Local exhibits confront class, power, status, race

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.“Material Influence,” at Maune Contemporary through Sept. 22, and Navin Norling’s “Dirty Legacy,” at Johnson Lowe Gallery through Sept. 9, communicate messages about class and status far beyond the ones they claim to be communicating.A companion show at Johnson Lowe, Ilídio Candja Candja’s “O Silêncio Negro em Forma de Chocolate (Black Silence in the Form of Chocolate)” comes out of knowledge of an East African colonial history of which few Americans have even a little understanding.At the same time, these are shows of artworks, not analytical surveys. Viewers will get out of them what they bring to them. It’s likely none of us will pick up all the cues.In Maune’s “Material Influence,” curators Kate Chesnutt and Grace Chambless, the gallery’s executive director, provoke conversation about “the commodification of success, power, influence and salvation” asking the question: “Everything is for sale, but at what cost?”Nick Veasey’s “Lifestyle Out of Stock and Art Imitating Life” are X-ray photographs of a hand with middle finger extended, with versions of the works’ titles semi-transparently overlaid. They suggest, simultaneously, the trendy insistence on “transparency,” a reminder of mortality and an attitude toward the world, including the gallery and the likely buyer.Credit: Courtesy of Maune ContemporaryCredit: Courtesy of Maune ContemporaryPlastic Jesus’ “In Case of Emergency Break Glass – Dom 2008,” a 2020 transformation of a fire extinguisher into a bottle of Dom Perignon, suggests that champagne is an emergency status symbol, an upscale tranquilizer and a fragile defense against the literal and metaphoric fires consuming the planet.Jacob Deimler is aiming at many targets, gun violence being only one of them. It is, however, the one addressed by the most multivalent objects in the show — two 24-karat gold-plated replicas of Glock 19s. Deimler’s wit skewers a wide variety of power objects and power brokers (halo-wearing Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg included), in prints and NFTs too varied to sum up all the one-liner jokes involved.In contrast to Deimler’s single-issue witticisms, Dayani Muñoz and Justyna Kisielewicz exemplify maximalism as they cram as many critiques as possible into single works. Both artists engage in appropriately garish combos of the emblems of pop status, and each deploys a distinct style of irony.Credit: Courtesy of Maune ContemporaryCredit: Courtesy of Maune ContemporaryKisielewicz’s “Animal” and “Das Kapital” are mashups of more status symbols than I can list (and despite the title of the latter, if it is Marxist at all, it’s of the Groucho variety, to quote the graffiti walls of Paris 1968).Muñoz likewise crowds “A Day in Heaven II” with a hovering classical-sculpture deity in pink sunglasses, accompanied by a cherub taking a phone-camera photo of a leg-tattooed Barbie with Tammy Faye Bakker makeup, who is flanked by a space alien, green bulldog sculptures and a dinosaur figure.ExploreFalls arts preview: Atlanta galleriesIn the digital collage “It’s Just Another Dinner,” Muñoz’s replacement of the head of Jesus at the Last Supper with a dollar sign on a gold coin rhymes well with John Fields’ multipronged assault on consumerist Christianity and MAGA evangelicals. From collection plates bearing heat-embossed portraits of Prosperity Gospel preachers to enlarged vacation Bible school pictures inviting viewers to color on the canvases with crayons, the work analyzes a religious practice that has forgotten the admonition of Romans 12:2: “Be not conformed to things of this world.”In all this flamboyant company, Los Angeles artist Brock DeBoer’s trompe l’oeil ceramics of sneakers imprinted with luxury designs seem even more laden with tastefully complex irony than just the combination of design choices — they are markers of status from two different social worlds rolled into one.Credit: Courtesy of Maune ContemporaryCredit: Courtesy of Maune ContemporaryAnd the self-conscious excess of most of this exhibition makes two modest works by the legendary Kenny Scharf almost disappear into the background.Maximalism also reigns at the Johnson Lowe Gallery in the overwhelming quantity of images in both Navin Norling’s “Dirty Legacy” and Ilídio Candja Candja’s “O Silêncio Negro em Forma de Chocolate (Black Silence in the Form of Chocolate).”Norling, a professor at SCAD Atlanta, makes wall-filling arrangements of framed found objects from the New York and rural America of yesteryear, combined with paintings on window glass that address, obliquely, issues of race, power and status in America. The interpretation of the visual evidence is open to discussion, as witness the multilayered resonance of the exhibition title “Dirty Legacy” in the region named the Dirty South.Norling deals most often in potent symbols from urban African American life, most notably the familiar icon of a muscular, snarling black panther. Unexpected juxtapositions abound, with one of the most moving being the appearance, amid the most blatantly cartoonish expressions of vintage pop culture, of a timeworn sign listing services at The Way of Truth House of Prayer for All People No. 2.Credit: Courtesy of Johnson Lowe GalleryCredit: Courtesy of Johnson Lowe GalleryCandja Candja has stirred approving commentary in art scenes from Johannesburg to Lisbon. He deals in subtle references to the colonial legacy of Mozambique, where Portuguese commercial interests exploited indigenous labor in the production and export of agricultural commodities from sugar to cashews.As an African export crop, the chocolate of the exhibition title is another multivalent symbol, conveying more meanings than can be comfortably dealt with — “comfortably” being the key word.Candja Candja’s paintings allude to a past that many would like to forget and a future with which many do not wish to concern themselves.What the two artists at Johnson Lowe share, and share with a growing number of artists in the contemporary world, is that each of them takes for granted a different set of cultural references. These references require some degree of explanation because different audiences have different bodies of knowledge which don’t always overlap with those of the artist. Johnson Lowe has provided brochures that offer enough explanation to clear up most mysteries.EXHIBITS“Dirty Legacy” and “O Silêncio Negro em Forma de Chocolate (Black Silence in the Form of Chocolate)”Through Sept. 9. 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays. Johnson Lowe Gallery, 764 Miami Circle NE No. 210, Atlanta. 404-352-8114, johnsonlowe.com.“Material Influence”Through Sept. 22. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Maune Contemporary, 747-A Miami Circle NE, Atlanta. 678-705-4735, maune.com.::Jerry Cullum’s reviews and essays have appeared in Art Papers magazine, Raw Vision, Art in America, ARTnews, International Review of African American Art and many other popular and scholarly journals. In 2020, he was awarded the Rabkin Prize for his outstanding contribution to arts journalism.MEET OUR PARTNERArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. 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 partnership or others, please contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at nicole.williams@ajc.com.


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