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Ben Worley, aka Bean Summer, data mines Information

"Information Randomized Mix-up #4" is an encyclopedia. The artwork, a scintillating grid of tiny inkjet images by Atlanta video artist and VJ Ben Worley, contains a world. Everything from elephants to earthworms to an ironic-looking guy with a beard rolls across the surface in a Red Bull- and NoDoz-fueled mesh of nervous animation. The work also happens to be a literal encyclopedia — at least in part. The piece re-creates elements from Worley's earlier works, which used images from an actual encyclopedia to explore fractured, unassimilated visual data in constant flux.
 
In Information, the artist's master's thesis show at Get This! Gallery, Worley continues his examination of the explosion of information occasioned by digital media and a networked world.
 
Worley also goes by the nom de plume Bean Summer. Like his names, the artist's work concatenates random elements to hint at secret meanings hidden in the spaces where objects collide and images jostle one another in an aggressive, energetic dance.
 
"Information: Experiments in Digital Video," which sits at the center of the show, incorporates some 40,000 original and appropriated images in a rapid display of visual fireworks. The style is glittery and saturated, recalling the formalist psychedelia of fellow video artists Rico Gatson and the late Jeremy Blake. The content, though, is all Worley's. The artist draws smart parallels between the wish fulfillment of get-rich-quick schemes, the faith-filled promises of religion, and the undertow of history's darker moments. If all this seems like a lot to tackle in less than seven minutes, it is. Worley, however, brings the task off admirably.
 
Ten inkjet "contact sheets" — grids of still images drawn largely from the video — fill out the remainder of the show. Here, the artist shines in deft compositions of tremendous maturity and poise. With a keen eye for rhythm and searing color palettes, Worley manages to indulge in sumptuous chromatic expeditions without waxing nostalgic for a mythical pre-modern age of grace. His aesthetic is thoroughly relevant and contemporary.
 
Information is a post-modern hat trick, both beautiful and relevant, and an auspicious start to the artist’s next phase.



More By This Writer

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  string(4498) "In mid-September, it suddenly became a little harder to see all the photographs at Gallery 1526's Legendary Children exhibition. That was when gallerist Melanie Bell agreed to cover parts of three photographs of Atlanta area drag queens in response to complaints raised by the manager of a business sharing the gallery's commercial space. He called the images porn.

The calls for censorship such as the one over Legendary Children almost always involve an act of ventriloquism — someone is constantly speaking for someone else: unnamed customers, faceless museum visitors, or that sociological trump card, "the children." The complainer is usually just the first link in a chain of deferrals to someone else's sensibilities deemed to be more delicate than one's own.

Legendary Children, which included photographs by Matthew Terrell, Jon Dean, Blane Bussey, Blake England, and Kevin O, stepped right into a messy set of questions about pornography, though the photographs themselves were posing entirely different inquiries. What makes you you? What's real and what's not? Who's outside and who's in?

?
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?
Jon Dean's portrait of Violet Chachki was one of the photos that caused the stir. It doesn't matter whether the creamy, white substance at the corner of the lips in the background is faux spunk or the real stuff. What matters is that we can't know for sure either way. That's an irresistible provocation. Next to those besmirched lips, the drag queen in the front looks tame by comparison. The background becomes the foreground and vice versa.

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Drag performance doesn't end after the klieg lights shut off, as this triple portrait by Kevin O implies. Drag performance takes place both on stage and in the community of casual, real-life interaction, which has an impact even on an inhospitable world. It's possible for a group to live at the margins of society, and yet occupy that society's symbolic center. Think hippies in the late 1960s or civil rights protesters a few years earlier. Those groups influenced the culture at large way out of proportion to their relatively small numbers and demeaned social status. Something similar happened with gay politics in the early 1990s. RuPaul and the Lady Bunny  -  both originally Atlanta queens  -  weren't just part of a profound cultural change gaining momentum, they were its vanguard. The sun hat, the hoop earrings, and the contouring makeup visible in Kevin O's photo carry the same political charge on stage and off.

?
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Blane Bussey's series of drag queens in mainstream, non-theater locations carry the concept of endless performance to an extreme. Like the showy flamingoes of the Atlanta Zoo in the background, Ellisorous Rex is both on display and simply in the world. There's no clear line where a stage starts and stops. Paraphrasing Shakespeare, the stage enfolds the entire world.

?
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Jon Dean's portrait of Kryean Kally is awash in the aesthetics of shining artifice and extreme aesthetics. The world isn't a stage as it's found; instead, the stage is a world as it's created. There's a clear link between queerness and the gorgeous aesthetics of over-the-top artifice. I first encountered it in Isaac Julien's Looking for Langston. But it had already been there in the films of Kenneth Anger and the impossibly lush photography of James Bidgood. They worked out the aesthetic armature that Pierre et Gilles and David LaChapelle filled with glorious airbrushed detail. In Dean's image, the queen at the center is as artificial as anything else. Can there be any doubt that she's as artificial as the sky? Being someone  -  anyone it seems  -  is a matter of will and costuming. It's always a performance. We're artifice through and through.

?
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The chores and joys of self-creation are brought to light most dramatically under the hard flash of Blake England's through-the-legs shot of Violet Chachki. That triangle from shin to balls to shin  -  that's where the fault lines are: between male and female, interior and exterior, public and private. And the mirror catches a moment where all that's still being worked out, unfinished. That's why this image isn't porn. In fact that set of exposed opposites is why the image is necessary. We're all engaged in some similar preparation for performance. We're all making ourselves up. Some just do it with better clothes."
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?
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?
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Article

Thursday November 7, 2013 04:00 am EST
Looking at drag culture through the controversial portraits of Legendary Children | more...
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  string(152) "Tired programming, budget woes, and inconsistent leadership have plagued Atlanta's National Black Arts Festival. Can the once-revered event bounce back?"
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  string(152) "Tired programming, budget woes, and inconsistent leadership have plagued Atlanta's National Black Arts Festival. Can the once-revered event bounce back?"
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  string(13522) "The first time I heard about the National Black Arts Festival in 1998, I didn't go. I was a practicing artist in my late 20s, but Atlanta's annual summer festival of African-American dance, music, theater, film, and visual art still seemed irrelevant.

Like most young artists, I imagined myself an ambassador of the cutting edge. But the festival that year gave us Ruby Dee, Ntozake Shange, and Maya Angelou as headliners. Artists worthy of attention? Of course. Like many black kids of my generation, repeated viewings of Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf was a rite of passage. But NBAF's lineup that year made one thing clear: If you were going to spend any significant amount of time at the festival, you'd better be comfortable reliving the culture of the Baby Boomers, because younger artists were at best a supporting cast to the headliners' starring roles.

The National Black Arts Festival was founded in 1988 by former Fulton County Commission Chairman Michael Lomax as a biennial, multi-arts festival. NBAF's first installment was, by all accounts, electrifying. The inaugural festival emerged not as a trial balloon, but as a fully formed, nine-day extravaganza that outstripped even its organizers' expectations for a first-time event. From its earliest days, the festival drew audiences from around the globe. NBAF became a marquee event not just for Atlanta, but for the world.

By 1998, however, the festival had already begun to show signs of wear. That year, the AJC's Wendell Brock noted in an otherwise upbeat review that the festival's programming was developing an "aura of sameness." The AJC's Steve Dollar also described that year's festival as resembling a retrospective of the previous five festivals (at that time still on a biennial schedule) more than any sort of nod toward the new millennium. NBAF has been slogging uphill ever since to refresh an aging audience while offering programming true to its founding mission to present significant art from the African diaspora. Even NBAF insiders have copped in recent years to a program that has grown "stale."

