The Best Shows to See in Atlanta Right Now

On the occasion of the opening of UTA Artist Space and re-opening of Jackson Fine Art, here are the best shows to see in Atlanta

BY Lisa Yin Zhang in Critic's Guides , Exhibition Reviews , US Reviews | 05 APR 23

Lonnie Holley

UTA Art Space

23 March – 29 April

On a crackled yellow background, spraypainted silhouetted faces that overlap
Lonnie Holley, Changing with the Seasons, 2023, acrylic, gesso and spray paint on quilt over wood, 122 × 122 × 5 cm. Courtesy: the artist

Something’s happening in Atlanta, an art ecosystem whose vectors of growth parallel, intersect with and yet unwind idiosyncratically from those of powerhouse circuits like New York and Los Angeles. This lush environment is currently bearing its fruit. The arrival of UTA Artist Space is another landmark.

Fittingly, the first artist to show in the new space is Lonnie Holley, a long-time icon of the Atlanta arts scene who has mentored several artists mentioned in this critic’s guide, along with others across the Georgian and southern US art scenes writ large. In large-scale works on paper, canvas, quilt and wood, in acrylic, gesso, oil stick and spray paint, Holley overlays silhouettes of talking faces in mostly pastel colours – ghostly, claustrophobic crowds in two dimensions, as if the viewer’s had a drink too many in an unfamiliar place.

Effects of light and shade seem to highlight the brow, nose or mouth of this or that figure, giving a momentary sense of personality or voice. In Understanding the Rules (2021), spray-painted spotlights shine through the spaces between open mouths, illuminate the puffing of cheeks, the curves from forehead, to nose, to lips, to chin. The works range as widely as the media used to make them. In Changing with the Seasons (2023), the surface is cracked and rough like snakeskin; at the centre of The Crossroads of My Mind (2023), edges rendered with straight-edge and spray paint are sharp as a razor.

‘New Worlds’

Atlanta Contemporary

28 January – 4 June

Installation view: at foreground, a trellis of roses and fishnet stockings, colourful canvases in the background
‘New Worlds’, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artists and Atlanta Contemporary; photograph: Mike Jensen

Atlanta Contemporary is more than an exhibition space. Out back, for instance, beyond the garden, artists like Dianna Settles have their studios. Call it an incubator, maybe. ‘New Worlds’, part of its ‘Women to Watch’ series, perhaps best demonstrates this impulse to spotlight early-career artists connected in some way to Georgia. Augusta-based Anila Quayyum Agha and Marianna Dixon Williams, Savannah-based Namwon Choi, Athens-based Victoria Dugger and Atlanta-based Shanequa Gay show new work in this iteration.

In Victoria Dugger’s punning, dark-humoured Eat Me (2023), a figure rendered of stuffed nylon bursts out of the bottom of a beribboned pink cake, arms flopping off the edges of the plinth; in Grow Thru What You Go Thru (2022), a trellis of roses and stuffed fishnet stockings is precariously balanced atop ballet shoes positioned perfectly en pointe, nodding playfully and darkly to the contortions expected from women, particularly Black disabled women, a theme to which Dugger’s work frequently returns. Choi displays exquisitely-painted scenes of views from Korean highways, rendered in a blue and white that evokes Chinese ceramics, or delftware. At a distance though, these are identical to highways anywhere else, nodding, perhaps, to the converging aesthetics of global capital.

Interestingly, the show eschews extended wall texts in favour of QR codes leading to statements read aloud by the artists – a lovely point of personal connection with artists to keep an eye on.

Sheila Pree Bright

Jackson Fine Art

24 March – 26 May

A dingy table in a dark room on which sits a couple of objects, most prominently a single boll of cotton
Sheila Pree Bright, Cotton, 2019. Courtesy: the artist and Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta

A stalwart of the Atlanta arts scene for more than three decades, the photography gallery Jackson Fine Art has opened a new space directly across from its old one in the historic Buckhead neighbourhood. Sheila Pree Bright’s exhibition of stunning silver gelatin prints from the series ‘Invisible Empire’ could at first glance be mistaken for familiar pieces in the landscape genre: in one, a shadowy cascade of trees encircles a placid lake ringed with ovoid ripples (Stone Mountain, 2019); in another, an overgrown glen seems preternaturally aglow with sunlight (Breath, 2021).

