Johnson Center celebrates the ‘nature of being southern’

Published 8:02 pm Friday, August 7, 2009

Richard Metzger, Johnson Center for the Arts executive director, said that the “Celebrating Contemporary Art in Alabama: The Nature of Being Southern,” exhibition is his most ambitious show ever.

Others simply say, “Wow!”

“When I walked through the door I said, “Oh, my gosh! Am I in the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York!” said Mack Gibson, Troy-Pike Cultural Arts Center board chair. “I was absolutely blown away. I don’t even know the words to comment on this incredible exhibition. This is exactly what I had hoped this center for the arts would be.

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“It’s the realization of the mission of the Holman and Ethel Johnson Center for the Arts and expands the mission of bringing outstanding art exhibits to the people of this area – of all Alabama and beyond. This is an indication of what the Johnson Center will be about from now on.”

The exhibition, which includes the work of 41 award-winning Alabama artists, will open on Tuesday, Aug. 11 at the Johnson Center on East Walnut Street in Troy and run through Nov. 8.

“‘The Nature of Being Southern’ is an exhibition that everyone will enjoy and appreciate, from the art novices to the seasoned art enthusiasts,” Metzger said. “There is a very broad range of visual art, ranging from blown glass, to ceramics, furniture, sculpture, painting, photography, quilt making and installation pieces including Duane Paxson’s Jelly Bean Angels, designed specifically for this exhibition.”

Metzger said the exhibition is a unique opportunity for the public to see the artwork of 41 individuals who are all recipients of the Alabama State Council on the Arts’ Individual Artists Fellowships, which are the highest and most prestigious awards presented by the Council. Five of the artists have achieved the distinction of being Alabama Masters.

“Some of the pieces are whimsical, some are provocative and all are excellent,” Metzger said. “I’ve been working for art museums and galleries since 1996, and I’ve never before hung a 41-person exhibit. The artists contributed from one to four pieces so this exhibition includes at least 200 pieces. The logistics of hanging the show took a great deal of planning, time and work.”

Metzger said the exhibition features the quality of artwork that one would expect to hang in galleries in art centers in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and other art markets in the world.

“There’s not one piece in the ‘The Nature of Being Southern’ that would be looked down on by any of these galleries,” he said. “I expect the response to this exhibition to be even greater than that to the ‘Prints of Andy Warhol’ exhibit. Many people are interested in the art that is currently being produced in Alabama and, too, more interest in the visual arts is being generated. We see that in the increase in visitors to the Johnson Center.”

“Celebrating Contemporary Art in Alabama: The Nature of Being Southern” only “scratches the surface” of the artistic talent in the state. So, Metzger said there is a possibility that the exhibition could be a bi-annual event.

“That’s a distinct possibility,” he said. “We are very optimistic that this will be an extremely popular exhibition and we are only scratching the surface when it comes to Alabama artists.”

Georgine Clarke, visual arts program manager for the Alabama State Council on the Arts, said bringing together these artists and this range of art marks a significant point in contemporary Alabama art history.

“This is a celebration of excellence like no other,” Clarke said. “This is an opportunity to view the best of creativity – art made with passion, purpose, knowledge and understanding of process and materials. This is a chance to look at recent art developments, to view contemporary expression, to study growth and change in an artist’s work, to enter the dialogue. This is an opportunity to understand the best of Alabama. The Johnson Center is to be commended.”

Gibson said “The Nature of Being Southern” exhibition is validation that everything regarding the Johnson Center has been done right from day one.

“It is my hope and my belief that what has been accomplished at the Johnson Center is exciting to everybody and that the interest excitement extends to all that we have going on in the arts in Pike County from the Johnson Center to the fabulous We Piddle Around Theater in Brundidge to the Pioneer Museum of Alabama, and, of course, the outstanding arts events at Troy University,” Gibson said. “What a concentration of the arts we have, and what an opportunity we have to expose people to the arts in different ways and in personal ways that bring the arts to life. How exciting it is to be a part of the arts in Troy and Pike County.”

Editor’s Note: The Johnson Center for the Arts is located at 300 East Walnut Street in Troy. The arts centet is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is always free. Groups are welcome and may be scheduled by calling 334-670-2287.