You could drive through Buckhead or downtown or Midtown to witness it; the flux and change of a city under construction.
Or you could visit the Swan Coach House Gallery, to see an art exhibition devoted to it. “Reconstructions,” at the gallery tucked into the Swan Coach House restaurant and gift shop space, is billed as “reflecting an urban landscape under heightened development,” and features artists who often take materials like dry wall, tarps, road signs, the wooden trim that ornaments our homes, salvaged neon and architectural details as their media.
Such materials comment upon two Atlantas existing side by side in which entire city blocks can seem to transform in the course of a year in a city perpetually in flux. And yet, residents of the city can drive through neighborhoods and perhaps live in historic homes where the architecture (including the Swan Coach House) and features of the past are lovingly preserved.
The undeniable, constant erasure of one Atlanta for a new one has been an abiding theme of life in the city for decades in a skyline defined by cranes as much as by skyscrapers. The bid for a new Amazon headquarters has only led to additional navel-gazing about how much Atlanta typifies the kind of city-on-the-move that will attract coveted millennials and a deal promising 50,000 jobs.
The “Reconstructions” group show features 13 artists who look at the flux and upheaval of development and gentrification as it’s translated into art objects. Even before you step past the gallery threshold, artist Meta Gary’s installation reminds us that there are always winners and losers in progress’s forward march. The artist has crafted her “Fort 06: Fort Tulipa” as an homage to the protective, cozy, future-home foreshadowing indoor and outdoor forts we build as children. But that dwelling constructed of plywood scraps and partly hidden beneath a tree’s boughs also suggests the human displacement of a city moving ever forward, where the poor and the marginalized are often left to patch together a life from scraps.
The sense of one world where success is measured in glittering high-rises and another neglected one at its periphery is echoed in Evelyn Breit’s terse but potent oil painting “Unloading” of dumpsters and old-school industry and smoke-belching smokestacks in the distance. Photographer Spencer Maxwell catalogs similar instances of the weedy vacant lots and the strange, abandoned, slightly seedy places that exist at the edge of development.
Several of the artists turn their eye to architectural salvage: Trevor Reese’s metal gate accented with a strip of bright red neon is a strange blip of excitement in an unexpected place. Joseph Bigley’s “Emblem” is former signage keeled over on its side, a remnant of another age and former businesses as inert as a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. A kind of limbo exists in “Reconstructions” between these emblems of a former world being supplanted by signs of progress in the perfume of dry wall, raw wood and plaster.
If you missed the either thrilling, or sad (depending upon your interest in longtime landmarks) toppling of downtown’s Georgia Archives building, there’s a video for that. Exhibition curator Karen Tauches has tucked a television playing a looped video of the building’s surreal, slow crumble in a corner of the exhibition. First come the sparks of tiny explosions, then its gentle implosion, like an enormous, once majestic elephant brought to its knees with the crack of a ringmaster’s whip, then an obliterating cloud of smoke. The sounds of high-pitched shrieks and guttural chortles of pleasure accompany the destruction.
Maybe the majority of Americans just like pretty new things, and Atlanta is just the place to indulge that impulse.
Through Feb. 16. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Free. Swan Coach House Gallery, 3130 Slaton Drive NW, Atlanta. 404-261-0636, swangallery.org.
Bottom line: An interesting exhibition about Atlanta’s hyperactive gentrification and development includes the expected tangents and misfires that come with this many artists in the mix.
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