Joining LeWitt, Off the Grid opens with selections from Detroit-born photographer Harry Callahan and Gee’s Bend quilter Agatha Bennett. References to the American South appear throughout the exhibition. One of Callahan’s photographs depicts Atlanta’s architecture and features a matrix of windows. The celebration of the quilters of Gee’s Bend is nothing new, but Alabama’s Bennett’s quilt serves as a reminder of the Grid’s presence beyond its most anticipated places.
A 16th-century drawing by Baldassare Peruzzi and an example of chronophotography by Eadweard Muybridge introduce the Systems section. Muybridge is an often-cited influence on 20th-century art, particularly LeWitt. But this passage only hints at that relationship and calls for more historical development.
“Untitled #69” (1974) by Howardena Pindell consists of tiny dots of perforated paper and, in its complexity, reads like a miniature carpet. Pindell, who had her first major solo show at Spelman College, points to circles placed on products in stores during her childhood that indicated all-white products. The piled up points indicate 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) demonstrate the presence of the grid in built environments. The city manifests itself differently in “Untitled” by Alabama-born Ronald Lockett from the Oklahoma series (circa 1996). In response to the Oklahoma City bombing, Lockett uses discarded materials to create an assemblage sculpture influenced by quilting—a deft curatorial moment that ties into Bennett’s work.
A mid-century style bookshelf appears in Untitled 28 by Atlanta artist photographer Sheila Pree Bright. From Bright’s Suburbia series (2007), the interior of a Black house was created to complicate stereotypes of African American domesticity. The bookcase’s careful arrangement contrasts nicely with the jumbled interior of its neighbor, Tennessee William Eggleston’s photograph Untitled (Freezer). The jam-packed freezer is overflowing with overdone 1970s dishes like Tasty Taters and Beef Pie. Bright and Eggleston’s mating is multifaceted, with an emphasis on race and class. Aesthetically, the duo foreshadows the curator’s next section, dedicated to “Containment and Expansion.”
One of Krauss’ themes in her essay was the grid’s ability to appear either limitless or finite—or, even more strongly, both.
Frank Jones’ Spider King Devil House (1965-66) continues the visionary thread that began with Murray’s ‘written’ work. Jones shows a drawing of spirit beings contained in a house, shown in a sectional view reminiscent of medieval art. Jones made this work from scrap while incarcerated, and the clearly defined architecture surrounding his ghostly figures suggests the limits of the finite grid in both literal and figurative ways. Op artist Victor Vasarely and minimalist Frank Stella use color theory and geometric shapes to create two-dimensional works that appear to oscillate and expand beyond the page.
The conclusion of “Off the Grid” is “Sum of Its Parts”. Dedicated to the art that forms physical lattices, it includes two works by Romare Bearden that provide a glimpse into his planning and production for a now-demolished mural dedicated to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for the Kutz Building in Atlanta is.
Among the most recent works, Benjamin Rollins Caldwell’s “Lightbox Armchair” (2014-2015) brings many threads together: the Southern designer uses slides showing works from the high school’s decorative arts collection. It’s a self-referential move, reminding the viewer that this is an in-house exhibition, showing the many ways a museum’s collection can be configured.
The curators’ thematic approach emphasizes cross-cultural connections and draws necessary attention to women, colourists and art from the American South.
Looking back at the exhibition’s influences, including Krauss’ essay, this exhibition is a reminder that contributions from her generation can be thoughtfully incorporated into a better art history.
FINE ARTS REVIEW
“Off the Net”
Until September 4th. $16.50, ages 6 and up; from 5 years free. High Art Museum, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-4444, high.org.
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ArtATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about the arts and culture of Metro Atlanta. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s mission is to help build a sustainable arts community that contributes to the city’s economic and cultural health.
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