For Art's Sake - Blasting bovines

Art Liberation Front takes aim

With a town full of young, angry artists, you'd think there would be more groups like the Art Liberation Front, a pleasantly cantankerous group of art pranksters.

In their Buckhead headquarters deep in the heart of enemy territory, this band of public art counterrevolutionaries, artists and activists meet to discuss a project they call "Suicide Cow," their response to the recent CowParade event in Atlanta.

The six members of A.L.F. seem to be in relatively good humor. Instead of faces shrouded in black kerchiefs and posters of Che Guevera tacked to peeling walls, I find laid-back beer swilling and joshing.

It turns out that humor is A.L.F.'s Molotov cocktail.

"I thought the best approach was ridicule," says the eldest member of the group, an environmental activist dressed in the tree hugger-gone-to-city uniform of baseball cap and Polartec jacket.

A.L.F. is, after all, attacking an institution beloved by sun-drunk tourists, small children and the odd pigeon looking for a place to lighten its load.

The CowParade, the guerrillas say, is so shrouded in images of good, clean fun and tax-deductible corporate charity, you're bound to look like a killjoy if you point out certain problems with that merry bear-hug to public art.

According to several of the guerrillas, people tend not to realize that CowParade is hardly some altruistic joy serum for a weary planet but is, in fact, the for-profit CowParade Holdings Corp., helmed by president Jerome Elbaum, a Connecticut lawyer.

And then there's the whole corporate-friendly element to the art, they say, with past CowParade cows offering free advertising space to Hooters, Con Ed, EarthLink and Hearst magazines. CowParade artists are also verboten to treat the subjects of religion, sex and politics. But throw a nod to ING investment management on that fiberglass flank, and you got yourself some "art."

Rather than just sitting around and griping, A.L.F. decided to stage a protest against the Bovine Invasion.

"Suicide Cow" is the self-destructive gesture of one cow who wouldn't take it anymore. In a 40-second video (artliberationfront.org) created as a response to the summer of the cow, a bovine imprinted with "Your Ad Here" is made into an impressive fireball thanks to the help of a Hollywood-trained special-effects wizard well versed in the boom-boom. A.L.F. secured their $1,000 Bessie on eBay then solicited small donations from sympathetic fellow travelers to pay for the cow and its combustion.

Amazingly, the cow survived the ordeal and is currently residing, udders singed, in that Buckhead compound. It wears a patient, unfazed expression, as if it has decided to simply maintain its decorum despite a lifetime of indignities.

A.L.F., meanwhile, is planning more public art interventions in Atlanta, so citizens should keep their eyes peeled for anything that looks not quite right in the months to come.

The thrust of the Terrain Vague exhibition at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (through Jan. 3) is relatively simple. Architecture has often made the human beings who occupy its spaces its last consideration. Take a gander at Philip-Lorca diCorica's photographs of corpse-like humans to see graphic evidence of that claim. Terrain Vague surveys the by-turns banal and ugly structures that surround us. It features Catherine Opie's survey of suburban strip malls, Martha Rosler's photographs of the antiseptic interiors of an airport and Lewis Baltz's black-and-white photographs of nondescript commercial architecture. Efforts to "pretty things up" are futile, as evidenced in Douglas Muir's images of corporate plazas gussied up with pots of bright flowers.

At times the exhibition suffers from the Catch-22 that if you assemble enough images of nondescript spaces, you have created an exhibition stultifying in its cataloguing of the banal. Fortunately there are some antidotes to this accumulation of humorless, strident conceptual works. Bill Owens' photographs of suburbia, for instance, suggest in all their quirky humanism, people can make any place, no matter how seemingly generic and inhospitable, into a paradise. Todd Hido's images of boxy homes at night, which glow with a kind of sentient light, have some of the visual allure much of this other didactic work lacks. And then there is Mark Robbins' ancillary exhibition, of people photographed next to their home interiors, which shows, like Owens, how the human imagination can embellish cookie-cutter domains.

Look more

- M.C. Escher fans and those looking for a cheap contact high will now have even more time to ponder the trippy visuals when Skot Foreman Fine Art (www.skotforeman.com) extends its show devoted to the Dutch graphic artist through Dec. 31.

- For anyone after a more oddball encounter with the surreal there's Charles Keiger's captivating oil paintings on wood panel at Timothy Tew (www.timothytew.com), which feature kitschy scenes of somber-faced clown men, cowpokes and country folk contemplating the wackified parameters of their lives. Through Dec. 19.