Museum  April 11, 2019  Amy Funderburk

"A thousand tomorrows": 2019 Atlanta Biennial Examines a Changing South

James C. Williams

Jill Frank, Candidate 4, 2019, and Candidate 6, 2019, Photographs on cardboard

Formerly known as Nexus, Atlanta Contemporary has hosted the Atlanta Biennial since 1985. This year’s exhibit, A thousand tomorrows, includes 21 artists from eight of 10 eligible Southeastern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Several connecting threads run through the show, promising to contain both regional and larger world themes. Many artists explore the variegation of human condition, ranging from politics and racial identity to grief and humor. Yet some so embrace or distance themselves from their source material that they create cerebral, technical works. The Biennial even includes a clip reel from The American Music Show (1981-2005), a local unscripted public access cable TV program that featured the television debut of drag performer RuPaul.

James C. Williams

Installation view: works by Alina Perez (charcoal and pastel on paper) and Amy Pleasant (fired and painted clay, courtesy of Whitespace Gallery)

The exhibit was co-curated by Daniel Fuller, the Curator at Atlanta Contemporary, and Phillip March Jones, the Curator-at-Large at Institute 193, Lexington, KY. “This exhibition offers a barometer of the South at its might, to exchange ideas and gain new perspectives based on what artists in our region are creating,” explains Fuller.

Humor is immediately evident: Joni Mabe’s Hitchcock on a Tortoise features the filmmaker and his steed against a glitter background. As one of several artists who use found or repurposed objects, in other works, Mabe juxtaposes incongruous curios as compositional elements.

Joni Mabe, The longest beaver dam is 2,790 feet, 2019, Mixed media
James C. Williams

Joni Mabe, The longest beaver dam is 2,790 feet, 2019, Mixed media

Joni Mabe, Hitchcock on a Tortoise, 2019, Glitter print, form core, PVA, glitter​​​​​​​
James C. Williams

Joni Mabe, Hitchcock on a Tortoise, 2019, Glitter print, form core, PVA, glitter

Alina Perez, Albuquerque, 2018
James C. Williams

Alina Perez, Albuquerque, 2018, Charcoal and pastel on paper. Collection of Tey Meadow.

Jim Roche, Two Hundred Years of Keeping Animals Down, 1976
James C. Williams

Jim Roche, Two Hundred Years of Keeping Animals Down, 1976,
acrylic on canvas, exhibited at the 1976 Venice Biennale

Aaron Skolnick, Untitled 06, 2017
James C. Williams

Aaron Skolnick, Untitled 06, 2017, Graphite and colored pencil on paper. Courtesy of Fierman Gallery.

Jim Roche literally spells it out for the viewer, but instead of the impassioned political signs typically seen at protest marches, his disciplined control belies his heated content. Roche repeats small marks of color with meticulous devotion, creating a diagonal grid hovering behind his carefully stenciled lettering.

The youngest participating artist, Alina Perez brings a maturity of both content and execution to her figurative charcoal and pastel works. She explores perceived physical imperfections with a confident, flowing line quality. In Albuquerque, two embracing nude women exude vulnerability as well as solidity.

James C. Williams

Jim Roche drawings installed at the 2019 Atlanta Biennial, pen, marker, and graphite on paper, 2016-2018

Aaron Skolnick’s grid of contour drawings is a personal exploration of acute grief. At his partner’s request, through each quick portrait, Skolnick chronicles Louis’ lingering illness and ultimate passing. The grouping combines to tell a profound, intimate story, elevating the impact of each individual drawing.

In his Post-Monuments series, Matthew Shain brings a more matter-of-fact approach to current headlines. Calling on his background in documentary photography, Shain simply records the absence of recently removed Confederate monuments, sometimes visually replacing them with a tree or cloud.

Courtesy Atlanta Contemporary

Matthew Shain, Post-Monuments, The Bronx, (Stonewall Jackson, erected 1955), 2018, Archival ink jet print

Born in South Korea, Atlanta artist Jiha Moon exploits cultural stereotypes. In her ceramic work, Moon incorporates teapots, masks, noodles, fortune cookies, eyes, tassels, and other motifs.

James C. Williams

Jiha Moon, Viva, 2018, Ceramic. Courtesy of Alan Avery Art Company.

Kevin Cole also explores racial identity as well as tragic history in When Scars Are My Testimony. On Cole’s 18th birthday, his grandfather took him to a tree where young African-American men were lynched by their neckties while on their way to vote–a potent experience that inspired this impressive etched aluminum piece.

The 2019 Atlanta Biennial: A thousand tomorrows runs through April 21st. Kevin Cole’s piece will be on extended display through August 4th.

James C. Williams

Kevin Cole, When My Scars are My Testimony, 2018, etched aluminum. Courtesy of Hathaway Gallery, Atlanta.

About the Author

Amy Funderburk

Amy Funderburk is a professional artist and freelance arts writer based in Winston-Salem, NC, specializing in visionary works in which she explores the intersection of the physical with the more fluid, spiritual and emotional realms. She works out of the Sternberger Artists Center in Greensboro, NC, and maintains a blog, Drinking from the Well of Inspiration, to provide deeper insight into her creative process. Follow her on twitter: @AFunderburkArt and on Instagram: @AmyFunderburkArtist.

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