The arrival of UTA and Lewis in Atlanta feels good for an arts community that needs some of the same West Coast energy and talent that brought the film industry to the city.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” Lewis said, alluding to the value the UTA brand can bring to Atlanta’s booming music, film and sports culture — plus all the greenery that comes with it.
Joining Lewis at the UTA Artist Space is former NBA player Virgil “Tony” Parker, who serves as sales director, and Bridgette Baldo, a longtime UTA employee in the fine arts group, who will manage the gallery space.
On one of his recent visits to the city, Lewis said he knew Atlanta was his kind of vibe when he saw a band in trash bags perform to an eclectic crowd at Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall on the Beltline.
“There were dogs in the bar, everyone was sitting at a picnic table; young and old, black and white. I’m like, ‘Oh my god. It’s so Atlanta.’”
Lewis’ return to Atlanta could also be an opportunity to regain some of the excitement and promise of his first round in the city as a political science student (“Can you imagine that?” he jokes.) at Morehouse College.
Originally from New Orleans, Lewis says he never really felt like living in the South until he arrived in Atlanta, where Spike Lee was on campus during his freshman year at Morehouse to do his tribute to the HBCU Life to film School Daze. Atlanta, he says, was “a great cultural awakening.”
“For the first time in my life, I’ve made truly lifelong friends,” he says. “We were young and spoiled, spoiled and slightly broke, but found ourselves shopping at the Lenox Mall. I think for us 80’s babies it was a time of great music and great bands.”
Lounge meeting point
Just one block from the High Museum of Art at 1401 Peachtree St., UTA Fine Art will feature a street-level lobby designed more like a lounge. Among them is the UTA Artist Space, a 2,500-square-foot gallery designed by Hastings Architecture, the firm that built UTA’s Nashville office, as well as the Microsoft and Sony Music headquarters there. The UTA offices are on the fourth floor.
Lewis envisions the lobby as a social space where people sip a cocktail or latte before looking at the art.
“So you’re actually going to step into a really welcoming lounge venue where anyone can come and congregate,” he says. “You can watch a sports game, you can sit at the coffee bar, and then the gallery is just below this room.”
Lewis has the infectious energy, the giddy laugh, and the proselytism to make you believe it can happen. And it continues when he talks about building relationships with Atlanta talent like new director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Arts, Liz Andrews, and painter Alfred Conteh.
“I want to connect dots,” he says about his mission at UTA. “I want to connect communities, I want to connect artists’ stories to the world around them and then find new audiences to see, to explore who they are and to discover and share.”
There are sure to be hurdles. UTA Artist Space will open in a city that lacks a central gallery district, says Baldo, manager of UTA Artist Space. Also, “In Atlanta, there’s a need to be more conscious of when the openings or events are happening—the arts scene isn’t as well known or as accessible to the wider community yet,” she says.
And with few nationally known galleries, “UTA Artist Space will be one of the biggest players in town,” reported The Art Newspaper.
Baldo says the gallery will follow the same model as Beverly Hills UTA Artist Space by showcasing artists “that we represent directly and others whose work we love and want to give a platform to showcase their art.” showcase”.
Lewis is already planning exhibitions with Atlanta-born painter Antonio Scott Nichols. “No one’s really heard from him until now,” admits Lewis. “Man I can’t wait to do the show with this kid. He is unbelievable.”
An influential link between the entertainment and visual arts worlds, Lewis has the potential to be a link between artists and well-heeled Atlanta athletes and entertainers who could be their next collectors. As a prolific art collector, he also contributes to increasing the value of his own work, particularly that of works by black women artists. Boutique hair salon owners, Lewis and partner Hau Nguyen have featured their extensive collection on CNN, ARTnews and The New York Times.
In preparation for his role in UTA’s Midtown, Lewis has found new dig sites in the West End, which means even more room for his collection, which recently expanded to include pieces by Delphine Desane, Rachel Eulena Williams and Jennie C. Jones.
Early in his career, Lewis was trained by Joy Simmons, an influential collector of African American art, to shift his collectors’ gaze away from the work of well-known artists and toward emerging and mid-career color artists such as Genevieve Gaignard or Torkwase Dyson, where he could have more effect. Now he’s here sharing the gospel in Atlanta and he’s enjoying the view.
“There’s nothing more exciting than watching someone buy their first piece of art,” he says.
UTA Artist Space pop-ups: “Mario Joyce: A Stranger’s House That’s Ours,” Aug. 26-Sept. 24. “James Bester,” Sept. 30-Oct. 29. Historic Rail Park at Pullman Yards, 225 Rogers St. NE, Atlanta. utaartistspace.com, www.pullmanyards.com.