Greeting card art ad

IKEA answers the call for mass-produced art

Greeting card artSince the heralded opening of its Atlantic Station store last month, the cult of IKEA has gripped Atlantans willingly in its clutches.The Swedish retail giant, known for its affordable contemporary design, features the kind of trickle-down modernism usually seen at higher-end retailers like Domus and Design Within Reach.

For that reason, you'd expect to find some comparably clued-in, tastemaking artwork from a company trying to bring a sleek, simplified, modern look to a more traditional American home market.

Instead, the assembly-line artwork on display underscores the Grand Canyon divide that often exists between people who are deeply immersed in the art world and people who are not.

IKEA's mass-produced posters of pink roses, ballerinas, seashells and silhouettes of jazz musicians framed against color-soaked backdrops in some fast-food chicken-house evocation of "jazzy" look like supersized calendar art or the kind of images sold by street vendors alongside Oriental rugs and Bengal tiger statues.

Sold in every store, from Iceland to Saudi Arabia, the artwork is therefore understandably free of the kind of culturally specific imagery that might limit its appeal, falling into a category all its own that could be called "middlebrow lite" or "greeting card humanism."

While art people get obsessed with things like the one-of-a-kind quality of an art object and buying something touched by the hand of the artist, IKEA and statistics on art-buying tell a different story.

It turns out that a good portion of the $29 billion-a-year art-buying market tends not to fetishize the uniqueness of the art object at all, but is content to own the same Degas poster or zebra photograph as hundreds of thousands of other art lovers.

Sadly, it is the younger, budget-minded consumers (the ones galleries need to nurture into future collectors) who tend to buy pre-framed artwork, not from galleries but from home furnishings and furniture stores (like IKEA), according to trend spotter Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, which issues regular reports on art-buying habits.

Lynda Mee, store manager for the Atlanta IKEA, echoes Danziger's findings.

"People want instant gratification, so anything we've got pre-framed seems to be selling at a higher rate."

The opening of a gallery is a good indication that a neighborhood is headed toward gentrification. Even better is when the city is working with, rather than against, the forces of change. Hapeville's city government seems to recognize that necessity and has worked aggressively to bring culture to the south side town.The city's first art gallery, Arts W/Out Borders (AW/OB), is located in a 3,000-square-foot space provided rent-free by the city of Hapeville to enhance its community's cultural life. Economic Development Director Robin Howarth envisions a pedestrian-friendly, culturally rich next-generation Decatur or Roswell for the city, which suffered decades of decimation wrought by the growth of nearby Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Textile manufacturer Dimitrios Hondroulis is president of AW/OB (www.artswithoutborders.org). As the child of a Greek father and Costa Rican mother, he is intent on fostering cross-cultural communication. The gallery's inaugural show featured Costa Rican art, and its second show spotlights the emotion-packed work of local photographer Ron Witherspoon (July 15-Aug. 15), who takes an intimate, earnest look at one of society's most maligned subjects: the black man.

In place of Hollywood's hoods and Hustle & Flow pimps, Witherspoon documents black preachers and brothers, beautifully dressed old men and, in his most touching work, African-American fathers and their children in a fitting tie-in to the National Black Arts Festival.

Also part of the National Black Arts Festival, the West End's Hammonds House Galleries (www.hammondshouse.org) is showcasing two artists: longtime Atlanta artist Tina Dunkley, and seminal abstract-expressionist painter Norman Lewis (1909-1979), who many believe was left out of the art history canon because he happened to be black.

Lewis' works on paper feature abstracted figures arranged in pyramid forms or walking in a maze-like procession, as in the sublimely earth-toned "Congregation" (1950). The images are quietly haunting, conveying a sense of loneliness within crowds.

Dunkley's varied work embraces both the ancient and the modern, from shrines to video. One of her more provocative projects is an investigation of how straightened black hair becomes synonymous with projecting a nonthreatening vision of "black." There is a hilarious but meaty analysis of social control in two mixed-media pieces in which U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's usual orderly, carefully straightened locks are substituted with an outrageous array of 'round-the-block hairstyles that suggest hair says much more than we might imagine about one's politics.

Felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.comAfter this week, For Art's Sake will become an occasional feature in CL's Arts pages. Beginning Aug. 4, we'll launch three new features.??

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