The repetitive programming has taken its toll. The summer festival is no longer the international magnet it once was, and the scope has shrunk from a high of 10 days to last year's four-day schedule. NBAF's newly elected board chair Sonya Halpern is frank about the organization's need to change. "There was a time when, internationally, people would build their schedule around when the National Black Arts Festival was happening in the summer," she says. "And they'd come from every corner of this country to participate right here in Atlanta. I would like to see some of that happening again."

This year marks NBAF's 25th anniversary, which should be cause for spectacular fanfare. But so far it's been a season of silence punctuated by the occasional shocking revelation. Executive director Michael Simanga announced his resignation in January, less than a year after being appointed to the position. That turn of events made Simanga the third leader to depart in four years. The Atlanta Daily World reported in March that the organization is more than a half million dollars in debt, a problem that predated Simanga's leadership. His plans to use entrepreneurial models to get the arts "into the marketplace," as he told CL last year, went unfulfilled and his contract wasn't renewed.

Halpern remains undeterred. "Our doors are still open. The board is committed to putting this organization on a track and poising it for success this year and certainly as we head out into next year and the year after that," she says.

NBAF has had fiscal and organizational problems before, and they've been solved before. In 1992, the organization not only wiped out its $300,000 debt, it realized a small surplus, in part by cutting the festival down from 10 to seven days. But recent widespread murmurs about NBAF's declining relevance point to a more troubling question: Do we still need a black arts festival at all?

In a world where the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and visual artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker receive the art world's highest accolades regardless of race, it can be hard to remember the very different world in which NBAF was born. In the '80s, some individual African-American artists enjoyed personal career success, but the notion of black cultural achievement in so-called high art still wasn't an obvious idea to many people. Outside of the spotlights of pop music and sports, national debates about African-Americans were dominated by discussions of crack babies and welfare queens. So poignant was the desire to counter those stereotypes that Bill Cosby attempted to shoulder the cultural burden of an entire race by turning his landmark sitcom into a platform for showcasing the sorts of visual art and music promoted as exemplars of upper-middle-class black taste.

?image-1?
Four years after "The Cosby Show" premiered, NBAF joined the wave of institutions designed to acknowledge otherwise under-acknowledged art to a mass audience. That wave also included the Hammonds House Museum, an Atlanta institution devoted to exhibiting African-American art, which opened the same year NBAF began. "For decades," reads NBAF's 1988 souvenir program, "Black Americans have dreamed of producing an event that would display the richness of our cultural heritage." The new festival would "make our dream a reality."

In 1988, it was relatively easy to pin down the supposed political agenda of black high art — images and sounds to uplift the race in the eyes of the world. But by the end of the '90s, that agenda had all but collapsed. Curator Thelma Golden made the collapse explicit in her 2001 group exhibition Freestyle at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a leader in contemporary art by emerging and established black artists since 1968. Freestyle unleashed a war of ideologies still raging today by introducing the term "post-black" to describe a rising tide of artwork that was much less interested in an agenda of uplift.

The term post-black has been widely misinterpreted to refer to artwork that refuses to discuss racial concerns. To the contrary, Golden's term referred to art by largely art-school trained artists who usually did think about race. But unlike previous generations that went looking for common denominators and stories shared across the race, Freestyle artists such as Rashid Johnson, Kira Lynn Harris, and Atlanta's Kojo Griffin instead made highly individualistic art that attempted to integrate the dizzying variety of experiences thrust upon all modern people. According to the Freestyle catalog, these artists were "influenced by hip hop, alt rock, new media, suburban angst, urban blight, globalism, and the Internet," making art that was "both post-Basquiat and post-Biggie."

Writer and media pundit Touré's 2011 book Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? explained the new generational attitude by pointing out that those born after the Civil Rights Movement didn't experience the same massive group trauma as earlier generations, writing, "The fight for equality is not over, but that shift from living amid segregation and civil war to integration and affirmative action ... has led many to a very different perspective." Being removed from the front lines allowed later generations to relate to the Civil Rights era in ways unthinkable from within the Civil Rights generation: irreverently, ironically, and from the point of view that one's race could be served up as just one subject among many.

Similar ideas emerged throughout the 2000s in literature, film, and theater. What Was African American Literature? (2011) author Kenneth W. Warren has even written that African-American literature is a historical form that "has already come to an end." Obviously, African-American people continue to write books. But without the politics forced by Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, the race of an author today provides no reliable clues to a book's content, language, or tone. And a category with no unifying characteristics isn't a category.

NBAF isn't the only African-American arts organization standing at a crossroads as the nature of both art and race undergo rapid change. The International Review of African American Art, for which I'm currently guest editing the upcoming summer issue, is likewise recalculating what does and does not fall into its territory.

Founded in 1976, IRAAA gave voice to art movements such as Africobra and the Black Arts Movement that had mostly already peaked, but were slowly becoming institutionalized in museums and academic programs. The quarterly journal saw itself as part of the human effort to "realize the uniqueness of each culture and the value of its art," as its inaugural issue stated. As long as everyone had some idea about what the uniqueness of black culture was, there was no problem. Thus Elizabeth Catlett's woodcut of Harriet Tubman and a painting of African masks by Loïs Mailou Jones both found a comfortable home in the pages of IRAAA bound by the fact that both artists had the same political agenda. Almost 40 years later, there are increasing numbers of artists whose work has more and more to do with personal idiosyncrasies and less to do with a common, well-defined political cause. It's not at all clear how to thoughtfully turn that into a coherent story about what was once called black art.

The Studio Museum's recent exhibition Fore (November 2012-March 2013) provided even less of a unifying vision than Freestyle. In the exhibition catalog, Fore's curators pose a question: "So what happens to black after post-black?" The question remains unanswered in the catalog, but Fore's collected works, ranging wildly in subject, aesthetics, medium, and scale, seemed to abandon entirely the notion that anything at all unifies the work of young black artists, or indeed that it has anything to say about blackness at all.

?image-2?
New websites such as Black Art in America and Black Contemporary Art provide different answers to the same questions. While Black Contemporary Art highlights edgier work more likely to be assimilated into mainstream art institutions, Black Art in America has a more populist approach. "Because Black Art in America is open to varied types of artists at various stages in their development," says founder Najee Dorsey, "it is a place where visitors can find emerging talent that may not necessarily be on other art sites. You could say we represent the 99 percent of artists of color."

The tides of ambiguity about new forms of black art and artists might explain why NBAF's vision feels wed to the '80s. That decade was perhaps the last time it was possible to know for sure what was and was not black art without courting a crippling barrage of caveats and exceptions. It would explain why so many of the festival's leading spokespeople and feature acts saw their most productive years between 1965 and 1980. It also explains why NBAF's bigger challenge for the future is not whether it can close an immediate budget shortfall, but how it transitions its vision of what black art means in a new century. And for that, NBAF needs more showcases highlighting work from the present and future and fewer misty-eyed reminiscences of the past.

NBAF may be taking steps toward precisely that effort. Although this year's festival won't be the "dynamic" blowout Simanga predicted almost a year ago, one of the few events planned is a two-day, public forum titled, "A Question of Relevance." That event, scheduled for September, is described as a "discussion regarding the current and future relevance of Black Culture in the 21st century to help us all understand how to preserve and sustain these institutions." If the difficult questions implied by the title are addressed head-on, NBAF will certainly end up more attuned to how it needs to change.

