Photographs, quilts, op art and more bring ‘Off the Grid’ to life at the High

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Agatha Bennett (American, 1919-2006), “Cross In Square” and “Bear Paw” – Nine Block Variation, ca. 1985, cotton, cotton/polyester blend, cotton knit and corduroy, High Museum of Art, museum purchase and Souls Grown Deep Foundation gift from the William S. Arnett Collection, 2017.34. © Estate of Agatha Bennett/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Credit: Courtesy of Estate of Agatha Bennett/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Credit: Courtesy of Estate of Agatha Bennett/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Agatha Bennett (American, 1919-2006), “Cross In Square” and “Bear Paw” – Nine Block Variation, ca. 1985, cotton, cotton/polyester blend, cotton knit and corduroy, High Museum of Art, museum purchase and Souls Grown Deep Foundation gift from the William S. Arnett Collection, 2017.34. © Estate of Agatha Bennett/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Credit: Courtesy of Estate of Agatha Bennett/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Credit: Courtesy of Estate of Agatha Bennett/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Featuring LeWitt, “Off the Grid” opens with selections from Detroit-born photographer Harry Callahan and Gee’s Bend quilter Agatha Bennett. References to the southern United States appear throughout the exhibition. One of Callahan’s photographs features Atlanta’s architecture, showing an array of windows. Gee’s Bend’s celebration of quilts is nothing new, but Alabama-based Bennett’s quilt is a reminder of the grid’s presence beyond its most anticipated places.

A 16th century drawing by Baldassare Peruzzi and an example of a chronophotograph by Eadweard Muybridge introduce the ‘Systems’ section. Muybridge is an oft-cited influence on 20th century art, particularly LeWitt. Yet this section only hints at this relationship, calling for a more historical development.

Made of tiny dots of perforated paper, Howardena Pindell’s “Untitled #69” (1974) reads like a miniature carpet in its complexity. Pindell, who had her first major solo show at Spelman College, references circles placed on products in stores during her childhood that indicated white-only products. The stacked dots suggest years of accumulated pain and oppression.

Photographs feature prominently in the next section, “Grids Among Us.” Urban details, such as Walker Evans’ “New York City Sewer Grate” (1929), emphasize the presence of the grid in built environments. The city manifests itself differently in Alabama-born Ronald Lockett’s “Untitled” in the Oklahoma series (ca. 1996). Reacting to the Oklahoma City bombing, Lockett uses scrap materials to create a quilt-influenced assemblage sculpture – a skillful curatorial moment that harkens back to Bennett’s work.

A mid-century style bookcase features in “Untitled 28” by Atlanta photography artist Sheila Pree Bright. From Bright’s Suburbia series (2007), the interior view of a black house was created to complicate stereotypes of African-American domesticity. The library’s neat layout contrasts nicely with the jumbled interior of its neighbour, Tennessean William Eggleston’s “Untitled (Freeza)” photograph. The jam-packed freezer is brimming with 1970s frozen treats such as “Tasty Taters” and beef pie. Bright and Eggleston’s association has many layers, with race and class at the forefront. Aesthetically, the duo foreshadows the next section of the curator, devoted to “Containment and Expansion”.

One of Krauss’ motives in his essay was the grid’s ability to appear unlimited or limited – or, more powerfully, both.

“Spider King Devil House” (1965-66) by Frank Jones continues the visionary thread that began with Murray’s “written” work. Jones shows a drawing of spirit beings contained in a house depicted in a sectional view reminiscent of medieval art. Jones made this work from materials salvaged while imprisoned, and the clearly delineated architecture surrounding his ghostly figures suggests the boundaries of the literally and figuratively delineated grid. Op artist Victor Vasarely and minimalist Frank Stella use color theory and geometric form to create two-dimensional works that seem to wobble and expand off the page.

Romare Bearden (American, 1911-1988), In Black America, 1971, serigraph on paper, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, gift of Henri Ghent in memory of his mother, 1978.4. © Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Credit: Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA at the Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Romare Bearden (American, 1911-1988), In Black America, 1971, serigraph on paper, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, gift of Henri Ghent in memory of his mother, 1978.4.  © Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Credit: Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA at the Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Romare Bearden (American, 1911-1988), In Black America, 1971, serigraph on paper, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, gift of Henri Ghent in memory of his mother, 1978.4. © Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Credit: Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA at the Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

Credit: Romare Bearden Foundation/VAGA at the Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

The conclusion of “Off the Grid” is “Sum of Its Parts”. Devoted to art that forms physical grids, it includes two works by Romare Bearden that provide insight into his planning and production for a mural now demolished dedicated to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. for the Kutz Building in Atlanta.

Among the most recent works, “Lightbox Armchair” (2014-2015) by Benjamin Rollins Caldwell brings together many common threads: the southern designer uses slides showing works from the High’s decorative arts collection. It is a self-referential movement that reminds the viewer that this is an internal exhibition showcasing the many ways a museum’s collection can be configured.

Benjamin Rollins Caldwell (American, b.1983), designer and manufacturer, Lightbox Armchair, 2014-2015, acrylic with laser-cut white powder-coated steel substructure, image slides and LED lights, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from the Decorative Arts Acquisition Endowment, 2014.393. ©Benjamin Rollins Caldwell.

Credit: Courtesy of Benjamin Rollins Caldwell and the High Museum of Art

Benjamin Rollins Caldwell (American, b.1983), designer and manufacturer, Lightbox Armchair, 2014-2015, acrylic with laser-cut white powder-coated steel substructure, image slides and LED lights, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from the Decorative Arts Acquisition Endowment, 2014.393.  ©Benjamin Rollins Caldwell.

Credit: Courtesy of Benjamin Rollins Caldwell and the High Museum of Art

Benjamin Rollins Caldwell (American, b.1983), designer and manufacturer, Lightbox Armchair, 2014-2015, acrylic with laser-cut white powder-coated steel substructure, image slides and LED lights, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from the Decorative Arts Acquisition Endowment, 2014.393. ©Benjamin Rollins Caldwell.

Credit: Courtesy of Benjamin Rollins Caldwell and the High Museum of Art

Credit: Courtesy of Benjamin Rollins Caldwell and the High Museum of Art

The curators’ thematic approach highlights cross-cultural connections, giving needed attention to women, artists of color, and art from the American South.

Returning to the influences of the exhibition, including Krauss’ essay, this exhibition serves as a reminder that the contributions of his generation can be thoughtfully incorporated into a better art history.

VISUAL ARTS JOURNAL

“Off Grid”

Until September 4. $16.50, ages 6 and up; 5 and under free. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-4444, high.org.


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ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a non-profit organization that plays a vital role in educating and informing the public about the arts and culture of the metro Atlanta area. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

If you have any questions about this or other partnerships, please contact Senior Director of Partnerships Nicole Williams at [email protected].

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