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Cultural Concierge:

December 6, 2011

SCAD Fab !

SCAD-Savannah’s New Museum of Art is Worth a Cultural Field Trip…Plus an Overview of SCAD’s Fall Film Fest

  • Images courtesy of SCAD

From an André Leon Talley-curated haute couture collection (juxtaposed with Kehinde Wiley’s preening canvases in the adjoining gallery) to edgy video art and a bedazzled installation-art trailer, the inaugural exhibits at the SCAD Museum of Art are as arresting as its sleek new building

The new SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah with architecture by Christian Sottile The new SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah with architecture by Christian Sottile

Just when you thought Savannah couldn’t get much better, between the live-oak studded squares and the hipster SCAD students doing performance art in Ellis Square, the new SCAD Museum of Art brings a fresh infusion of creative mojo into an already artsy-craftsy-on-overdrive town. 

The museum, a $26-million-dollar expansion designed by Italian-born SCAD alum and professor Christian Sottile (of Sottile & Sottile and Lord, Aeck and Sargent Architects), seamlessly blends a modernist, beacon-of-light tower with the romantic, weathered brick remains of the oldest Antebellum train depot and an 1856 Greek Revival structure. At night, the jewel box facade literally glows with several illuminated, picture-box windows that showcase art. One of the most impressive features of the museum, which opened to the public October 29, is located in the 85-foot-high steel and glass lobby. As its centerpiece, the lobby boasts the world’s largest interactive, touch-screen table (think: giant iPad tablet) designed by the New York firm Pentagram. Visual packages of artist and gallery Information are accessed through a simple touch of your fingers and then tossed across the 12-foot-long table like forfeited playing cards when done.

A showing of Nick Cave's video art, A showing of Nick Cave's video art, "Drive-By" on the museum's facade

The museum’s exterior courtyard is a lush green paradise, with steps serving as seating for video and film works that can be projected onto the building’s white facade. (The outdoor theater hosted Nick Cave’s colorful video installation Drive-By, with its Seussian costumed creatures, at the opening.)

Exhibits will constantly rotate in the 82,000-square-foot space and in February the museum will turn its collections over to artist Fred Wilson. In Wilson’s “meta-museology,” according to The New York Times, the artist hijacks museum collections and draws out subversive new themes of race and class in his revisionist curating. 

Meanwhile, SCAD’s permanent collections of 19th- and 20th-century photography, British and American art, African-American Art, and contemporary and modern art round out the museum’s diverse offerings. With SCAD students granted free admission to the museum, it also functions as an enviable, living art laboratory. “Rather than a place to view art works in isolation, our museum is a kinetic think-tank, a collaborative wellspring of ideas and inspirations for SCAD students and professors,” says SCAD President Paula Wallace.

A couture gown in the André Leon Talley Gallery A couture gown in the André Leon Talley Gallery

One of the focal points of the SCAD Museum’s new galleries is a sample of haute couture creations from Oscar de la Renta, Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford, to name a few, curated by flamboyant Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley (on view through Feb. 26). In the mix: the stunning, black widow-esque, double-zero-sized dress that Zac Posen poured Christina Ricci into for the 2011 Costume Institute Gala at the Met. (which undoubtedly left her breathless all night). Talley has his own wing of the museum, where the frequent SCAD guest and honorary doctorate will cull fashion gold from the SCAD mines such as vintage Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy.

Talley and featured inaugural SCAD Museum artist Kehinde Wiley engaged in a playfully saucy, combative Q&A for the show’s opening with Talley as the ostensible interviewer and master of ceremonies--a mantle Wiley soon wrested away from theVogue personality. Wiley asked as many questions as he answered, resulting in some highly entertaining repartee as the two stylish, erudite power players went head-to-head. (They also competed in the sartorial category as well with Wiley’s dandy-esque suit with turquoise silk lining matching Talley’s ceremonial robe in terms of male peacocking.) Talley also referred to Wiley as "the Rubens of our times."

The museum opening also featured an array of contemporary blue-chip art from Alfredo Jaar to abstract neon artist Stephen Antonakos, that sets an incredible precedent for what is to come. One impressive gallery is devoted to hip hop fabulist Kehinde Wiley (through Jan. 29), whose paintings of swaggering, preening African-American men lay claim to all the “fronting” found in aristocratic, Western European portraiture of yore. To give a sense of historical scope, a significant number of works from SCAD’s permanent Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art, with works by Romare Bearden and Charles White, are also on view in the neighboring gallery, expanding the sense of what African American art encompasses.