In its literature, NBAF frequently touts its intentions to expose young people to the arts. But the organization's arrow of influence may be pointing in the wrong direction. Flexible organizations realize that they need exposure to young ideas every bit as much as the young need exposure to an existing legacy. Like every generation, the young people are already making work that reflects their experiences of the world. NBAF must take seriously the messy, unresolved, sometimes frightening cultural production of young artists not simply as a sideshow, but as the center of what any future festival might look like. The next generations are more than simply a target audience; they are the engines that will power the future.

There's a lot at stake in the survival of NBAF and other black art organizations. Bernard Lumpkin, a major collector of African-American art as well as a member of the Studio Museum's Acquisition Committee, describes a "mutual obligation:" "Such organizations are reaching out to a different community and a different community is reaching out to them," says Lumpkin. "For better or for worse, these people aren't going to other institutions. And if they do go elsewhere, there's a good chance that they won't see the sorts of stories about their own lives that they would get at the Studio Museum."

Black art organizations still preserve and tell stories that no other organizations do. The story of America is incomplete without them. But those organizations have a future only if their visions continue to change with the times. "
  ["tracker_field_contentWikiPage_raw"]=>
  string(14403) "The first time I heard about the [http://nbaf.org/|National Black Arts Festival] in 1998, I didn't go. I was a practicing artist in my late 20s, but Atlanta's annual summer festival of African-American dance, music, theater, film, and visual art still seemed irrelevant.

Like most young artists, I imagined myself an ambassador of the cutting edge. But the festival that year gave us Ruby Dee, Ntozake Shange, and Maya Angelou as headliners. Artists worthy of attention? Of course. Like many black kids of my generation, repeated viewings of Shange's __''[http://www.amazon.com/Colored-Girls-Considered-Suicide-Rainbow/dp/0684843269|For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf]''__ was a rite of passage. But NBAF's lineup that year made one thing clear: If you were going to spend any significant amount of time at the festival, you'd better be comfortable reliving the culture of the Baby Boomers, because younger artists were at best a supporting cast to the headliners' starring roles.

The National Black Arts Festival was founded in 1988 by former Fulton County Commission Chairman Michael Lomax as a biennial, multi-arts festival. NBAF's first installment was, by all accounts, electrifying. The inaugural festival emerged not as a trial balloon, but as a fully formed, nine-day extravaganza that outstripped even its organizers' expectations for a first-time event. From its earliest days, the festival drew audiences from around the globe. NBAF became a marquee event not just for Atlanta, but for the world.

By 1998, however, the festival had already begun to show signs of wear. That year, the ''__''AJC''__'''s Wendell Brock noted in an otherwise upbeat review that the festival's programming was developing an "aura of sameness." The ''__''AJC''__'''s Steve Dollar also described that year's festival as resembling a retrospective of the previous five festivals (at that time still on a biennial schedule) more than any sort of nod toward the new millennium. NBAF has been slogging uphill ever since to refresh an aging audience while offering programming true to its founding mission to present significant art from the African diaspora. Even NBAF insiders have copped in recent years to a program that has grown "stale."

The repetitive programming has taken its toll. The summer festival is no longer the international magnet it once was, and the scope has shrunk from a high of 10 days to last year's four-day schedule. NBAF's newly elected board chair Sonya Halpern is frank about the organization's need to change. "There was a time when, internationally, people would build their schedule around when the National Black Arts Festival was happening in the summer," she says. "And they'd come from every corner of this country to participate right here in Atlanta. I would like to see some of that happening again."

This year marks NBAF's 25th anniversary, which should be cause for spectacular fanfare. But so far it's been a season of silence punctuated by the occasional shocking revelation. Executive director Michael Simanga announced his resignation in January, [http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2012/02/27/michael-simanga-appointed-ceo-of-national-black-arts-festival|less than a year after being appointed to the position]. That turn of events made Simanga the third leader to depart in four years. [http://atlantadailyworld.com/201303154603/ADW-News/national-black-arts-festival-at-a-crossroads|The ''Atlanta Daily World'' reported] in March that the organization is more than a half million dollars in debt, a problem that predated Simanga's leadership. His plans to use entrepreneurial models to get the [http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2012/02/29/simanga-emphasizes-importance-of-generating-revenue-at-nbaf|arts "into the marketplace,"] as he told ''CL'' last year, went unfulfilled and his contract wasn't renewed.

Halpern remains undeterred. "Our doors are still open. The board is committed to putting this organization on a track and poising it for success this year and certainly as we head out into next year and the year after that," she says.

NBAF has had fiscal and organizational problems before, and they've been solved before. In 1992, the organization not only wiped out its $300,000 debt, it realized a small surplus, in part by cutting the festival down from 10 to seven days. But recent widespread murmurs about NBAF's declining relevance point to a more troubling question: Do we still need a black arts festival at all?

__In a world__ where the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and visual artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker receive the art world's highest accolades regardless of race, it can be hard to remember the very different world in which NBAF was born. In the '80s, some individual African-American artists enjoyed personal career success, but the notion of black cultural achievement in so-called high art still wasn't an obvious idea to many people. Outside of the spotlights of pop music and sports, national debates about African-Americans were dominated by discussions of crack babies and welfare queens. So poignant was the desire to counter those stereotypes that Bill Cosby attempted to shoulder the cultural burden of an entire race by turning his landmark sitcom into a platform for showcasing the sorts of visual art and music promoted as exemplars of upper-middle-class black taste.

?[image-1]?
Four years after "The Cosby Show" premiered, NBAF joined the wave of institutions designed to acknowledge otherwise under-acknowledged art to a mass audience. That wave also included the Hammonds House Museum, an Atlanta institution devoted to exhibiting African-American art, which opened the same year NBAF began. "For decades," reads NBAF's 1988 souvenir program, "Black Americans have dreamed of producing an event that would display the richness of our cultural heritage." The new festival would "make our dream a reality."

In 1988, it was relatively easy to pin down the supposed political agenda of black high art — images and sounds to uplift the race in the eyes of the world. But by the end of the '90s, that agenda had all but collapsed. Curator Thelma Golden made the collapse explicit in her 2001 group exhibition ''Freestyle'' at the [http://www.studiomuseum.org/|Studio Museum in Harlem], a leader in contemporary art by emerging and established black artists since 1968. ''Freestyle'' unleashed a war of ideologies still raging today by introducing the term "post-black" to describe a rising tide of artwork that was much less interested in an agenda of uplift.

The term post-black has been widely misinterpreted to refer to artwork that refuses to discuss racial concerns. To the contrary, Golden's term referred to art by largely art-school trained artists who usually did think about race. But unlike previous generations that went looking for common denominators and stories shared across the race, ''Freestyle'' artists such as Rashid Johnson, Kira Lynn Harris, and Atlanta's Kojo Griffin instead made highly individualistic art that attempted to integrate the dizzying variety of experiences thrust upon all modern people. According to the ''Freestyle'' catalog, these artists were "influenced by hip hop, alt rock, new media, suburban angst, urban blight, globalism, and the Internet," making art that was "both post-Basquiat and post-Biggie."

Writer and media pundit Touré's 2011 book ''[http://clatl.com/atlanta/what-comes-after-black/Content?oid=4032992|Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?]'' explained the new generational attitude by pointing out that those born after the Civil Rights Movement didn't experience the same massive group trauma as earlier generations, writing, "The fight for equality is not over, but that shift from living amid segregation and civil war to integration and affirmative action ... has led many to a very different perspective." Being removed from the front lines allowed later generations to relate to the Civil Rights era in ways unthinkable from within the Civil Rights generation: irreverently, ironically, and from the point of view that one's race could be served up as just one subject among many.

