Mergers & Acquisitions was an exhibition that established a series of unique “calls and responses,” with artworks speaking to each other through time and across the space of our galleries. Paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and photographs by renowned modern masters were combined with those made by consequential contemporary artists and architects. Some were borrowed from private collections in Atlanta and Birmingham, others came from artist’s studios and galleries, and a few were made on site. By combining these works, Mergers & Acquisitions offered playful and provocative affinities of form, content, and historical legacy.
A 1953 pencil drawing by Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) presents his classic motif: an arrangement of differently-sized and -shaped bottles. An image of this spare observational work was e-mailed to Bill Albertini, an artist who uses the computer to render sequences of complex landscapes and sculptural objects. Albertini responded by creating a “soft” still life in lush gray tones, realized in the forms of a large digital collage and a limited edition print.
Spurred on by a1960’s enamel on paper drawing by sculptor David Smith (1906-1965), Wendy White presented a new painting featuring multiple canvases with spray-painted gestures and hints of language. Rebecca Smith, David’s daughter, created a forty foot wall installation using various lengths of colored commercial tape, linking herself to the others with regard to formal and procedural concerns.
Gordon Matta-Clark’s (1945-1978) interventions with existing architecture helped to expand the vocabulary of sculpture and drawing, and his use of photography and film would contribute to how ephemeral works could be documented. Inspired by Bingo, a 1974 photograph by Matta-Clark that shows the progressive removal of sections of a building, Atlanta architects Brian Bell and David Yocum orchestrated an ambitious series of reclamations at the Contemporary. They took down a gallery wall which had defined the storage space referred to by staff members as “the wedge,” and revealed a bricked up window. These endeavors made viewers aware of their indoor position relative to Bankhead Avenue and Marietta Street.
Conditions of possession and stillness were examined in a 1937 drawing by Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), and photographs by Roger Ballen, Jacinda Russell, and Erwin Wurm. These works feature seated or standing figures, each interacting with curious partners including a form-fitting chair, an aggressive dog, a calm rabbit, and a phallic banana. Each person is clearly affected by the psychological act of holding or being held.
Leon Golub (1922-2004), René Magritte (1898-1967), and Franz West are artists who examine the human condition in powerful ways. Their works feature dense accumulations of ink, paint, canvas, and paper which come together to depict bodies caught in the process of deterioration or collapse, as if the pressures of humanness are too great for them.
Histories of endurance were combined in the pairing of a small sculpture and a large video projection, one dominated by black, the other in a context of white. Radcliffe Bailey’s glittering boat references the slave trade and torturous weeks at sea, while Nina Katchadourian presented a video of archival footage of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to the South Pole projected onto her front tooth.
Artists Lucinda Bunnen, Scott Ingram, and Shana Robbins were connected by their distinct interest in the mutability of wood. Bunnen’s black and white photograph shows the scrotum-like base of a tree in Georgia; Robbins’s video documents her performance as a camouflaged “mistress of the forest”; and Ingram continued his ongoing meditation on Modernist design with a casual arrangement of I-beams made of pine rather than standard issue steel.
Works by Romare Bearden (1911-1988), Lonnie Holley, Hank Willis Thomas, and William Pope.L, were grouped together in a meditation on African American’s experiences: rituals of rural life, fear of violence, the corporate athletic body, and socio-political struggle. Pope.L’s double entendre text drawing Black People Are Trying, seemed to comment on the other exhibited artists as well as the election of Barack Obama as the country’s first black chief executive.
Mergers & Acquisitions is a phrase that conjures personal, economic, institutional transformation. The exhibition acknowledged global uncertainties while offering a dynamic combination of objects and ideas, brought together in the spirit of generosity and collaboration. It could not have been possible without the participating artists and the following lenders, to whom we offer our thanks: Arnett Collection/Tinwood, Lucinda Bunnen & Kendrick N. Reusch, Jack Drake, Jackson Fine Art, Véronique Krafft-Jones & Baxter Jones, Sara & John Shlesinger, Nancy Solomon & Solomon Projects, Sara & Paul Steinfeld, Michael Straus, Judith & Mark Taylor, and Sue & John Wieland.