Chief curator of exhibitions Isolde Brielmaier in front of a Kehinde Wiley painting Chief curator of exhibitions Isolde Brielmaier in front of a Kehinde Wiley painting

Bill Viola’s seminal video work “The Crossing,” featuring a raging inferno on one screen and a cascade of water on the other, is ensconced in one of the museum’s six galleries (through Feb. 12). A solo exhibition “Let the Light In” by conceptual crafter and bead artist Liza Lou (through Jan. 22) gives free reign to an artist who has often been stymied by the “craft” label. Even the outdoor courtyard is used for display, with Lou’s earlier, career-defining trailer-installation piece parked brazenly on the lawn. "Leave it to us to build a world class museum and then bring a trailer into the courtyard..we're Southern after all," quipped curator Melissa Messina. Housed in a vintage 1949 trailer with an entirely bedazzled interior tableaux, the piece is a macho corrective to Lou’s girly bead-work analysis of the feminine and domestic in works like “The Kitchen.” For her trailer piece, Lou uses a mind-blowing explosion of beads to tell a film-noir story of Jack Daniels, guns, knives and a possible murder.

With the stylish and highly-credentialed new chief curator of exhibitions Isolde Brielmaier in place (She’s done stints at Vassar College, New York University and the Guggenheim Museum, as well as organized special art programs for the likes of The New York Armory and fashion house Versace), the museum promises to bring a steady infusion of top-notch contemporary work to this genteel Southern town.

SCAD Museum of Art, 601 Turner Blvd., Savannah, GA, 912.525.7191 or, closed Mondays and holidays, $10 admission. SCAD Museum of Art is also part of the Google Art Project for virtual tours.


The glass tower of the museum acts as a glowing lantern at night The glass tower of the museum acts as a glowing lantern at night

Neon work by artist Stephen Atanakos in the picture windows of the museum's exterior Neon work by artist Stephen Atanakos in the picture windows of the museum's exterior




























































Honorees Alec Baldwin and Ellen Barkin at SCAD film fest Honorees Alec Baldwin and Ellen Barkin at SCAD film fest

There are bigger film festivals. And flashier film festivals. But it’s hard to top the sense, when the Savannah Film Festival is underway (Oct. 29-Nov. 5, 2011), that the entire Southern coastal town has turned up to bask in the film love. Packed turn-of-the-century movie houses and brimming enthusiasm make nearly every screening feel like a premiere. The sense of delight that stars like Ellen Barkin, Ray Liotta, Aaron Eckhart, Lily Tomlin, James Marsden, Famke Janssen and Oliver Stone would trot over from L.A. to this sleepy Southern town is infectious. Alec Baldwin took his buffet lunch and dinner in the city’s oldest hotel, the 1851 Marshall House, while James Cromwell (of Babe, W. and The Queen fame) passed through the lobby like just another SCAD parent looking for a great place to each lunch. (In fact, his son graduated with a film degree from SCAD-Savannah.)

The 2011 Savannah Film Festival pulled in the usual cast of luminaries including droll he-man Baldwin introducing Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 black hearted confection about a hapless rogue, Barry Lyndon. Baldwin and his screenwriter pal James Toback discussed their mutual Kubrick love for protagonists who, in a nutshell “get crushed.” Baldwin, showing of his improv skills, offered pitch-perfect impersonations of director Rob Reiner and of Anthony Hopkins stealthily stealing screen time in the 1997 nature thriller The Edge.

Festival attendees buzzed about a spectacular sold-out performance of the Cannes Palme d’Or winner The Artist (coming to Atlanta soon)-- a gorgeous tribute to the passage from silent to sound film in the Hollywood of the 1920s. Making his subject matter his metier, director Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist  tells the story of a lauded silent actor who takes a nose-dive when the new talkies squelch his happy-go-lucky brio. The entire feature-length film is shot in silent, black-and-white format. Though it’s anyone’s guess how such a challenging format will play with modern viewers, the film’s charm and winsome good spirit electrified the SCAD crowd. In fact, even with a constellation worth of Hollywood stars milling about like members of an extended filmic family reunion, it was hard to talk of anything else.

Honoree James Marsden at the SCAD film fest. Honoree James Marsden at the SCAD film fest.

Director Oliver Stone picks up an award at the SCAD film fest. Director Oliver Stone picks up an award at the SCAD film fest.