Similar ideas emerged throughout the 2000s in literature, film, and theater. ''What Was African American Literature?'' (2011) author Kenneth W. Warren has even written that African-American literature is a historical form that "has already come to an end." Obviously, African-American people continue to write books. But without the politics forced by Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, the race of an author today provides no reliable clues to a book's content, language, or tone. And a category with no unifying characteristics isn't a category.

__NBAF isn't the only__ African-American arts organization standing at a crossroads as the nature of both art and race undergo rapid change. ''The International Review of African American Art'', for which I'm currently guest editing the upcoming summer issue, is likewise recalculating what does and does not fall into its territory.

Founded in 1976, ''IRAAA'' gave voice to art movements such as Africobra and the Black Arts Movement that had mostly already peaked, but were slowly becoming institutionalized in museums and academic programs. The quarterly journal saw itself as part of the human effort to "realize the uniqueness of each culture and the value of its art," as its inaugural issue stated. As long as everyone had some idea about what the uniqueness of black culture was, there was no problem. Thus [http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/04/arts/design/elizabeth-catlett-sculptor-with-eye-on-social-issues-dies-at-96.html?_r=0|Elizabeth Catlett's woodcut of Harriet Tubman] and a painting of African masks by Loïs Mailou Jones both found a comfortable home in the pages of ''IRAAA'' bound by the fact that both artists had the same political agenda. Almost 40 years later, there are increasing numbers of artists whose work has more and more to do with personal idiosyncrasies and less to do with a common, well-defined political cause. It's not at all clear how to thoughtfully turn that into a coherent story about what was once called black art.

[http://www.studiomuseum.org/index.php?q=exhibition/fore|The Studio Museum's recent exhibition ''Fore''] (November 2012-March 2013) provided even less of a unifying vision than ''Freestyle''. In the exhibition catalog, ''Fore'''s curators pose a question: "So what happens to black after post-black?" The question remains unanswered in the catalog, but ''Fore'''s collected works, ranging wildly in subject, aesthetics, medium, and scale, seemed to abandon entirely the notion that anything at all unifies the work of young black artists, or indeed that it has anything to say about blackness at all.

?[image-2]?
New websites such as [http://blackartinamerica.com/|Black Art in America] and [http://blackcontemporaryart.tumblr.com/|Black Contemporary Art] provide different answers to the same questions. While Black Contemporary Art highlights edgier work more likely to be assimilated into mainstream art institutions, Black Art in America has a more populist approach. "Because Black Art in America is open to varied types of artists at various stages in their development," says founder Najee Dorsey, "it is a place where visitors can find emerging talent that may not necessarily be on other art sites. You could say we represent the 99 percent of artists of color."

__The tides of ambiguity__ about new forms of black art and artists might explain why NBAF's vision feels wed to the '80s. That decade was perhaps the last time it was possible to know for sure what was and was not black art without courting a crippling barrage of caveats and exceptions. It would explain why so many of the festival's leading spokespeople and feature acts saw their most productive years between 1965 and 1980. It also explains why NBAF's bigger challenge for the future is not whether it can close an immediate budget shortfall, but how it transitions its vision of what black art means in a new century. And for that, NBAF needs more showcases highlighting work from the present and future and fewer misty-eyed reminiscences of the past.

NBAF may be taking steps toward precisely that effort. Although this year's festival won't be the "dynamic" blowout Simanga predicted almost a year ago, one of the few events planned is a two-day, public forum titled, "A Question of Relevance." That event, scheduled for September, is described as a "discussion regarding the current and future relevance of Black Culture in the 21st century to help us all understand how to preserve and sustain these institutions." If the difficult questions implied by the title are addressed head-on, NBAF will certainly end up more attuned to how it needs to change.

In its literature, NBAF frequently touts its intentions to expose young people to the arts. But the organization's arrow of influence may be pointing in the wrong direction. Flexible organizations realize that they need exposure to young ideas every bit as much as the young need exposure to an existing legacy. Like every generation, the young people are already making work that reflects their experiences of the world. NBAF must take seriously the messy, unresolved, sometimes frightening cultural production of young artists not simply as a sideshow, but as the center of what any future festival might look like. The next generations are more than simply a target audience; they are the engines that will power the future.

There's a lot at stake in the survival of NBAF and other black art organizations. Bernard Lumpkin, a major collector of African-American art as well as a member of the Studio Museum's Acquisition Committee, describes a "mutual obligation:" "[Such organizations] are reaching out to a different community and a different community is reaching out to them," says Lumpkin. "For better or for worse, these people aren't going to other institutions. And if they do go elsewhere, there's a good chance that they won't see the sorts of stories about their own lives that they would get at the Studio Museum."

Black art organizations still preserve and tell stories that no other organizations do. The story of America is incomplete without them. But those organizations have a future only if their visions continue to change with the times. "
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  string(13918) "    Tired programming, budget woes, and inconsistent leadership have plagued Atlanta's National Black Arts Festival. Can the once-revered event bounce back?   2013-05-23T08:00:00+00:00 Cover Story - Do black arts festivals have a future?   Cinque Hicks 1306447 2013-05-23T08:00:00+00:00  The first time I heard about the National Black Arts Festival in 1998, I didn't go. I was a practicing artist in my late 20s, but Atlanta's annual summer festival of African-American dance, music, theater, film, and visual art still seemed irrelevant.

Like most young artists, I imagined myself an ambassador of the cutting edge. But the festival that year gave us Ruby Dee, Ntozake Shange, and Maya Angelou as headliners. Artists worthy of attention? Of course. Like many black kids of my generation, repeated viewings of Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf was a rite of passage. But NBAF's lineup that year made one thing clear: If you were going to spend any significant amount of time at the festival, you'd better be comfortable reliving the culture of the Baby Boomers, because younger artists were at best a supporting cast to the headliners' starring roles.

The National Black Arts Festival was founded in 1988 by former Fulton County Commission Chairman Michael Lomax as a biennial, multi-arts festival. NBAF's first installment was, by all accounts, electrifying. The inaugural festival emerged not as a trial balloon, but as a fully formed, nine-day extravaganza that outstripped even its organizers' expectations for a first-time event. From its earliest days, the festival drew audiences from around the globe. NBAF became a marquee event not just for Atlanta, but for the world.

By 1998, however, the festival had already begun to show signs of wear. That year, the AJC's Wendell Brock noted in an otherwise upbeat review that the festival's programming was developing an "aura of sameness." The AJC's Steve Dollar also described that year's festival as resembling a retrospective of the previous five festivals (at that time still on a biennial schedule) more than any sort of nod toward the new millennium. NBAF has been slogging uphill ever since to refresh an aging audience while offering programming true to its founding mission to present significant art from the African diaspora. Even NBAF insiders have copped in recent years to a program that has grown "stale."

The repetitive programming has taken its toll. The summer festival is no longer the international magnet it once was, and the scope has shrunk from a high of 10 days to last year's four-day schedule. NBAF's newly elected board chair Sonya Halpern is frank about the organization's need to change. "There was a time when, internationally, people would build their schedule around when the National Black Arts Festival was happening in the summer," she says. "And they'd come from every corner of this country to participate right here in Atlanta. I would like to see some of that happening again."

This year marks NBAF's 25th anniversary, which should be cause for spectacular fanfare. But so far it's been a season of silence punctuated by the occasional shocking revelation. Executive director Michael Simanga announced his resignation in January, less than a year after being appointed to the position. That turn of events made Simanga the third leader to depart in four years. The Atlanta Daily World reported in March that the organization is more than a half million dollars in debt, a problem that predated Simanga's leadership. His plans to use entrepreneurial models to get the arts "into the marketplace," as he told CL last year, went unfulfilled and his contract wasn't renewed.

