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Arts & Power

With the state of the arts in Atlanta approaching global renown, meet the remarkable talents blazing the trail.

Andrea Costa


Masterful Light
Paintings that seem to be lit from within are a specialty of Atlanta-based artist Andrea Costa, whose work graces the walls of Grammy-winner Zac Brown, Duncan Goodhew MBE, Chattanooga’s respected Hunter Museum and estates across the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Exclusively represented by Buckhead’s Huff Harrington Fine Art, Costa paints moody, evocative lakes and landscapes, which appear lush and impressionistic. The artist’s ethereal paintings—often large-scale pieces reflecting the majesty of the land itself—take cues from her upbringing in rural Georgia. “We spent lots of time at the lake, in the woods, and took frequent trips to the mountains as well as the coast,” she says. “These places have become the inspiration for my work.” While Costa’s sweet spot is the challenging medium of oils, she listens to what the canvas (sometimes linen or burlap) tells her, adding in other materials such as encaustic wax or even sand to make each work more interesting. The stunning blonde splits her time between Milton and a loft in Old Fourth Ward doing what she does best: gathering inspiration for her transcendent pieces along the way.

Phoenix Rising
Atlanta art legend Gail Foster’s haunting paintings are staples of truly savvy collectors (think eco-philanthropist Laura Turner Seydel, actor Will Smith, and Marie and Steve Nygren), yet the artist herself has quietly slipped from the spotlight in recent years. But with her work showcased at the StudioSwan gallery near her Serenbe home, Foster is reemerging in spectacular fashion, thanks to an aesthetic she describes as “beautiful debris.” “Creating face-mounted archival pigment prints on Plexi of the debris and detritus that I find and transform, tells the story of that which is perceived as ugly, unwanted [but] redeemed and renewed through loving attention,” explains Foster. After all, one of the keys to collecting art is knowing where to look.

Papers’ Chase
With new editor Victoria Camblin joining the magazine via London, Atlanta-based Art Papers is revving up for its 15th annual auction. On Feb. 1, peruse 250-plus works from rising and established art stars while mingling with the who’s who of local patrons.

Best of OTP
A haven for Southern painters and sculptors, 5-year-old dk Gallery has been a catalyst for the revitalization of Marietta Square (from gourmet restaurants to the return of The Strand Theatre), with a stable of artists soaring past 40. The Jan. 3 show welcomes the elegant, Andrew Wyeth-esque works of Bill Entrekin, well worth acquiring before they skyrocket in price.

Fine Eye
After beginning her career at San Francisco’s renowned Haines Gallery, the Atlanta-bred, UGA-educated Anna Walker Skillman had the “transformative” experience of running Todd Murphy’s Mattress Factory studio until he moved to Charlottesville in 1997, at which point she became gallery director for Jackson Fine Art—the most significant photography gallery in the Southeast. “Photography has changed so dramatically since that time, not only in terms of its value, but [also] in the way of making, selling and exhibiting the art,” says Skillman. When her mentor, Jane Jackson, left to curate the Sir Elton John Photography Collection in 2003, Skillman purchased the iconic Buckhead gallery, which represents such greats as Horst P. Horst, Christian Chaize and current exhibitor Tierney Gearon. Skillman works daily to cultivate collector relationships on a local, national and international level. “When you buy from Jackson Fine Art, you’re not just investing in a piece, but an ongoing relationship,” she explains. In-house services range from framing, to art-placement consultations, to climatory considerations, to insurance appraisals, auction previews and even collectors’ seminars. The seminar she’ll host in January will address how to select and care for different types of photographic prints. With precious investments like a Henri Cartier-Bresson or an Elliott Erwitt at stake, such guidance is priceless. After all, she says, “These are the blue-chip stocks. They’ve been slowly growing for decades. And they’re never going to lose value if you care for them correctly.” Sound investment, indeed.

Home Grown!
One of New York’s most acclaimed abstractionists from the ’70s onward, encaustic painter Michael David still splits his time nearly 50/50 between Brooklyn and Atlanta, maintaining a studio at King Plow and exhibiting at Bill Lowe Gallery. Meanwhile, the master-quality instruction at his Fine Arts Atelier (better known as Fine Arts Workshop) continues to breed world-class talent, right here in the South.

Reel Talent
After years of success as an abstract artist and painter of film sets for a growing Georgia film industry, Tommy Taylor has boldly conquered a new genre, debuting his first two short flicks this fall. On view at Vimeo, Baba Yaga is campy and macabre, while Shadowland seems even more sinister, taking its subject on an illuminating journey to conquer his own fears.

Reaching the Summit
Led by Hypepotamus Executive Director Scott Henderson, fall symposium series Southern Fried Supernova brought together nearly 100 leaders in arts, technology, urban planning and business bent on making Atlanta a more energetic, connected city. The 90-day think tank, which includes bigwigs from Turner and Coca-Cola, unveils its big idea in January. With cultural affairs already in the lead, we have our money on the arts. Savvy investors, so should you!

