Big-name artists, local talent delivered memorable work in 2016

If 2016 proved anything, it is that Atlanta is a great city for art at every level. Embracing an exciting new era under the tutelage of incoming director Randall Suffolk, the High Museum of Art delivered a remarkable roster of shows this year. The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia continued to offer regional artists a prestigious, important berth in its Working Artist Project. And the Swan Coach House gallery continued to feature a surprising array of snark and off-the-leash experimentation. But there were signs of a renegade energy afoot on a far smaller scale, apparent in the opening of the postage-stamp sized Paper Plane Gallery in College Park and the Westside’s Hathaway gallery. Here’s a look at notable shows from this year.

“Refined Irreverence.” SCAD FASH museum has helped raise the Savannah College of Art and Design’s profile among Atlanta’s gallery-goers with its large, big-name shows. The stand-out this year was a survey curated by SCAD’s director of fashion exhibitions Rafael Gomes, of Venezuelan-born designer Carolina Herrera’s jaw-dropping work, worn by celebrities including Tina Fey, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and first lady Michelle Obama. “Refined Irreverence” demonstrated the remarkable artistry and time-tripping interests of this prolific woman and showed Atlanta’s increasing willingness to embrace fashion as an art form.

“Art AIDS America.” An important survey of the devastating effect of AIDS on the art world and the profound response of artists to the crisis, this ambitious, risky show proved the Zuckerman Museum of Art’s mettle by bringing controversial work to the suburbs and in the process enraging a small but vocal cabal of local politicians. Huge names in the contemporary art world rubbed elbows with regional artists in this powerful, important exhibition that also tackled issues of death, mourning and love with grace and depth.

“Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained.” In this Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia show, beauty as a morphing, strange, liminal thing defined local photographer Jill Frank’s resonant, large-scale images of teenagers and young adults at play, in crisis, and in formation.

“The Fallen Fawn.” Portland-based photographer Holly Andres delivered some of her strongest, most psychologically loaded work to date, mashing up Nancy Drew aesthetics and nascent female sexuality in a heart-stopping, gorgeous exhibition at Buckhead’s photography gallery, Jackson Fine Art.

“Vik Muniz.” A celebrated fixture on the contemporary art scene, the Brazilian-born Muniz’s cheeky, perceptive, imaginative retrospective proved both the High’s growing ambition to present challenging work and Atlanta’s willingness — in this well-attended show — to embrace the cutting-edge.

“Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink.” Bill Yates’ series of 1970s-era black-and-white photographs of a Tampa roller skating rink and its hard-partying denizens was a window into the past and a celebration of small-town grit and glamour spotlighted at Hathaway gallery.

“Black Chronicles II.” A mesmerizing deep dive into history, this exhibition at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art featured 19th-century portraiture of black subjects: anonymous children, students, circus acts, entertainers and sports heroes. The show enhanced our understanding of history and of the black experience, offering up fascinating photographs that melted away divides of time and place.

“Cheryl Goldsleger: Recent Works.” This Georgia artist’s cerebral, haunting images of surveillance, of distant lands seen from above, materialized our contemporary angst in an increasingly knowledgeable but disconnected world.

“Mary Addison Hackett: A Tin of Egyptian Cigarettes.” This delightfully wacky show at Midtown’s Marcia Wood Gallery from a Nashville-based painter who reveled in the ordinary oddities of home and hearth often featured portraits of ordinary stuff, from Cuisinarts to coffee pots. Hackett’s small format charm and a lo-fi wit brought humility and heart to contemporary painting.

“Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett.” Proving folk art can hold its own against museum-caliber contemporary work, this profound, heartbreaking exhibition paid long overdue tribute to an Alabama self-taught artist who tackled big issues of racial injustice and the Holocaust in his work, but also went micro in his empathetic tributes to family and the natural world.

“The Rise of Sneaker Culture.” Like some of the High’s populist shows (“Dream Cars,” “The Coca-Cola Bottle”) meant to pack in the crowds, this crowd-pleaser put a more diverse, millennial audience in its crosshairs. But this buzzy tribute to the all-American fashion and sportswear item, status symbol, subculture delineator, generational dividing line and creative and technological playground, expanded notions of design and the historical significance or ordinary objects.

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