Halpern remains undeterred. "Our doors are still open. The board is committed to putting this organization on a track and poising it for success this year and certainly as we head out into next year and the year after that," she says.

NBAF has had fiscal and organizational problems before, and they've been solved before. In 1992, the organization not only wiped out its $300,000 debt, it realized a small surplus, in part by cutting the festival down from 10 to seven days. But recent widespread murmurs about NBAF's declining relevance point to a more troubling question: Do we still need a black arts festival at all?

In a world where the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and visual artists such as Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker receive the art world's highest accolades regardless of race, it can be hard to remember the very different world in which NBAF was born. In the '80s, some individual African-American artists enjoyed personal career success, but the notion of black cultural achievement in so-called high art still wasn't an obvious idea to many people. Outside of the spotlights of pop music and sports, national debates about African-Americans were dominated by discussions of crack babies and welfare queens. So poignant was the desire to counter those stereotypes that Bill Cosby attempted to shoulder the cultural burden of an entire race by turning his landmark sitcom into a platform for showcasing the sorts of visual art and music promoted as exemplars of upper-middle-class black taste.

?image-1?
Four years after "The Cosby Show" premiered, NBAF joined the wave of institutions designed to acknowledge otherwise under-acknowledged art to a mass audience. That wave also included the Hammonds House Museum, an Atlanta institution devoted to exhibiting African-American art, which opened the same year NBAF began. "For decades," reads NBAF's 1988 souvenir program, "Black Americans have dreamed of producing an event that would display the richness of our cultural heritage." The new festival would "make our dream a reality."

In 1988, it was relatively easy to pin down the supposed political agenda of black high art — images and sounds to uplift the race in the eyes of the world. But by the end of the '90s, that agenda had all but collapsed. Curator Thelma Golden made the collapse explicit in her 2001 group exhibition Freestyle at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a leader in contemporary art by emerging and established black artists since 1968. Freestyle unleashed a war of ideologies still raging today by introducing the term "post-black" to describe a rising tide of artwork that was much less interested in an agenda of uplift.

The term post-black has been widely misinterpreted to refer to artwork that refuses to discuss racial concerns. To the contrary, Golden's term referred to art by largely art-school trained artists who usually did think about race. But unlike previous generations that went looking for common denominators and stories shared across the race, Freestyle artists such as Rashid Johnson, Kira Lynn Harris, and Atlanta's Kojo Griffin instead made highly individualistic art that attempted to integrate the dizzying variety of experiences thrust upon all modern people. According to the Freestyle catalog, these artists were "influenced by hip hop, alt rock, new media, suburban angst, urban blight, globalism, and the Internet," making art that was "both post-Basquiat and post-Biggie."

Writer and media pundit Touré's 2011 book Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? explained the new generational attitude by pointing out that those born after the Civil Rights Movement didn't experience the same massive group trauma as earlier generations, writing, "The fight for equality is not over, but that shift from living amid segregation and civil war to integration and affirmative action ... has led many to a very different perspective." Being removed from the front lines allowed later generations to relate to the Civil Rights era in ways unthinkable from within the Civil Rights generation: irreverently, ironically, and from the point of view that one's race could be served up as just one subject among many.

Similar ideas emerged throughout the 2000s in literature, film, and theater. What Was African American Literature? (2011) author Kenneth W. Warren has even written that African-American literature is a historical form that "has already come to an end." Obviously, African-American people continue to write books. But without the politics forced by Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, the race of an author today provides no reliable clues to a book's content, language, or tone. And a category with no unifying characteristics isn't a category.

NBAF isn't the only African-American arts organization standing at a crossroads as the nature of both art and race undergo rapid change. The International Review of African American Art, for which I'm currently guest editing the upcoming summer issue, is likewise recalculating what does and does not fall into its territory.

Founded in 1976, IRAAA gave voice to art movements such as Africobra and the Black Arts Movement that had mostly already peaked, but were slowly becoming institutionalized in museums and academic programs. The quarterly journal saw itself as part of the human effort to "realize the uniqueness of each culture and the value of its art," as its inaugural issue stated. As long as everyone had some idea about what the uniqueness of black culture was, there was no problem. Thus Elizabeth Catlett's woodcut of Harriet Tubman and a painting of African masks by Loïs Mailou Jones both found a comfortable home in the pages of IRAAA bound by the fact that both artists had the same political agenda. Almost 40 years later, there are increasing numbers of artists whose work has more and more to do with personal idiosyncrasies and less to do with a common, well-defined political cause. It's not at all clear how to thoughtfully turn that into a coherent story about what was once called black art.

The Studio Museum's recent exhibition Fore (November 2012-March 2013) provided even less of a unifying vision than Freestyle. In the exhibition catalog, Fore's curators pose a question: "So what happens to black after post-black?" The question remains unanswered in the catalog, but Fore's collected works, ranging wildly in subject, aesthetics, medium, and scale, seemed to abandon entirely the notion that anything at all unifies the work of young black artists, or indeed that it has anything to say about blackness at all.

?image-2?
New websites such as Black Art in America and Black Contemporary Art provide different answers to the same questions. While Black Contemporary Art highlights edgier work more likely to be assimilated into mainstream art institutions, Black Art in America has a more populist approach. "Because Black Art in America is open to varied types of artists at various stages in their development," says founder Najee Dorsey, "it is a place where visitors can find emerging talent that may not necessarily be on other art sites. You could say we represent the 99 percent of artists of color."

The tides of ambiguity about new forms of black art and artists might explain why NBAF's vision feels wed to the '80s. That decade was perhaps the last time it was possible to know for sure what was and was not black art without courting a crippling barrage of caveats and exceptions. It would explain why so many of the festival's leading spokespeople and feature acts saw their most productive years between 1965 and 1980. It also explains why NBAF's bigger challenge for the future is not whether it can close an immediate budget shortfall, but how it transitions its vision of what black art means in a new century. And for that, NBAF needs more showcases highlighting work from the present and future and fewer misty-eyed reminiscences of the past.

NBAF may be taking steps toward precisely that effort. Although this year's festival won't be the "dynamic" blowout Simanga predicted almost a year ago, one of the few events planned is a two-day, public forum titled, "A Question of Relevance." That event, scheduled for September, is described as a "discussion regarding the current and future relevance of Black Culture in the 21st century to help us all understand how to preserve and sustain these institutions." If the difficult questions implied by the title are addressed head-on, NBAF will certainly end up more attuned to how it needs to change.

In its literature, NBAF frequently touts its intentions to expose young people to the arts. But the organization's arrow of influence may be pointing in the wrong direction. Flexible organizations realize that they need exposure to young ideas every bit as much as the young need exposure to an existing legacy. Like every generation, the young people are already making work that reflects their experiences of the world. NBAF must take seriously the messy, unresolved, sometimes frightening cultural production of young artists not simply as a sideshow, but as the center of what any future festival might look like. The next generations are more than simply a target audience; they are the engines that will power the future.

There's a lot at stake in the survival of NBAF and other black art organizations. Bernard Lumpkin, a major collector of African-American art as well as a member of the Studio Museum's Acquisition Committee, describes a "mutual obligation:" "Such organizations are reaching out to a different community and a different community is reaching out to them," says Lumpkin. "For better or for worse, these people aren't going to other institutions. And if they do go elsewhere, there's a good chance that they won't see the sorts of stories about their own lives that they would get at the Studio Museum."