In Lines
At Whitespace Gallery on Jan. 10, Birmingham artist Amy Pleasant unveils her first Atlanta solo exhibition: ink-splotched figurative silhouettes and gestural line drawings that beautifully narrate the isolation and disappointment of the human condition. The layered, free-associative interplay of positive and negative space invites us to reexamine how we inhabit a volatile world.

Number Crunch: $50,000
Atlanta’s Pam Longobardi has landed one of the nation’s heftiest art awards, the Hudgens Prize, for her colorful, large-scale installations made from environmental rubbish, on view at Sandler Hudson Gallery through Jan. 4.

Playwright Janece Shaffer discusses her new play, The Geller Girls, premiering at the Alliance Theatre on Jan. 15.

How many works have you debuted at the Alliance?
The Geller Girls marks my fifth show there.

What was the inspiration for The Geller Girls?
My daughter, sort of: she had to do a social-studies project that had to have a tie to Georgia. I remembered these pictures I had seen of the Cotton States Exposition of 1895. I started [researching] and getting excited. ... She vetoed my idea. If she wasn’t going to write about when matadors, Booker T. Washington and suffragettes were in Piedmont Park, I would.

How long did it take you to write the play?
I wrote the initial draft in about eight weeks and first heard it out loud at True Colors Theatre during their spring new play series. I’ve continued to refine the piece over the last few years.

It’s set in 1895 Atlanta—why explore this time period?
The Cotton States Exposition included the first exhibition ever for women and the first exhibition for African-Americans. The more I read about this 100-day event, the more I thought, this is a great backdrop for a coming of age story.
Do you think the sister dynamic is the same in any century?
I think family is family—whether it’s 1895 or 2013.

Star, Ascending
So-called “outsider” art, Lonnie Holley’s freestanding found-object sculptures and assemblages have been exhibited at the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian, the White House Rose Garden and the 1996 Olympics, then variously applauded by Time, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times… just to scratch the surface. But come 2013, the world at large seems to be buzzing about this Birmingham-born talent. Since moving to Atlanta in 2009 and getting “out there” in the event circuit (his show at Solomon Projects was one of the gallery’s last), the artist is almost too busy to pin down. Namely, his first NYC solo show opened in mid-September (to much fanfare and sales) at the James Fuentes gallery, and his second album, Keeping a Record of It, debuted the same month, making him a darling of the indie-music circuit (listen if you like Matisyahu and Bon Iver). A U.S. and European music tour will be followed in January with a residency at Robert Rauschenberg’s 20-acre retreat on Captiva Island before the recording of his third album, very public sculpture installations in Nashville and Birmingham, and an exhibition at New York’s The Studio Museum in the spring. Progressive in both subject and materials—chiefly cast-off objects—Holley’s works have loaded, didactic messages that make them worth far more for collectors than the $20,000 they can command. As friend and collector Matt Arnett explains, “Lonnie sees beauty and meaning in things that the rest of us haven’t yet seen and understood.”

Oh, Kay!
Eldest son of Buckhead designer Carter Kay and a friend to Todd Alexander, Atlanta’s Will Kay is well on his way to redefining Cubism. His abstract figurative paintings visually reference masters such as Picasso, Miró and de Kooning with a modern-day dynamism. On view at the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts Dec. 7, the “supercharged realist” works are also repped at Chip and Company for $175 to $1,500 apiece.;

Just as former High Museum curatorial assistant P. Seth Thompson heads to his new job at Jackson Fine Art, the multitalent headlines his first solo show, The Last One, at poem 88 through Dec. 30. The manipulated still and video images speak to the canon of science fiction and horror cinema—trippy explorations of physics, space travel, and the tensions between perception and reality.

Clouded Thinking
Wunderkind Alex West is no stranger to innovation, having co-founded WonderRoot and developed the curriculum for computational media at Georgia Tech before becoming a software phenom. In 2013, he launched artcloud, a revolutionary platform that helps gallery owners and collectors catalog inventory, organize contact lists, invoice and more.

