Solidarity in polarity

Two very different venues arrive at the same conclusion

Step into the Apache Cafe on "Art Monday" and you enter the Irony-Free Zone. On every table, plastic cups used to hold condiments are instead filled with paint, and the table is covered with a large piece of paper for creating impromptu art works. In the back of the cafe, intense, hunched artists sketch nude models. The models pose while patrons sketch, paint, sip coffee and check out the artwork flanking the cafe's main stage.The ambiance is Apres Diem-meets-summer-camp-craft-time with a sprinkling of '60s Happening in a venue that takes a remarkably creative approach to incorporating the arts into everyday experience.

Apache owner Karen Fain, 29, mounts the stage to introduce that night's artists' talk.

"Are you all being creative?" she addresses the crowd with a cruise director's enthusiasm beneath her hip-chick facade. "I hope you enjoyed studying the human form."

The seven-person troupe of tadpole artists who call themselves Abandon Aesthetics from Carrollton sit cross-legged on stage. One of the members points a video camera out at the audience in a gesture that seems Warhol Factory-era but, considering the age range of the Abandon Aesthetics members, is probably more reality-TV inspired.

The enthusiasm is so high and the atmosphere so wide-eyed earnest, an irony-age knee-jerk response is to scoff. But it's hard not to embrace the sincerity and curiosity on display at the Apache.

Fain says she worked in the corporate world as an accountant for three years before she came to a realization. "I was repressing something and what that was, was my need to create and be around expressive people."

As an antidote, she and her musician husband Asa opened Apache, a flexible, ever-changing hang-out zone featuring an eclectic mixed-race crowd where every other head is crowned with a hipster do-rag.

Fain's curatorial sense is as unpretentious and open-minded as the artists and ambiance of Apache. "I am just going on gut," says Fain of her Art Monday events, which have combined jazz, nude drawing, artwork by a homeless artist and a forthcoming poetry reading during the National Black Arts Festival by California poet Kamau Daaod.

Atlanta is home to entirely organic, uncontrived and unconventional venues like the Apache. It's also home to galleries that feel a million miles away from that art clubhouse vibe. In Buckhead art boutiques like Galerie Timothy Tew, issues of marketing and salesmanship are at a premium in a parallel universe defined by savviness and self-consciousness in matters of art and commerce.

Timothy Tew, 43, has been a part of the loftier reaches of the Atlanta art scene since opening his first gallery at TULA 14 years ago. A slim, polished art dealer, Tew has a more long-term, pragmatic vision of the Atlanta art market than Fain. Self-educated in matters of art, Tew is as guided by personal taste as Fain. What he likes is work from European and New York artists with an immediately recognizable fine-art pedigree — still lifes of flowers and fruit, in gorgeous frames for significant money.

But even an established art dealer sometimes gets restless and wants to branch out. Tew wants to attract a new collector base by offering more affordable work. Though he has been a member of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center's board for the past four years, Tew is a classicist when it comes to art, and he has a healthy skepticism about the work he sees getting more play and more press on the local scene.

"I feel like a lot of what gets paid attention to is stuff that is theoretical and conceptual and it comes out of art schools and it comes out of trends that get dictated from some other place," he says.

Intensely aware of image, Tew would like to change his from that of a decorative-art dealer for a Buckhead clientele to a taste-maker for a new generation of collectors. To that end, he's hired a publicist and is in the process of nearly doubling his exhibition space to 3,900 square feet. The project should be completed in August.

"People like size," says Tew, who hopes the super-sizing effect that works for McDonald's and SUVs will help him attract a more diverse clientele and project a new, improved image in an economically tough art market.

The changes afoot at Tew might not be as obvious or as edgy as those at a space that feels like its inverse, the Apache Cafe. But both Tew and Fain are curators guided by their own taste and vision who are responding to a contemporary art world that often maintains a distance between the artwork and its audience and favors theory and concept over a gut response to art.

Though the questioning of institutions that postmodernism offered should not be forgotten, it's a sign of a healthy, evolving art scene that accepted notions are challenged on even this small, local scale.

For Art's Sake is a biweekly column covering the local arts scene.

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