpture of a human-sized white rabbit in a wading pool, recalls his mother and mourns life’s ephemerality. Tears flow from the rabbit’s pink eyes in a continuous stream. Further on, Alan Schechner revisits the World Trade Center towers in computer-manipulated photographs of stacked charcoal sticks and erasers. And half a gallery away, Dan Walsh recalls his father’s voice in “Memory,” alternating random recorded conversations with a ticking clock in a simple and emotive sound installation.

A few artists give humor a solid form. Didi Dunphy and Dreamspan, Inc. created a “Modern Convenience Departure Lounge” where Japanese animation flickers across a monitor embedded in purple padding. Low-lying, round button seats in pink, purple, blue, red and green complete the setting. David Isenhour makes a magnificent leap ahead with his newest sculpture works. Using cartoon and comic books as source, he shapes, paints and polishes pastel speech and thought bubbles, blue metallic teardrops and a pale blue bulge.

Amalia Amaki may be the most remarkable inclusion in this exhibition. The artist flies from fashioning buttons into chocolates to composing surrealist digital collages. Her evolutionary work “Blink” combines found images — Man Ray’s 1934 photograph “Eye with Tear” and a mask-like view of a woman’s eyes from a magazine ad for makeup — to present the idea of cultural relativity. In a grid of four repeating images, the large-scale overlay has a startling effect, evoking the veiled women recently released from a radical religious grip in Afghanistan.

Amaki, along with Carmon Colangelo and Radcliffe Bailey, whose paintings merge Christian and non-Christian symbols, Western and non-Western motifs, are emblematic of a growing global awareness in our artists and the significance of making a fluid and thoughtful connection between concept and art.

Georgia Triennial 2002/2003 continues through June 7 at City Gallery East, 675 Ponce de Leon Ave. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sat. 1-5 p.m. 404-817-7956.??