Pull into the Arts Garage in Atlantic City
By Amy S. Rosenberg, Inquirer Staff Writer
ATLANTIC CITY - When Ralph Hunter Sr. saw Glynnis Reed arrive at her new exhibition in the city's Arts Garage the other day, he walked across the hall from his African American Heritage Museum to tell her how much he thought of her work.
The exhibition, called "Ascending Beauty," features mesmerizing digital creations composed of Reed's photographs of African American women set against, inside, behind, and through her photographic images of nature.
Hunter, 77, said he was so taken by a piece titled Bessie - a portrait of Reed's grandmother, sculpturally ending just below the shoulders, bustlike, with painterly light and greenery streaked around and across her face - that he bought it on the spot.
That this was happening in Atlantic City - a place, as you may have heard, in desperate straits, a casino town beset by crisis and trying to grow into something else - seemed like an unexpected little windfall at a nearby craps table.
But there it was, a sign of a nascent arts community in the Ducktown neighborhood, in the still slightly obscure Noyes Arts Garage, a 15-month-old creation - two galleries, artist studios, shops, Hunter's museum - of slightly wishful thinking located across Mississippi Avenue from the anything-but-obscure neighborhood icon, the mighty Angelo's Fairmount Tavern.
And a good thing, too, as a healthy portion of the Arts Garage's gallery attendance can be traced to the stuffed-rigatoni crowd at Angelo's, waiting out a reservation or mistakenly entering the gallery through a door from the Wave Parking Garage, whose ground floor it inhabits.
"We would like to be the draw for Angelo's and not the other way around," says Simone Cimone, retail consultant at the Arts Garage. Despite the Angelo's landmark, she says, "people are having trouble visualizing where we are."
On Friday, the Arts Garage, a $1.6 million joint project of the Noyes Museum of Stockton College and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, will hold its monthly Second Friday event from 6 to 8 p.m. to officially open Reed's exhibition, on display through March 6, as well as a featured show and talk by New Orleans artist Ted Ellis.
The Ellis exhibition, which debuted at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala., runs through March 29 in the Garage's front Noyes Gallery space - whose windows look directly across to Angelo's and the equally iconic Rando Bakery - and is sponsored by Links Foundation Inc. as part of its annual Black History Month Art Exhibit. Reed's show is in the smaller Atlantic City gallery space, and Hunter's museum is in the rear, with artifacts and photos from the mostly vanished landmarks of the city's Northside.
While Ducktown has not yet become the arts district that people and planners in Atlantic City are hoping for (as they hope for millennials, a college town, an influx of second-home owners, a revitalized downtown business distict, and a gay community real estate boom), the Arts Garage itself has built a decent following.
Originially envisioned as a place where artists worked out of studios, it has become a still-evolving mix of crafty retail and exhibition space, still working out plumbing issues for a planned cafe. Free Second Friday events feature food, wine from the city's hip Iron Room restaurant, and live music.
Reed, 38, is a transplant from Los Angeles who has shown there, in Philadelphia (inLiquid, Allens Lane Art Center) and in Austria, where she had a residency. Her father's family is from Atlantic City, which drew her here about four years ago. She teaches art at Texas Avenue School in Atlantic City.
In her art, people are extracted from everyday settings and landed in evocatively blissed out or tangled, energetic natural surroundings. Portraits are set against fanciful backdrops that lend an angelic glow and Eden-like setting to her subjects' expressions. The nature photography was shot locally at Birch Grove Park in Northfield and around the Maurice River in Cumberland County.
Athough Hunter saw evidence of "pain and anxiety" in some of the faces, Reed says her goal was to create images of beauty from the faces of women and girls who have been deeply part of her life: friends, family, mentors. She describes them as "self-possessed, projecting a daring aura of eroticism, splendid angelic countenances, and a striking expression of female masculinity."
Reed infused each portrait with the specificity of her relationship and history with the subject. Done with Photoshop on a computer, they are, in her words, "archival pigment prints." There's Nakia, with a sideways glance and just the hint of a smile, her face streaked with superimposed branches. There's Alexandria, with a flat, stylized pink halo like a Giotto fresco.
Hunter saw something more universal. "There's something about her face - those eyes, the way the creases in her face are, it's my grandmother, it's everybody's grandmother," he enthused as he wrote out the check for $375. "I just feel the wisdom in her eyes."
As the still somewhat overshadowed Arts Garage tries to solidify a foothold in the corner of the busy Tanger Outlets, down the street from the soon-to-open blockbuster Bass Pro Shops, Cimone says the mission, although not the usual Atlantic City fare, is not to be dismissed. "It's a necessity to make Atlantic City a well-rounded destination," she said. "It's not just something cute to do."