Loss of innocence, rage, pride in institutions like the flag and the noble labor of firemen — all of these issues and more are addressed in True Colors: Meditations on the American Spirit at SunTrust Plaza Gallery. The post-Sept. 11 omnibus struggles to capture the cataclysmic philosophical shift that occurred for Americans in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
True Colors features work by lesser-known artists as well as luminaries such as Sally Mann, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein. Rauschenberg provides a chillingly prescient vision of America's post-9-11 consciousness in the 2000 digital image "Unity" of an American flag whose handle is a shovel. The image conveys the pragmatic sense of hard work needed to prop up this symbol of liberty, dramatically illustrated in the painful excavation of the Ground Zero site.
But many works lack the complexity of Rauschenberg's iconography, preferring instead — as in Alan Campbell's oil painting of a candlelight vigil or Jamie Wyeth's Iwo Jima revisitation of an American flag raised at Ground Zero — to document the complex mire of emotions in a single journalistic image.
The best works in the show are pieces not made in direct reference to the terrorist attacks but that nevertheless convey something of grief, or uncertainty, or loss of innocence with far greater impact. David Levinthal's dreamy color Polaroids of toys have never looked more melancholy as they do in "The Wild West." In the image, made in 1989, a plastic toy cowboy and his trusty horse gaze out into the middle distance — American icons trying to make out what lies ahead.
Jack Kotz's equally weighty 1988 photograph "Rest Area," of a humble picnic table beneath an ornate Greek Revival-columned shelter, shows rare signs of a curatorial voice. The collision of the utilitarian business of picnicking with the grand architectural visions of that gleaming white structure says something about the sweet hopefulness and humbler reality of the American character.
True Colors: Meditations on the American Spirit will continue through Jan. 3, 2003, in the lower level gallery of SunTrust Plaza, 303 Peachtree St. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 404-816-9777.??