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Connect the dots at Contemporary’s ‘More Mergers & Acquisitions’

Who Are Parents (detail), a 1997 mixed media on canvas and linen by Team SHaG (Amy Sillman. David Humphrey, Elliot Green)

Who Are Parents (detail), a 1997 mixed media on canvas and linen by Team SHaG (Amy Sillman. David Humphrey, Elliot Green)

Gallery review
“More Mergers & Acquisitions”

Through Feb. 14, 2010. $5, adults; $3, students and seniors; free for members and children 12 and younger. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. 535 Means St. 404-688-1970. www.thecontemporary.com
Bottom line: A delight.

By Catherine Fox
The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center closes out the year on a high note. “More Mergers & Acquisitions” is smart, witty and a pleasure to look at.
Artistic director Stuart Horodner is adept at making connections, both with people and art. As with its predecessor show (“Mergers and Acquisitions,” December, 2008), this one benefits from his relationships with collectors and artists, from whom he borrowed the works on view.
On the art side of things, he organizes and juxtaposes works of disparate styles, media and periods to create links and rhymes and surprises that reverberate throughout the galleries. This is a show that gets your synapses firing.
The work is divided into thematic categories. The artists in “Un-Natural,” for instance, make flora their vehicle. In Joe Peragine’s “Trees, etc.,” the stark branches silhouetted against eerie orange light make for an ominous image suggestive of war or nuclear holocaust. Plucked from Peragine’s studio at the Contemporary, it is also a preview of a new body of work and the introduction of collage.
“Familiar Faces” cuts across media, time and tone. “Stomach Song” (1970-71) takes us back to early, ad hoc days of video art. No production values here, just a view of William Wegman’s torso, which suddenly looks like a face and seems to make noises when he tightens his stomach. Very funny.
In contrast, Arnulf Rainer’s 1975 self-portrait radiates psychological intensity. The Austrian artist has savagely scratched away at a photo of himself to suggest rage and a will to self-annihilate.
Rainer’s piece is echoed in “Farrah” (1995). Curtis Mitchell covers a photo of Farrah Fawcett’s face with a compound of dirt and cosmetics and melts it into ghoulish goo. All that is left is the famous hair-do. A comment on celebrity when it was made in 1995,  the piece takes a more grim connotation in light of her death this year.
Two splendid paintings by artists who first made their marks in the late ’60s and early ’70s belong to Atlanta collectors. Sam Gilliam’s “Atlanta, 2003,” a contemporary iteration of his signature draped canvases, hangs near “Shark” (1979), a classic Ron Gorchov painting on a convex, shield-shaped canvas.
Reacting against the austerity of minimalism and the convention of the rectangular stretched canvas, both artists blur the boundaries of painting and sculpture by making color float in space.
You can see the concept a couple of generations later in the gallery devoted to collaborations. Rachel Hayes and Atlantan Jiha Moon made a joyous tapestry, which swoops from the ceiling and puddles on the floor, by combining Moon’s drawings and painting with Hayes’ fabric pieces.
Brad Tucker, who contributed “A Frame for a Face,” took a turn at curating as well. He selected pieces from Horodner’s personal collection of found photos that relate formally or thematically to the show and stuck them in unexpected spots throughout the galleries.
Spotting them and noting their connections is a gallery version of an Easter egg hunt.
The first “Mergers and Acquisitions” was borne of necessity, when a traveling exhibition fell through. It was a hugely successful mix of Georgia and out-of-state artists that highlighted art in local private collections one would not otherwise see.
“More Mergers & Acquisitions” gives us, for once, a sequel as good as the original.

Catherine Fox Blogs about art and architecture on www.ArtsCriticAtl.com

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