Maune Contemporary Executive Director Grace Chambless and Kate Chesnutt of Labyrinth Curation. Photographs by Isadora Pennington.

How do you define success? Is it through accumulation of wealth, status, salvation, or something else? Is your worth tied to the clothes you wear, the brands you support, the churches you frequent, or the celebrities you exalt? If you have enough money, can you buy happiness?

These are just some of the questions posed by the works in the Material Influence group exhibition that debuts tomorrow at Maune Contemporary on Miami Circle in Buckhead.

In our society we often conflate power with success. We have a tendency to commodify everything right down to our very identities. If we can monetize it, we will. Sometimes it is worth stepping back to consider where exactly these perceptions are leading us. 

Traditions, heritage, style, culture, and even religion itself can become mixed up in the consumerist mindset. It’s capitalism at its finest, with the vast majority of modern-day Americans wholeheartedly buying into the concept that being good at something or enjoying your life is only valuable if it makes you rich. By propping up this false equivalence, major brands and corporations further cement the endless push for wealth as the ultimate meaning of life. 

Artists, however, have an uncanny way of pushing the envelope and making us question our preconceived notions. For the eight artists whose pieces are on display at Maune Contemporary, the question of reverence and how it relates to traditional markers of success in a capitalist society is only a starting point. 

When Kate Chesnutt of Labyrinth Curation and Maune Contemporary’s Executive Director Grace Chambless first started talking about the concept of achievement and success it inspired them to collaborate on an exhibition. Together, the two began discussing artwork that isn’t afraid to question those pillars of success that we see all too often held up in our society. And so Material Influence was born.

“Are we doing this for validation?” asked Chambless, gesturing to the works behind her in the gallery. “Because these things are culturally ingrained in our society, we want to ask if you are actually believing in these things or are you just perpetuating what society is feeding you?” 

The exhibition is composed of works that feature articles of clothing, fashion brands, religious iconography, traditional media, non-traditional media, and the purposeful dissolution or destruction of monikers of success. It’s all tongue-in-cheek, such as the piece that shows a bottle of expensive champagne disguised as a fire extinguisher and an interactive biblical scene that invites viewers to color on the canvas with crayons.

There’s embroidered money, a scene with a Bitcoin Jesus, gilded airsoft guns, collection plates, and porcelain shoes. These pieces ask you to consider your personal perspectives on success and your feelings about status and success.

Material Influence is the result of the first ever collaboration between Chambless and Chesnutt. “Grace and I came up under the same tutelage of Bill Lowe, may he reverberate forever. That was a lesson unto itself of how to do things,” explained Chesnutt. She pitched a collaboration to Chambless who has been the Executive Director at Maune Contemporary for two and a half years.

“No hesitation,” said Chambless. “What Kate and I have discussed is the lack of collaboration on this level. I had never brought in a curator like this. Kate respected what I have done and I respect her experience and knowledge.”

At four years old, Maune Contemporary is a fairly new gallery in the local art scene. Owned by Heidi and Ramsey Maune who recently opened their second location in Santa Barbara, California, they entrusted their Buckhead gallery to the capable hands of Grace Chambless. The Maunes have been incredibly supportive of this collaboration with Chesnutt, and they have trusted the two to come up with an exemplary group show. 

“We had the space to honor artists, and to honor their craft means to exalt it,” said Chesnutt. By displaying these works, and doing so with reverence, Chesnutt and Chambless have in essence contributed their own portrayal of success to the conversation.

For fine art professionals such as these two, the greatest success is providing exhibition opportunities that can increase visibility and showcase the works of talented artists. In a way, running a gallery is its own kind of worship– a worship of the creative spirit.

“Through the diversity of our artists, we hope to foster a global dialogue. It is important [to us] that this conversation extends beyond art and impacts our humanity and how we perceive and relate to one another,” said Chambless. 

Material Influence features works by Brock DeBoer, Jacob Deimler, John Fields, Plastic Jesus, Justyna Kisielewicz, Dayani Muñoz, Kenny Scharf, and Nick Veasey. The exhibition will open on Thurs., August 3 from 6-9 p.m. and will remain on display through September 22, 2023.

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.