Buy Local celebrates, but fails to elevate, rising talent

A typical exhibition at Emily Amy Gallery devotes most of its copious wall space to a fairly specific brand of decorative abstract paintings. In Buy Local: A Group Show Celebrating Atlanta’s Emerging Talent, the gallery broadens its scope by featuring a half-dozen artists whom the gallery touts as “rising young stars” of the Atlanta art scene. The result is an earnest but uneven attempt to cover all the aesthetic bases, in the end covering none.

First, the good news: Zuzka Vaclavik shows her chops with a set of paintings and drawings that channel the graffiti-covered walls of Cortona, Italy. Strange wild-style tags jostle with the biological microworld of a Petri dish and the psychedelia of Dorothy’s yellow brick road — as seen through Alice’s looking glass. Bursting with passages of unexpected color and linear grace, Vaclavik’s modestly sized works thrum with energy and the gritty urgency of urban beauty.

Unfortunately, for every work in Buy Local that challenges us to see beauty in a new way, another work seems simply desperate to be called pretty. The floral oil paintings of Kristina Bailey, while superficially lovely, are too close to the sort of generic loveliness of floral wallpaper to spark much interest. Similarly, Holly Golson Bryan’s dark abstracts contain little that is vulnerable, peculiar or unresolved; a vacuum that makes these paintings feel safe, familiar and ultimately unremarkable.

Caught in the middle are artists such as Whitney Stansell (short-listed for the Forward Arts Foundation’s Emerging Artist Award) and Meta Gary, a reclusive artist who paints from her dreams. These are artists of singular and idiosyncratic vision whose work nevertheless feels isolated and bafflingly unrelated to the other artists in the show.

Buy Local goes for the sweet spot of likable niceness, but misses the opportunity to provide two things Atlanta artists need desperately: context and peer-to-peer dialogue.

Atlanta’s art world is big enough for artists of all stripes to find their niche. When Emily Amy Gallery tosses them all into the same rucksack without a firmer curatorial hand, however, it does none of them any favors. Like 2007’s much reviled Talent Show at the Contemporary, Buy Local proves that accumulating is not curating, and a wide gulf separates the two.

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