Under the influence at MOCA GA

Movers & Shakers highlights the creative chatter between Atlanta artists

Stay put for any length of time, and Atlanta can feel like a tiny town. The city's creative communities — theater, film, art — are tightly knit and interconnected. You can often see the influence of one generation on another in an immediate way that might not be as obvious in a larger metropolis. That cozy familiarity-breeds-content equation plays out in the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia's third biennial Movers & Shakers, a salute to "the Rising Stars of the Georgia Arts Scene." Movers & Shakers posits itself as a launching pad for new talent but does some of its most interesting work as an extended conversation between artists at various stages of their careers.

Rising? Not always. Jody Fausett's suburbia sci-fi photographs have been kicking around Atlanta for some time, while painter Jiha Moon and sculptor Brian Dettmer aren't exactly quivering, dewy debs yearning for discovery. These cats are out of the bag, with solid, bankable careers.

No matter. The charm of this biennial's concept is that a selection of 2007 and 2009's "movers and shakers" picked this year's stars. Art geeks can play a fun game: Before reading the wall label, try to guess which salty and seasoned artist chose which hunk of fresh meat.

Is it any wonder that Ukrainian-born Alex Kvares, he of the up-all-night, eyestrain-inducing, obsessive school of art, has fingered artists who are, in a word, fixated? Matching Kvares' ornamental fetishism blow for blow, Dettmer cuts and carves a set of encyclopedias into visual rabbit holes you can't help but fall into for "Organized Knowledge in Story and Picture." And "Wedding Bands," Jason R. Butcher's gloriously twisted, conspiratorial drawing of interconnection, echoes Kvares' kinky, spewing content as well as his debt to underground comix.

Other artists share just the vapor of an idea, like Disney goth Sarah Emerson who has chosen color-fiend painter Chung-Fan Chang for a similar love of sugary hues and vision of nature as a gooey, molting force — kinda cute, and kinda scary.

There are big ideas at play in Movers & Shakers, suggesting that the young'uns aren't the intellectual dropouts pop culture often makes them out to be. Served up hot and fresh: the white paranoia that fuels gun madness, American slavery, sexual violence, and more than one artist paying tribute — consciously or not — to Kojo Griffin's surreal humanimals as symbols of our own moral failings.

There is a lot of painting — Charles Westfall's "Saragmos" is an especially memorable combination of technical chops and creepy intensity. And some clever, clean sculptural works such as the immigrant-among-us commentary offered by "House Project," Ting Ying Han's exquisite house constructed of rice and resin perched on a picket fence. Assimilation has never looked so ... complicated.

For a photo-centric town like Atlanta, there is a surprising dearth of photography, though an eerie examination of thresholds by Christina Price Washington is a standout. The idea of information overload, of brains drowning in stimulus, is another motif. Marc Brotherton offers a clever take on the subject with his wiggy self-portrait "In My Head," where parasitic thought bubbles/organisms suggest the tangents and digressions of living in the age of the www.

Movers & Shakers illuminates something powerful and embraceable about Atlanta's tininess: It's a town incestuous enough to nurture talent, which in turn stokes other artists in creativity's giddy merry-go-round. One year's art star is next year's Kennesaw or SCAD prof warming their hands over a protégé's hot flame. And so it continues.