Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The ATHICA Mystery Triennial, Saturday, August 20th, 2011 - Sunday, September 18th, 2011

This Saturday, August 20th ATHICA (Athens Institute for Contemporary Art) presents their Mystery Triennial. This is a small works invitational, a "Who Dunnit" including the works of 120 extrordinary artists the likes of...

REM (Yes, the band!), Lauren Gallaspy, Robert Sparrow Jones (That's me!), Hope Hilton, Brian Hitselberger, Jon Swindler, David Hale, Didi Dunphy, Will Eskridge, Melissa Harshman, Nash Hogan, Grammy winner Art Rosenbaum and Charles Westfall just to mention a few! There are so many great people involved in this show and gives you a cross section of the eclectic and outstanding community in Athens Georgia.

Also to note; there is a music event by a terrific friend of mine, super-talented singer songwriter Kate Morrissey!

Opening Reception: Saturday, Aug. 20th 7:00-8:00 p.m.: First Dibs
w/ $10 Donation 8:00-9:30 p.m.: Free Entry

Music Event:
Sunday, Aug. 28th
7:30 p.m.
AMT Benefit Concert Series:
Kate Morrissey & Marty Winkler
$10.00 Suggested Donation

Mystery Triennial

It has been almost a decade since ATHICA (Athens Institute for Contemporary Art) opened in the Chase Street warehouses on Tracy Street. Since then, we have come to rely on the nonprofit art space to provide provocative exhibitions of contemporary art on social topics by artists from around the world and our own backyard. ATHICA’s director, Lizzie Zucker Saltz, founded the non-commercial gallery in 2002 after moving here with her husband when he joined the theater department at UGA. Rather than become, as she puts it, a victim of “university spouse migratory syndrome,” Lizzie created her own niche by bringing to Athens some of the excitement she experienced visiting contemporary art institutes in big cities like New York, L.A. and Chicago.

“ICAs were where you saw the most intriguing work—art that made you feel alive! I wanted to recreate that experience: where you see something that awakens you to a new way of thinking about your world,” Saltz says.

This passion became embodied in ATHICA as she found volunteers from the community to join her in creating this new contemporary art space. An army of volunteers (including the director herself) and a sense of community spirit are the secret to ATHICA’s longevity. Art lovers, artists, musicians, performers, students, professors and local business owners are a part of each and every event. ATHICA has put on 40 exhibitions since it began, highlighting challenging work by national, international and local artists and providing a forum for their ideas in Athens. Lizzie describes this approach as one that “lifts all boats” by showing emerging artists alongside those who are more established. Exhibitions are accompanied by a full roster of events that includes music, films, lectures, dance and performance art book-ended, as anyone who has attended an opening or closing knows, by convivial parties with excellent catering donated by local restaurants.

Running on volunteer power, ATHICA has also been the recipient of grants from the mayor’s office, the Warhol Foundation and the Puffin Foundation. These grants help pay the bills: rent, utilities, printing and shipping are still part of the expenses needed to keep the operation afloat but cover only a portion of what is needed. This year, ATHICA is in a gap period before it can reapply for new grants. To show that the gallery has the community support to be sustainable, it is reaching out with an exciting fundraising endeavor: the first “ATHICA Mystery Triennial.”

ATHICA has invited artists from the community to create a small work (5.5"x 8.5") to be sold for $60 (or two for $100) at the fundraiser which opens on Saturday, Aug. 20. Over 120 artists have answered the call and will have their paintings, photographs, drawings, prints and 3-D constructions available for purchase. So, what’s the mystery part? All of the works are hung anonymously, meaning it’s up to you to guess who the artists are. Imagine owning your own Art Rosenbaum painting or collaboration by the members of R.E.M. for $60; guess correctly and it could be yours! Though some may try to figure out the big names, ATHICA board member and UGA art history student Ashley Wespheling encourages people to just buy something they like and find a new artist to love. She notes that while a lot of students want to start collecting art, it is something that is usually out of their price range. This event offers a chance for locals to support this important community resource by purchasing local art.

Artists involved in the exhibition have remarked on the impact ATHICA has had on them and the community. Painter Anthony Wislar points out that “Athens has a pretty great group of artists, and they need places that connect Athens to the national and international art community. Additionally, the community at large greatly benefits from having an art scene. It's a pretty well established fact that art communities enliven urban areas and boost local economies.”

The gallery has been a testing ground for new curators and curatorial concepts as well as artists. Didi Dunphy recounts this as being something she experienced when she curated the ATHICA exhibition “The Way Things Work”: “[This experience] provided me personally with a way to explore my creative possibilities as a curator, something much different than being an exhibiting artist, but more towards my design sensibilities.”

Photographer Jason Thrasher remembers when ATHICA first began and notes how it was integral to building the arts scene that now flourishes at the Chase Street warehouses: “ATHICA is great. I've always loved the chance to show work there. It's amazing what a huge part of our community that the Chase warehouses have become. I can't image Athens without ATHICA, Canopy and all the amazing people at that warehouse compound.”

All of the artwork in the "Mystery Triennial" will be on display from Aug. 20—Sept. 18; attend on opening night to witness this incredible display of local art and buy an original artwork (you will discover who made it at the point of purchase). If you are feeling competitive, arrive during “First Dibs Hour” from 7–8 p.m. where, with a $10 donation, you can have the first crack at owning art by Robert Sparrow Jones, Jill Carnes, Jonathan Jacquet, Judith McWillie, Melissa Harshman, Jon Swindler, Nina Barnes, Paul Thomas, Bob Clements and Claire Clements and many others. With each artist offering one to five works in the fundraiser, there will be plenty to choose from, and you’ll have the opportunity to get your pick professionally framed for only $10. Participants can win gift certificates to local businesses by guessing the identities of the mystery artists and vote on the People’s Choice Award, which will offer a solo show at ATHICA to the winning artist. The bidding will continue until all works are sold, but there’s yet another reason you may want to make sure you are there on Aug. 20: catering for the opening will be donated by Five & Ten and Ted’s Most Best Pizza. Throughout the exhibition, affiliated events include concerts and dance performances before the final closing party where the artists’ identities will be revealed and all remaining works will be offered at half-off.

This playful fundraising event has a serious reason behind it, however, and it comes at a critical time for this important local resource. Participating artist Don Byram makes this point plain: “It is important for the general population of Athens to understand that the 'Mystery Triennial,' in many ways, is one of the most important events to be held at ATHICA. It brings together the two human elements needed for an independent art space to exist in a community. At its core, ATHICA challenges artists to be free: free of censor, free to push their limits, free of stigmas—a safe place to bend rules and push boundaries. With this event, ATHICA brings in the second element, which is local financial support for the arts. It is easy to say, as a community, ‘We support the arts’ if someone else, in a far away place, pays for it. The challenge the 'Mystery Triennial' creates and says is: prove it.”

That we can “prove it” while having a great time is part of what makes ATHICA such a beloved local institution. If you are a longtime supporter or new to the scene, I hope you will consider participating in what is sure to be a landmark event in our community’s history. See ATHICA’s website for details and the full list of participating artists at www.athica.org.

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