Heading north from the Sunshine state, I detoured east towards the low-lying coast of the Atlantic. As I merge upon this antebellum city my memories of quick overnights are far grander and more imaginative than originally experienced. I longed to revisit the many cobblestone squares shaded by haunting Oak trees draped in Spanish moss, to hear the faint rhythms of horse-drawn carriages trotting tourist by aged gothic-revival churches and savor smells of freshly fried sea fare rising from open air cafes. Georgia’s eldest city reigns rich in southern charm, but somehow today feels a bit weathered and less welcoming. The manicured parks appear over-grown and surrounded by too many modern vendors. For me, Savannah was no longer the Sweet Tea that flowed with familiarity and comfort. She seemed to be struggling in a grid of good growth and evil dismissiveness. Had she changed or was it just me?
It was high noon when I drove through old town. My desire to stroll these historical paths became less appetizing as I maneuvered the weekday streets. At a traffic stop, I recognized a tattered poster pronouncing Lady Chablis as the queen of entertainment in Savannah. It reminded me of one of my past visits where I got to see her perform and that this unique Savannah experience was now missing since her passing. I wondered if Chablis’ rise and fall of hiding the Candy compared to the bitter backlash of other local celebrity Lady Paula Dean. Two very different lives that once thrived from just being who they are. Somehow I began to think my off the beaten path adventure was just turning out to be… off. After a few blocks, I turned to my most reliable companion for a little advice and direction. Maybe she could help an old girl like Savannah shine.
Siri, where can I see great Art in Savannah, GA?
Here’s what I found”
SCAD. SCAD? What’s a scad?
SCAD Museum of Art.
OH, Savannah College of Art and Design.
Thanks Siri you got me at Art and Design.
I read about this school and knew it had a great reputation for developing cutting edge furniture designers and new emerging Artists. Now a glimmer of excitement re-established itself in my veins. I headed just a few blocks to an old railroad depot that has been transformed into a Station of learning, which housed a premiere contemporary art museum. Sharing a parking lot that hosts busy Trolleys, all lined up to take tourist back to the gardens, this college lays content like a revitalized hipster tasting a local brew. There are tall windows of glass set between turn of the century timbers and brick. A dark burnt hue joins the past and a new present. Through these openings I can see students in various stages of creative guidance which instantly drew me in.
On the Street side of the College is the entrance the Museum. There, towering window boxes of industrial cotton and textile art installations look over bike racks and strategically placed trees. I wandered in with no expectation other than I can only stay a short time before returning to my road trip up the eastern coast. A nominal fee opened a secure glass door that lead to a hall of brilliant propaganda Art. Ahead I could a see a trail of high school students on a field trip. They had to be from some cultured academia. There were no cell phones, respectful whispers and they were actually involving themselves in the Art. A few sat and sketched while many focused on the descriptive Museum guide.
Having just left Florida, the kitsch palm trees, sea foam beaches and pink lawn ornaments, were fresh on my right brain. As I stepped into the first gallery the sight of a Ball and chain quickly erased them all. There on a woven carpet flanked by traditional ornate wooded screens lay a dead Flamingo. As large as life, the broken bird held still by the weight of the heavy ball and chain. Artist Hernan Bas depicts a biographical narrative entitled Florida Living. He pays homage to his state by re-imagining Monet’s painting studio with a boudoir of folding screens that overlap and create new spaces. Two-dimensional paintings become accidental sculptures. Absurd images of seafood, pink flamingos and tropical nonsense bring together high design and common camp. However, I am most intrigued by the dead Flamingos. They are created sculptures of heightened realism. Titled Pink Plastic Lures, Pink Prose and The Dawn of Modernity. The impact is deep and I can relate to the weight that ties us down. After pondering the fake fowl for what seem to go on forever I decompressed through halls of large scale mirrored timepieces and colorful prisms of modernism. While I appreciate the efforts, it just wasn’t my thing. Art in all its forms affects each of us differently. I certainly don’t always get what is being given from a work of art but when I do I’m happy to receive it.
Along the length of the Museum was a narrow gallery housing the works of an alumni Student from SCAD. “Roots”, by painter Jose Parla were strong in color and impressive in size. I always prefer the bold and here Parla clearly wants to be heard. Much of the abstract layers are connected to his Cuban heritage and underground cryptic messages. There are massive structures that resemble broken walls of concrete placed like a maze. The scale is as moving as the brilliant splashes of color. It’s a sculpture garden of sort. I may not really understand his reminiscing through art but clearly feel grounded by his Roots.
Next, I AM, A MAN I AM, I AM A MAN, BE A MAN…. OK, I get it, I got it, good!
Through 2 glass doors ahead I see a red blizzard. The exhibit infinity Lines by Japanese Artist Chiharu Shihota. She and 15 SCAD students created a new immersive environment. It was something I’ve never experienced before. Far from the Victorian porches surrounding Savannah’s historical homes, antique wooden chairs gather under endless lines of red yarn. As I walked through this world of intertwining strands, rooms and halls emerged. There are bold swarms of crimson where point meet often and soft webs in less gathered connections. I learn the chairs tell stories and the yarn connects the memories they all experience. Mapping each individually but connecting their past to their present. Maybe that is the reason for my indifference to Savannah. I came with expectation this time, where in the past it was a discovery. BINGO!
It took an unexpected visit to see a Japanese Artist’s vision to realize I am not the same person who came here years ago. I have evolved. I have changed. Like the City of Savannah, I am rooted with an identity but became what I am today due to my own explorations. Florida was embedded in Hernan Bas as Cuba was monumental to Parla. They and Shiota share a space at SCAD Museum of Art for only a time. Their works will move on and likely never return. Leaving Savannah Changed. For myself a Mid Noon stop in the garden of good and evil renewed my fondness for a place I thought lost it appeal. I was wrong and I was changed. Visit Ruben at Act2Art