Black art organizations still preserve and tell stories that no other organizations do. The story of America is incomplete without them. But those organizations have a future only if their visions continue to change with the times.              13073834 8280091                          Cover Story - Do black arts festivals have a future? "
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Thursday May 23, 2013 04:00 am EDT
Tired programming, budget woes, and inconsistent leadership have plagued Atlanta's National Black Arts Festival. Can the once-revered event bounce back? | more...
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*Dustin Chambers
*UNDER SIEGE: Pittsburgh residents buff Roti's mural along University Avenue without permission.The perils of public space


This article was originally published in BURNAWAY magazine in two parts on Jan. 11 and 17. www.burnaway.org.


When the French street artist known as Roti painted his mural "An Allegory of the Human City" in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Southwest Atlanta, he assumed everyone would understand it as a commentary on the brutality of capitalism. They did not. That, at least, is apparently what he told the New York Times.


Instead, the mural was decried by a vocal coterie of residents as containing "demonic" imagery reminiscent of the pervasive destruction the neighborhood has suffered. It's clear that not all of Pittsburgh's residents shared that interpretation, but it was the one adopted by high-profile residents, including a former state representative, Doug Dean, and the Atlanta-based group Concerned Black Clergy.


The dustup isn't the only such controversy to ruffle feathers in this country. It's not even the first for Living Walls, the mural's sponsoring organization. Last fall, a Living Walls mural in Chosewood Park by Argentinean street artist Hyuro that depicted a woman shedding her clothes met with confusion, disdain, and outrage resulting in a formal request for its removal. Beyond Atlanta, street art powerhouses Os Gêmeos created a mural in Boston depicting a figure that was said to look too much like a terrorist. One in St. Paul was decried for its depiction of two bears looking suspiciously amorous. And in 2011, a mural on the outer wall of LA MOCA by renowned Italian street artist Blu was famously painted over, before the first peep of outrage, because director Jeffrey Deitch feared the mural might cause offense to someone, somewhere, someday.


Continue reading »"
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*[http://clatl.com/atlanta/ImageArchives?by=1306421|Dustin Chambers]
*UNDER SIEGE: Pittsburgh residents buff Roti's mural along University Avenue without permission.The perils of public space


''This article was originally published in'' BURNAWAY ''magazine in two parts on Jan. 11 and 17. [http://www.burnaway.org/|www.burnaway.org].''


When the French street artist known as Roti painted his mural "An Allegory of the Human City" in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Southwest Atlanta, he assumed everyone would understand it as a commentary on the brutality of capitalism. They did not. That, at least, is apparently [http://www.burnaway.org/2013/01/living-walls-and-the-perils-of-public-space-part-1/www.nytimes.com/2012/12/14/us/two-atlanta-murals-are-painted-over-after-complaints.html|what he told the ''New York Times''].


Instead, the mural was decried by a vocal coterie of residents as containing "demonic" imagery reminiscent of the pervasive destruction the neighborhood has suffered. It's clear that not all of Pittsburgh's residents shared that interpretation, but it was the one adopted by high-profile residents, including a former state representative, Doug Dean, and the Atlanta-based group Concerned Black Clergy.


The dustup isn't the only such controversy to ruffle feathers in this country. It's not even the first for Living Walls, the mural's sponsoring organization. [http://www.burnaway.org/2012/08/living-walls-2012-was-it-a-success-for-female-artists/|Last fall, a Living Walls mural] in Chosewood Park by [http://clatl.com/atlanta/story-of-the-sawtell-mural/Slideshow?oid=6397896&autoplay=true|Argentinean street artist Hyuro] that depicted a woman shedding her clothes met with confusion, disdain, and outrage resulting in a formal request for its removal. Beyond Atlanta, street art powerhouses Os Gêmeos created a [http://www.theatlanticcities.com/arts-and-lifestyle/2012/08/does-boston-mural-contain-hidden-muslim-message/2912/|mural in Boston] depicting a figure that was said to look too much like a terrorist. [http://www.theatlanticcities.com/arts-and-lifestyle/2012/08/does-boston-mural-contain-hidden-muslim-message/2912/|One in St. Paul] was decried for its depiction of two bears looking suspiciously amorous. And in 2011, a mural on the outer wall of LA MOCA by renowned Italian street artist Blu was famously painted over, before the first peep of outrage, because director Jeffrey Deitch feared the mural might cause offense to someone, somewhere, someday.


[http://www.burnaway.org/2013/01/living-walls-and-the-perils-of-public-space-part-2/|Continue reading »]"
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*Dustin Chambers
*UNDER SIEGE: Pittsburgh residents buff Roti's mural along University Avenue without permission.The perils of public space


This article was originally published in BURNAWAY magazine in two parts on Jan. 11 and 17. www.burnaway.org.


When the French street artist known as Roti painted his mural "An Allegory of the Human City" in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Southwest Atlanta, he assumed everyone would understand it as a commentary on the brutality of capitalism. They did not. That, at least, is apparently what he told the New York Times.


Instead, the mural was decried by a vocal coterie of residents as containing "demonic" imagery reminiscent of the pervasive destruction the neighborhood has suffered. It's clear that not all of Pittsburgh's residents shared that interpretation, but it was the one adopted by high-profile residents, including a former state representative, Doug Dean, and the Atlanta-based group Concerned Black Clergy.


The dustup isn't the only such controversy to ruffle feathers in this country. It's not even the first for Living Walls, the mural's sponsoring organization. Last fall, a Living Walls mural in Chosewood Park by Argentinean street artist Hyuro that depicted a woman shedding her clothes met with confusion, disdain, and outrage resulting in a formal request for its removal. Beyond Atlanta, street art powerhouses Os Gêmeos created a mural in Boston depicting a figure that was said to look too much like a terrorist. One in St. Paul was decried for its depiction of two bears looking suspiciously amorous. And in 2011, a mural on the outer wall of LA MOCA by renowned Italian street artist Blu was famously painted over, before the first peep of outrage, because director Jeffrey Deitch feared the mural might cause offense to someone, somewhere, someday.


Continue reading »             13072241 7412091                          Living Walls and the Perils of Public Space "
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Wednesday January 30, 2013 04:00 am EST
Recent mural dustups reveal the unfortunate truth that we lack a language of compromise | more...
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  string(54) "What role should the arts play in the Occupy movement?"
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  string(5211) "The Occupy movement may not have sparked much soul-searching on Wall Street, but it's done exactly that among many artists, almost all of whom are among the 99 percent. The energetic, if somewhat dubious, Occupy Museums group emerged late last year in New York City at the doors of MoMA and the Frick Collection to declare "Art is for Everyone!" The Athens Institute for Contemporary Art in Athens, Ga., responded to the political turmoil with Occupy: This is What Democracy Looks Like, a recent three-week group show and educational program in which low-cost artworks were sold to benefit Occupy Athens. And the media has made much noise about the involvement of prominent artists such as Yoko Ono, Philip Glass, and Lou Reed in the movement.

Atlanta's own Occupy village spawned at least one art tent and a fledgling arts and lit committee (other Occupy groups have created similar committees). The creative output from the movement so far has included informal drawing sessions, protest signage, impromptu street theater, remixed music posted online, and a video installation work in the Visual Rights Atlanta show at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History. But even this slight output raises the question: What is the role of art in a political movement?

The Occupy movement isn't driven by a specific issue that can be reduced to electoral politics (the national debt, for example). Rather, Occupy advocates for nothing less than a profound reorganization of our economic and social life, a life in which the upward flow of capital over the last 40 years is reversed. This fact makes Occupy less like the Tea Party movement to which it's been compared, and much more like the rise of black consciousness after the Civil Rights Movement, or even the rise of the religious right in the 1980s. These brought about changes not only in specific policies but across the whole spectrum of human relations.