Curating Greats
As assistant curator of exhibitions at SCAD Atlanta, Alexandra Sachs is helping to shape Atlanta’s up-and-coming art community. “My favorite [part] is working with artists and preparing students for creative careers,” she says. Rather an expert herself, Sachs’ pedigree includes stints at the British Council at the Biennale in Venice, Sotheby’s Institute of Art London and The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Art’s Soul
Acclaimed Atlanta-born art dealer Yu-Kai Lin continues to rack up accolades, despite—or perhaps because of—his modest, dedicated nature. Granted, he cut his teeth at galleries like Bill Lowe and Mason Murer before opening successive versions of his eponymous gallery, first in Midtown, then in Buckhead, and now on the Westside (as of March 2013), and still hand-selects each of the exclusively local contemporary artists for his spaces, which boast photography, mixed-media, paintings, sculpture and the only dedicated gallery for works on paper in the Southeast. “I think about things in a very holistic way. … Everything I do here is to help and serve the community and to help and serve the artists [who] have helped and served my vision of art in Atlanta,” he explains. Considering all the Emory grad has accomplished in 33 short years, he was a shoo-in for the 2013 Alumni Award from the University’s Center for Creativity and Arts. And, this past November, the Atlanta Business Chronicle again recognized him as a top 40 business leader under 40. As for his gallery, Lin lists Sam Parker, Lucha Rodriguez and Nathaniel Galka among his ones to watch. While inventory can fetch $7,000 apiece, works at Kai Lin’s December show will list for $500 and under. After all, with Lin, price is just a number. “When you buy art, you’re bringing somebody else’s soul, history, vision and passion into your home to fill it with warmth [and] add another layer of depth to your life,” he says. “That idea will never depreciate. That’s why I like to surround myself with what I love.”

Collector’s Item
We asked the city’s top gallery gurus to fill us in on the artists of the moment and how to curate a private collection like the pros.

President, Alan Avery Art Company

Kara Walker (daughter of Atlanta artist Larry Walker) grew up in Atlanta and attended the Atlanta College of Art. She was exhibited by Alan Avery Art Company for its 30th anniversary as one of the important women artists in history.

A contemporary African-American artist known for her silhouette images that deal with highly charged themes like race, repression, gender, power and sexuality.

Because she is brilliant in her visual simplicity and complex in her emotionally charged message. She is perhaps the first
artist to confront the issues that she does with a no-holds-barred honesty.

Radcliffe Bailey, a power player in African-American art whose paintings are tied to African migrations and the history of family in Southern culture and Frederick Hart, whom many consider the American master of classical sculpture in this century

Get to know experts in the field; avoid hype; check a dealer’s background, credentials and education; and make the dealer who promises a return to put that promise in writing. Collectors also should look for an artist who has a unique vision.

Owner, Bill Lowe Gallery

Thornton Dial—widely regarded as the most important African-American artist in history

His voice offers a narrative not yet heard in high art (that of an African-American who lived in the South during the Jim Crow years). His message is the belief that we are ‘dealt the cards we are dealt’ and ‘given a connection to God to find our way to an optimal solution.’

In the past two years, Dial’s work has been heralded by top critical voices (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal); and, as a result of shows in my gallery and in New York, [their value has] almost doubled. Because he is 84 years old, there is nowhere for the prices to go but up, up and away. 

Michael David, whose dense oil and wax paintings are at The Met; Daniel Motz, whose purely black assemblages are made of cameras and kitchen utensils that act as reliquaries for the machine age; and Thomas Swanston, who presents elegant observations on the rhythms of life

More important than climb in value is the ‘power of the artist’s advocacy’: Artists who are aligned with enduring galleries have the deck stacked in their favor. These galleries have constituencies forming a ‘circle’ that can advance an artist far more rapidly.

Owner, Tew Galleries

I’m fascinated by the career of Steve Penley (best known for bold and vibrant paintings of historic and popular icons).

His work is viewed more commercially, but we can’t take that away from him. However, because he isn’t represented by any important galleries or in really important museum collections, his standing in the art world is that of an outsider.

He has found a niche market among wealthy people, especially men in the corporate world who like the iconic, capitalistic message of his paintings. Steve has been seen on Fox News and Good Morning America, and he does work for The Coca-Cola Company.

Radcliffe Bailey has had museum shows and is in many collections. At Tew Galleries, Isabelle Melchior, Kimo Minton and Olena Zvyagintseva are artists our clients have supported for many years; their prices have more than quadrupled and will continue to increase.

Buy what you love. In many instances, art buyers who are prepared to take a chance on young, untested artists have the greatest long-term profit potential. However, they also have the greater likelihood of pitfalls. I advise every art buyer to simply follow their hearts—buy what speaks to them.

Owner/Director, Marcia Wood Gallery

Up-and-coming artist Katherine Taylor has developed a large following and is highly regarded by artists, collectors and curators [alike] as one of Atlanta’s best.

Her new work has turned a noteworthy and exciting corner, embracing ideas of abstraction and the materiality of paint, while continuing to explore the themes of destruction and rebirth, and is being received with great appreciation and enthusiasm.

Anyone collecting her work currently is getting in at a great moment, as the prices are bargains for the quality of the work. With her recent and upcoming shows—including a solo exhibition on view through mid-January at The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia—the prices will certainly increase.

Alan Loehle and Danielle Roney

If you are interested in collecting art by emerging artists, for investment purposes, a good approach is to commit to buying a portfolio of works annually from many different artists. If you acquire 10 or 20 works of art a year, by as many artists, a number of them will give you a very good return in 10 to 30 years.