Emerging Artists 2011 feels safe but shows promise

Thrill factor missing from group showing of fresh up-and-comers

There's nothing to set the heart racing like undiscovered talent. It's the art world version of Christmas morning, a chance to tear open that new present under the tree. Emerging artist shows are one of the go-to pleasures of working in an industry filled with the promise of an exciting new vision and different point of view; the next Radcliffe Bailey or Paper Twins coming down the pike.

With all of that anticipation, Emerging Artists 2011 at Dunwoody's Spruill Gallery is a bit like getting a lovely argyle sweater when you really wanted a bike: practical, but it doesn't take your breath away. And while much of the work from this diverse crop of University of Georgia, SCAD, Georgia State University and various art school and school of life grads is promising and technically proficient, there's a certain thrill factor missing, a sense of envelopes being pushed and aesthetic rabble-rousing.

There are highlights to be sure. Rex Brodie's curlicue, kinetic sculptures bend plywood into cascades of looping, slender tendrils that erupt in the gallery space. Suggesting three-dimensional calligraphy or the Pow! Kazam! Bam! declarations of a D.C. comic, the work is best when it fills the gallery's front room or hovers in a gallery nook like a curl of smoke from a recent explosion.

Brodie's works, with their simple blond wood color palette, are an aesthetic kissing cousin to An Pham's visually pared back, almost monochromatic pieces. Pham's notable body of work also employs simple materials — handmade paper, rubber bands, books — to create elegant, otherworldly creatures and austere paper sculptures. Like jellyfish or some strange sea beast washed up onto the shore, Pham's crocheted rubber-band braids and office supply sea anemones signal weirdness and wildness. But the presentation in fussy Container Store-type boxes suggests a desire for control that doesn't always best serve the artist's yearning-to-be-free creatures.

There are fascinating crossovers in much of the work, including a desire for order, as well as an interest in regular-guy materials like plywood, markers, screws and spray paint. Seth Keaveny, for instance, creates beguiling objects that straddle a line between artwork and furniture. His crisp, exacting medleys of plywood and fiberboard suggest IKEA one-stop shopping. Keaveny's "Rib Series #2," for instance, with its wooden armature and glass top, would fit right in among the Swedish retailer's coffee tables.

A refreshing show of insanity, spunk and visual panache within a relatively staid show, the showstopper amid a group of short films presented by local community arts organization WonderRoot is Aaron Keuter and Ashley Anderson's utterly loopy, frenzied "XxxxCuzx Me." Suggesting Peter Max '60s psychedelia mixed with the rude electronic pings of an '80s video game, the film is an animated riot set to an equally manic Crystal Castles soundtrack. Birds, bugs, ducks and unidentifiable bits and pieces explode on the screen before folding back into themselves like a flower blooming in reverse. If anything suggests the boundless promise of experimentation, a metaphor for the emerging artist, it's this demented, gorgeous thrill ride of a film.

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