Who knows if Occupy will meet with the same success. But if we take Occupy's ideas seriously, then the implications for art are vast, probably more immense than many of us within the status quo art world realize.

"Fine arts" have been bound up with privilege and money throughout their history. Whether through government support, wealthy patrons, or corporate finance, the major arts in the United States have relied on these props to build the top-heavy temples of culture that we point to as evidence of our great progress and enlightenment.

But the aesthetics emerging from Occupy are mostly at odds with that vision. The small-scale crafts and the cut-and-paste music point to an egalitarian world that is definitively collectivist and straightforward. It also has little use for that darling notion of the establishment art world: the avant-garde.

Artist Mandie Mitchell has done away with her private, studio-based artistic practice in order to join Occupy Atlanta. Making jewelry at the Occupy headquarters is, she says, a "bigger deal" and "more beautiful" than any of the work she did previously. In a similar vein, writer Sara Amis stresses the importance of artwork that is comprehensible and "aimed at other people" rather than locked in its own private world of self-referential ideas. Art allied with the Occupy movement has been resolutely approachable, understandable, and radically social.

For a century or more, when it came to art, "new" always meant "socially disruptive." But a true avant-garde hasn't existed for some time. Gone are the days when an impudent brushstroke or a depiction of a barmaid could get a painter tossed from the fellowship of polite society. Nowadays, pretending to spit in the eye of the bourgeois middle class is often the fast track to the hallowed halls of culture.

But the established art world — the world in which the wealthiest collectors and institutions write the checks for most of what we see and hear — still operates on the notion that novelty is gold. The shocking and the new are good precisely, and sometimes only, because they are shocking and new.

This isn't as cynical as it sounds. What the various avant-garde movements and oddball artists have given us over time is much bigger than the occasional painted iceberg or video of a dead deer. Rather, that art gives us the cultural space to be nonconformists. It allows us to imagine reversing a set of received assumptions and affirms the power of individuals to question the world handed to them. Indirectly, it makes movements like Occupy possible.

Observers of Occupy Atlanta and the Occupy movement in general have already asked whether the art being made alongside the movements is any good. That question is premature and shallow. The meaning of "good" hasn't been defined in this context yet. All we observers and critics have is a notion of what's been good so far. And like all those who have bought into the art world as it is, we mostly behave as though that definition will carry forward forever.

But of course it won't. Instead, some smaller, slower aesthetic may be yawning to life. The art made as a result of Occupy Atlanta may not create a new world, but with its new social vision it may give us a fresh lease on the old. "
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Atlanta's own Occupy village spawned at least one art tent and a fledgling arts and lit committee ([http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/01/opinion/elam-occupy-art/index.html|other Occupy groups have created similar committees]). The creative output from the movement so far has included informal drawing sessions, protest signage, impromptu street theater, remixed music posted online, and a video installation work in the ''Visual Rights Atlanta'' show at the [http://www.afpls.org/aarl|Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History]. But even this slight output raises the question: What is the role of art in a political movement?

The Occupy movement isn't driven by a specific issue that can be reduced to electoral politics (the national debt, for example). Rather, Occupy advocates for nothing less than a profound reorganization of our economic and social life, a life in which the upward flow of capital over the last 40 years is reversed. This fact makes Occupy less like the Tea Party movement to which it's been compared, and much more like the rise of black consciousness after the Civil Rights Movement, or even the rise of the religious right in the 1980s. These brought about changes not only in specific policies but across the whole spectrum of human relations.

Who knows if Occupy will meet with the same success. But if we take Occupy's ideas seriously, then the implications for art are vast, probably more immense than many of us within the status quo art world realize.

"Fine arts" have been bound up with privilege and money throughout their history. Whether through government support, wealthy patrons, or corporate finance, the major arts in the United States have relied on these props to build the top-heavy temples of culture that we point to as evidence of our great progress and enlightenment.

But the aesthetics emerging from Occupy are mostly at odds with that vision. The small-scale crafts and the cut-and-paste music point to an egalitarian world that is definitively collectivist and straightforward. It also has little use for that darling notion of the establishment art world: the avant-garde.

Artist Mandie Mitchell has done away with her private, studio-based artistic practice in order to join Occupy Atlanta. Making jewelry at the Occupy headquarters is, she says, a "bigger deal" and "more beautiful" than any of the work she did previously. In a similar vein, writer Sara Amis stresses the importance of artwork that is comprehensible and "aimed at other people" rather than locked in its own private world of self-referential ideas. Art allied with the Occupy movement has been resolutely approachable, understandable, and radically social.

For a century or more, when it came to art, "new" always meant "socially disruptive." But a true avant-garde hasn't existed for some time. Gone are the days when an impudent brushstroke or a depiction of a barmaid could get a painter tossed from the fellowship of polite society. Nowadays, pretending to spit in the eye of the bourgeois middle class is often the fast track to the hallowed halls of culture.

But the established art world — the world in which the wealthiest collectors and institutions write the checks for most of what we see and hear — still operates on the notion that novelty is gold. The shocking and the new are good precisely, and sometimes only, because they are shocking and new.

This isn't as cynical as it sounds. What the various avant-garde movements and oddball artists have given us over time is much bigger than the occasional painted iceberg or video of a dead deer. Rather, that art gives us the cultural space to be nonconformists. It allows us to imagine reversing a set of received assumptions and affirms the power of individuals to question the world handed to them. Indirectly, it makes movements like Occupy possible.

Observers of Occupy Atlanta and the Occupy movement in general have already asked whether the art being made alongside the movements is any good. That question is premature and shallow. The meaning of "good" hasn't been defined in this context yet. All we observers and critics have is a notion of what's been good so far. And like all those who have bought into the art world as it is, we mostly behave as though that definition will carry forward forever.

But of course it won't. Instead, some smaller, slower aesthetic may be yawning to life. The art made as a result of Occupy Atlanta may not create a new world, but with its new social vision it may give us a fresh lease on the old. "
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Atlanta's own Occupy village spawned at least one art tent and a fledgling arts and lit committee (other Occupy groups have created similar committees). The creative output from the movement so far has included informal drawing sessions, protest signage, impromptu street theater, remixed music posted online, and a video installation work in the Visual Rights Atlanta show at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History. But even this slight output raises the question: What is the role of art in a political movement?

The Occupy movement isn't driven by a specific issue that can be reduced to electoral politics (the national debt, for example). Rather, Occupy advocates for nothing less than a profound reorganization of our economic and social life, a life in which the upward flow of capital over the last 40 years is reversed. This fact makes Occupy less like the Tea Party movement to which it's been compared, and much more like the rise of black consciousness after the Civil Rights Movement, or even the rise of the religious right in the 1980s. These brought about changes not only in specific policies but across the whole spectrum of human relations.

Who knows if Occupy will meet with the same success. But if we take Occupy's ideas seriously, then the implications for art are vast, probably more immense than many of us within the status quo art world realize.

"Fine arts" have been bound up with privilege and money throughout their history. Whether through government support, wealthy patrons, or corporate finance, the major arts in the United States have relied on these props to build the top-heavy temples of culture that we point to as evidence of our great progress and enlightenment.

But the aesthetics emerging from Occupy are mostly at odds with that vision. The small-scale crafts and the cut-and-paste music point to an egalitarian world that is definitively collectivist and straightforward. It also has little use for that darling notion of the establishment art world: the avant-garde.

