Through Nov. 22. 10 A.M.-4 P.M., weekdays; noon-4 p.m, weekends. Dalton Gallery, Agnes Scott College, Dana Fine Art Building, 141 E. College Ave. 404-471-5361. daltongallery.agnesscott.edu
The Bottom Line: A thoughtful and engaging mix of artwork by local and national artists.
By Catherine Fox
Kathryn Kolb celebrates the serenity and pristine beauty of the marsh in a lyrical photograph taken at Sapelo Island.
Linda Gass’s gorgeous, intricately stitched quilt depicts an aerial view of an oil refinery guilty of polluting the San Francisco Bay.
Patricia Tinajero creates an eco-fountain of sorts, using recycled containers to construct a low-tech instrument to purify rainwater.
As these three artworks suggest, Lisa Alembik cast a wide net in assembling “Still Water,” an ambitious and engaging group exhibition on display both in Dalton Gallery and around the campus of Agnes Scott College.
Alembik, the gallery’s director, clearly worked hard to encompass all matters H2O — where we get it, how we use it, politics, responsibility, the pleasures it provides — through a wide spectrum of art practices.
In so doing, she also touches on larger questions about art, its purpose and its power, and the artist’s role in society.
Photographer Jeff Rich exemplifies the artist as advocate. His medium has a long history as a vehicle for muckraking, a term that applies almost literally to his investigation of the French Broad River Basin — a once-polluted waterway that was cleaned up in the 1970s and is again at risk.
His larger point is the interrelationship of man and water. Because the SCAD professor contrasts scenes depicting the beauty of the river and its recreational possibilities with images of despoliation and neglect, the project is most effective seen as a body of work, as in the narrated video in the gallery. Although the individual photos stand on their own as artworks, it seems to me that they lose something essential out of that context.
Indeed, finding the right balance between advocacy and aesthetics is no mean trick. Too much in one direction, and the work becomes a tract. Too much in the other, and the content gets lost. Gass’s impeccable art quilts and William Nixon’s “Salmon Run” — a picturesque installation of a colorful ceramic fish “swimming” uphill near the Bradley Observatory — teeter a bit. Without the accompanying texts to make their point, visual pleasure might obscure content.
Aviva Rahmani is among a cadre of artists who eschew the gallery object, if not altogether, then as main motivation. Represented here by an informational consciousness-raising Web site, Rahmani does actual field work, collaborating with scientists and land planners to come up with ways to solve specific problems.
Of course, art doesn’t have to “do” something to be meaningful. Case in point: Katherine Taylor’s haunting paintings, which reflect the impact of man-made and natural disasters. Here she updates the classic genre of marine painting in an oceanscape dominated by a hulking gray warship.
Tom Zarrilli’s “Song for the Dead Gardens” is a whimsical sculpture created out of lawn-watering implements. Several totems crowned with those oscillating sprinklers double as musical instruments, which visitors are invited to play: Zarrilli conceived it as the equivalent of a Native American rain ceremony.
But be careful what you wish for. He claims that Atlanta’s drought began to ease while he was making the piece and its completion day coincided with the September flood. Who says art isn’t powerful?
Catherine Fox blogs about art and architecture at www.ArtsCriticAtl.com.