The courtroom is focus of new photography exhibit

"University of Arkansas School of Law (Microphone)" (2019) digital print by Courtney McClellan from her solo exhibition "Simulations" at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.
Courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia

“University of Arkansas School of Law (Microphone)” (2019) digital print by Courtney McClellan from her solo exhibition “Simulations” at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.
Courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

McClellan presents her photos of these mock courtrooms in plain white frames against crisp white gallery walls that have been ornamented with the kind of formal wainscoting you might find in one of those courtrooms. The images themselves hone in on specific design and architectural features of the courtrooms: the uncomfortable looking chairs where spectators sit and then the plush, high-backed pleather chairs occupied by judges.

A sense of drama is conveyed in key details, from the amphitheater-like arrangement of spectators in some courtrooms to the sort of stage that the judges’ bench represents. She offers close-ups of courtroom details in round cameo frames, of the microphones, lecterns and security cameras that also serve as silent “witnesses” to the proceedings. As much as the photographs are about performance, they are also about how the courtroom amplifies power structures that exist in the larger world. Courtrooms or Congress or the police force are their own stage sets where the weak and the strong interact; and tradition, architecture and habit reinforce those structures.

McClellan is attuned to how subtle architectural details offer clues about the demeanor required of mock courtroom participants. Just as an opera house or luxury clothing boutique conveys the importance or price point of the setting, the courtroom even in these “pretend” spaces, feels solemn, imbued with history and markers of social class and power from the gold-framed portraits to the tall wooden bench where judges sit.

Courtney McClellan's "University of Alabama School of Law (Judge’s Bench, Seal and Portrait)" (2020) digital print, on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia
Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia

Courtney McClellan’s “University of Alabama School of Law (Judge’s Bench, Seal and Portrait)” (2020) digital print, on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia
Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

At face value, the project is a relatively straightforward project. Yet, the more someone looks at the artwork, the more onlookers will see the layers of McClellan’s fascinating subject that represent power, performance and architecture in a courtroom.

EXHIBIT REVIEW

“Courtney McClellan: Simulations”

Through March 27. Thurs.-Sat. noon-4 p.m. by appointment with reserved ticket. $5 non-members; free for members, children 6 and under, military and veterans. Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, 75 Bennett Street, Suite M1, Atlanta. 404-367-8700, mocaga.org.

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