Artist Mandie Mitchell has done away with her private, studio-based artistic practice in order to join Occupy Atlanta. Making jewelry at the Occupy headquarters is, she says, a "bigger deal" and "more beautiful" than any of the work she did previously. In a similar vein, writer Sara Amis stresses the importance of artwork that is comprehensible and "aimed at other people" rather than locked in its own private world of self-referential ideas. Art allied with the Occupy movement has been resolutely approachable, understandable, and radically social.

For a century or more, when it came to art, "new" always meant "socially disruptive." But a true avant-garde hasn't existed for some time. Gone are the days when an impudent brushstroke or a depiction of a barmaid could get a painter tossed from the fellowship of polite society. Nowadays, pretending to spit in the eye of the bourgeois middle class is often the fast track to the hallowed halls of culture.

But the established art world — the world in which the wealthiest collectors and institutions write the checks for most of what we see and hear — still operates on the notion that novelty is gold. The shocking and the new are good precisely, and sometimes only, because they are shocking and new.

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But of course it won't. Instead, some smaller, slower aesthetic may be yawning to life. The art made as a result of Occupy Atlanta may not create a new world, but with its new social vision it may give us a fresh lease on the old.              13065565 4572867                          What role should the arts play in the Occupy movement? "
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Tuesday January 17, 2012 08:00 am EST
How a new social vision translates into the arts | more...
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  string(3361) "By the time my parents moved away from their suburban subdivision outside of Nashville five years ago, the shine had already worn off the suburban dream. The distance from the city that was supposed to guarantee safety and predictability had instead begun to deliver isolation and a lingering paranoia as the subdivision and the suburb around it began to feel the first tectonic shifts of socioeconomic change.

The changes in the suburbs both locally and internationally form the subject of ...After the Suburbs, a subtle and perceptive group show at Kiang Gallery curated by Atlanta artist Karen Tauches. ...After the Suburbs largely assumes that suburbia's moment of post-war expansionist glory is over. The show's 15 artists pick apart what's left: what can be saved, what can be reused and what parts of the dream remain.

Alex Rogers' digital media work "Untitled (Subdivision Names)" pulls words from a database containing 150 names of Atlanta subdivisions, randomly reassembling them to create fictitious names that are both entirely realistic and laughably pompous: Ashley Brooke, Dunmore Branches, Belmont Place. Nowhere else is suburbia's pretension toward Anglophilic, Victorian stateliness more evident.

From the same thematic well, Amandine Drouet's "Monumental Sign (Evergreen Gates)" comprises a tiny subdivision gate constructed of recycled soy milk containers refashioned into bricks and emblazoned with the name "Evergreen Gates" in florid cursive. Small and protecting nothing, the gate is charming and a little bit sad, vulnerable in the outsized optimism it reaches for.

Other works directly point to suburbia's broken promise. In a series of small photographs, James Griffioen documents abandoned houses, many of which are taken completely over by nature every summer in Detroit's suburbs. Sarah Hobbs' "Avoidance" features an imposing blank foyer and front door with its oh-so-suburban Palladian window covered with aluminum foil — a monument to some irrational fear of the outside.

Historically, American suburbs were supposed to be a compromise. They were meant to combine the health of nature and country living with access to the economic engine of city centers. But in Atlanta as elsewhere, the centrifugal force pulling populations further and further out from the city's core adopted an uglier name: sprawl. And the relationship between human settlement and nature began to look less like a compromise and more like a battleground.

Many of the works in ...After the Suburbs dramatize the conflict: Nancy Vandevender's "greenery" made of cheap-looking chintz fabric strung across the gallery walls is both a mockery and a commemoration of nature. Meg Aubrey's small, tightly rendered paintings of generic suburban landscapes depict such a relentless taming of trees and shrubs that natural forms take on the qualities of architecture or stone sculpture.

Urbanist and professional naysayer James Kunstler has called America's post World War II suburban sprawl "the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known." I'm inclined to agree. But the question remains what to do now that we've got them, and now that they've become a global phenomenon. ...After the Suburbs offers a series of intriguing recalibrations. The suburban dream hasn't died, but its 21st-century form may be like nothing we've seen before. "
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The changes in the suburbs both locally and internationally form the subject of ''...After the Suburbs'', a subtle and perceptive group show at Kiang Gallery curated by Atlanta artist Karen Tauches. ''...After the Suburbs'' largely assumes that suburbia's moment of post-war expansionist glory is over. The show's 15 artists pick apart what's left: what can be saved, what can be reused and what parts of the dream remain.

Alex Rogers' digital media work "Untitled (Subdivision Names)" pulls words from a database containing 150 names of Atlanta subdivisions, randomly reassembling them to create fictitious names that are both entirely realistic and laughably pompous: Ashley Brooke, Dunmore Branches, Belmont Place. Nowhere else is suburbia's pretension toward Anglophilic, Victorian stateliness more evident.

From the same thematic well, Amandine Drouet's "Monumental Sign (Evergreen Gates)" comprises a tiny subdivision gate constructed of recycled soy milk containers refashioned into bricks and emblazoned with the name "Evergreen Gates" in florid cursive. Small and protecting nothing, the gate is charming and a little bit sad, vulnerable in the outsized optimism it reaches for.

Other works directly point to suburbia's broken promise. In a series of small photographs, James Griffioen documents abandoned houses, many of which are taken completely over by nature every summer in Detroit's suburbs. Sarah Hobbs' "Avoidance" features an imposing blank foyer and front door with its oh-so-suburban Palladian window covered with aluminum foil — a monument to some irrational fear of the outside.

Historically, American suburbs were supposed to be a compromise. They were meant to combine the health of nature and country living with access to the economic engine of city centers. But in Atlanta as elsewhere, the centrifugal force pulling populations further and further out from the city's core adopted an uglier name: sprawl. And the relationship between human settlement and nature began to look less like a compromise and more like a battleground.

Many of the works in ''...After the Suburbs'' dramatize the conflict: Nancy Vandevender's "greenery" made of cheap-looking chintz fabric strung across the gallery walls is both a mockery and a commemoration of nature. Meg Aubrey's small, tightly rendered paintings of generic suburban landscapes depict such a relentless taming of trees and shrubs that natural forms take on the qualities of architecture or stone sculpture.

Urbanist and professional naysayer James Kunstler has called America's post World War II suburban sprawl "the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known." I'm inclined to agree. But the question remains what to do now that we've got them, and now that they've become a global phenomenon. ''...After the Suburbs'' offers a series of intriguing recalibrations. The suburban dream hasn't died, but its 21st-century form may be like nothing we've seen before. "
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Alex Rogers' digital media work "Untitled (Subdivision Names)" pulls words from a database containing 150 names of Atlanta subdivisions, randomly reassembling them to create fictitious names that are both entirely realistic and laughably pompous: Ashley Brooke, Dunmore Branches, Belmont Place. Nowhere else is suburbia's pretension toward Anglophilic, Victorian stateliness more evident.

From the same thematic well, Amandine Drouet's "Monumental Sign (Evergreen Gates)" comprises a tiny subdivision gate constructed of recycled soy milk containers refashioned into bricks and emblazoned with the name "Evergreen Gates" in florid cursive. Small and protecting nothing, the gate is charming and a little bit sad, vulnerable in the outsized optimism it reaches for.

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Historically, American suburbs were supposed to be a compromise. They were meant to combine the health of nature and country living with access to the economic engine of city centers. But in Atlanta as elsewhere, the centrifugal force pulling populations further and further out from the city's core adopted an uglier name: sprawl. And the relationship between human settlement and nature began to look less like a compromise and more like a battleground.

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Article

Monday February 14, 2011 12:00 pm EST
Kiang Gallery exhibition ponders suburbia's future | more...
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