Follow the breadcrumbs, though, and the images lead you into a darker wood: in Behold the Land, Untitled 5 (2021), crosses, likely to mark grave sites, are captured with a claustrophobically shallow depth of field; in Cotton (2019), atop a dust-covered table sits a single boll of the titular crop. Commissioned by the High Museum, these photographs were taken at Stone Mountain, Georgia, home to a theme park, the largest bas relief artwork in the world – depicting Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who led the Confederates in the civil war to keep slavery in the US – and a sacred site to the Ku Klux Klan. In the context of Bright’s practice – she spent the better half of the last decade photographing raucous protests against police killings of Black people – these images are all the more chilling.

None of the current shows should be missed. The Stockholm-based duo Cooper & Gorfer present a rich array of images of women, based on photographs which have been stitched (literally, with thread and needle), collaged, rephotographed and reprinted to create portraits of supple femininity. In the viewing room, photographs by Francesca Woodman and George Lange, who were undergraduates together at the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1970s, capture each other in that period of gestation. In Francesca Woodman - 101 N. Main St. #3 (1976), Lange captures Woodman setting up her camera, surrounded by dresses, scarves and photographs scattered across the walls and floors.

George Voronovsky

High Museum of Art

24 March – 13 August

A very full canvas of saturated colors. Some details: a bright round orange sun, a train crossing, mountains, a trout fisherman, animals on the green, flowers
George Voronovsky, Untitled (Trout Fisherman), acrylic on canvas, 60 × 76 cm. Courtesy: © George Voronovsky, the Monroe Family Collection and High Museum of Art

In 1941, when George Voronovsky was 38, the Nazis invaded his hometown of present-day Kyiv, Ukraine. After the war he immigrated to the United States, working in the rail industry, before moving in 1972 to a room on the third floor of the Colony Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. There, he began painting folkloric scenes replete with animals, plants, flowers; he hung his walls, salon-style, with such paintings, alongside starbursts made of cut-up soda cans and painted Styrofoam birds. ‘Artist-built environment’ would be an almost comically clinical term for what Voronovsky created: art as life, maybe.

The first major museum exhibition of works that have lived largely in storage for decades – lovingly preserved by photographer Gary Monroe, a friend of Voronovsky’s – demonstrates the High’s commitment to self-taught artists of the south. Voronovsky’s paintings skew people, objects and buildings in a hieroglyphic perspective, all rendered in saturated colours. Most are emblazoned with a perfectly round orange sun. In one representative painting, Untitled (Trout Fisherman) (1978–82) a man spears a flopping turquoise fish; horses and dogs frolic throughout a flower-studded green; a train runs along the horizon line as cerulean mountains rise in the background.

There are, however, no mountains in Miami: like so many displaced people, Voronovsky conjured memories of the landscapes of his home, Miami the substrate rather than his subject. A treat of the exhibition is an experimental film set in the forest. Voronovsky, dressed in rags, is building a rocket ship to reach the sun – that eternally burning circle in his paintings.

‘Black American Portraits’

Spelman College Museum of Fine Art

8 February – 30 June

A canvas painting of two figures, seemingly child and father, Black but with ashen gray skin; child holds a surfboard, father sits on beach. Red flag flies in background
Amy Sherald, An Ocean Away, 2020, oil on canvas, 330 × 274 × 6 cm. Courtesy: © Amy Sherald and Hauser & Wirth; photograph: Joseph Hyde

Travelling from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it feels like ‘Black American Portraits’ has come to its spiritual home in Spelman College, a historically Black liberal arts college for women. Re-oriented to centre Black women artists, one of the first works in this exhibition is a photograph by Sheila Pree Bright – also on view at Jackson Fine Art – of Stacey Abrams, who previously served as Minority Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives. Abrams is an alumna of Spelman; as is Calida Rawles, whose stunning Untitled (2022) is a new commission for this leg of the show. Beneath the surface of a body of water, a woman in a white dress raises her arms as if in rapture; dappled light warps her refracted image.

Rawles is a close friend of Amy Sherald, whose oil-on-canvas An Ocean Away (2020) hangs nearby; the two often FaceTime to paint and converse. As an extension, swing by Clark Atlanta University across the street – Sherald’s alma mater – to view Jacob Lawrence’s The Brownstones (1958), one of the most stunning and idiosyncratic examples of his work I’ve seen. Family scenes can be glimpsed through windows; on the street, children bounce balls, dogs rear at their leashes, a woman pushes a stroller. Also nearby, ‘The Alchemists’ at Johnson Lowe should be read in conversation with this exhibition – a peek into the rich and layered discussions taking place between artists and institutions here in Atlanta.

Main image:  George Voronovsky, Untitled (Rocky Stream Crossing), 1978–82, acrylic on canvas, 60 × 76 cm. Courtesy: © George Voronovsky

Lisa Yin Zhang is assistant editor at frieze.