The art of advertising
Southern Pop couldn't have found a more perfect venue than Lenox Square's ArtWalk. In a space devoted to seductive and crude enticements to consume, Southern Pop examines an American landscape defined by comparable urges to spend! spend! spend!
With a nod to Pop artists of the '60s who took the consumer culture of advertisements, comic books and TV as their inspiration, Southern Pop features Atlanta photographers working in a similar vernacular. Some of the better work tackles the peculiar regional flavor that mixes universal inducements to buy with a homegrown approach. Jack Lawing shows that uncanny American tendency to mix salesmanship and proselytizing in "Pumpkin Patch Jesus," an image of a roadside stand of Halloween pumpkins presided over by a gruesome, larger-than-life crucifix.
Homemade advertisements capture the most attention in this survey of work that often simply recreates in photographic form the kitschy, colorful signage of our consumer landscape, as in Virginia Twinam Smith's images of Little Five Points shop fronts.
Judy Kuniansky explores the similar visual charm of the homemade in work like "Boiled Peanuts," a crudely rendered, weather beaten wooden sign in the shape of a peanut advertising the various delicacies offered at a roadside stand.
While Kuniansky and Lawing's work has a slightly smirking, "can you believe this?" edge, Teresa Sims takes a more neutral approach. Sims fluctuates between retro-infatuation with a vintage neon sign featuring a "Pie Man" and a cool appraisal in "Glitter Gulch" of the mania-a-go-go neon lit excess of Las Vegas signage.
But the real jaw dropper in Southern Pop is Laura Noel's hilariously skewed, absolutely original view of the clash of banality and fascination that define our consumer world. Noel casts a vaguely sinister pall over the national surround-sound of consumer pleas and excitement-on-demand. An image of a hotel bedroom decorated with a giant plastic bow and Mylar balloons in a pitiful expression of canned, outsourced "romance." It is also an instructive lesson in how pulling back from an ironic approach to kitschy material can allow for a more meaningful contemplation of the world we have created. Noel's image of a billboard with a woman's eye peeking out from behind a grove of pine trees is a stunning encapsulation of the superfreaky omnipotence of advertisements in our midst. Turning our gaze back on us, this advertiser's creation peeks at us watching it. Like the best Pop art, Noel's images implicates viewers in the world of enticements we have helped perpetuate.
Southern Pop: Five Atlanta Photographers' Views of American Culture, runs through Nov. 9 at Lenox Square's ArtWalk. Open during mall hours. 770-435-5180.