A visit to Peter Forakis’ Atlanta Gateway
Words and images by Karley Sullivan
June 20, 2019
“Geometry…is a natural law that exists not only
in my thinking and my blood, bones, and marrow,
but in the universe and all its matter.”
In August 2018, I visited Fulton Industrial Boulevard to see a piece of Atlanta’s art history for myself. Peter Forakis’ Atlanta Gateway is one of the world’s largest geometric sculptures, but for such a remarkable piece, it’s strange how few Atlantans have ever visited the site or even know it’s there. Apparently, this is nothing new. In January of 1968, art critic Lawrence Alloway wrote in Artforum:
In August of 2018, I visited Fulton Industrial Boulevard to see a piece of Atlanta’s art history for myself. Peter Forakis’ Atlanta Gateway is one of the world’s largest modern sculptures, but for such a remarkable piece, it’s strange how few Atlantans have ever visited the site or even know it’s there. Apparently, this is nothing new. In January of 1968, the massive Gateway is a brief aside in a piece in Artforum by art critic Lawrence Alloway that focuses on the entirety of Forakis’ idiosyncratic output.
Peter Forakis (1927-2009) may not be a household name, but his unique constellation of metal sculpture and geometric study has indeed survived the test of time. Forakis has work in the permanent collections of the Walker Art Center, SFMOMA, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. In the late 1960s, Atlanta Gateway, one of Forakis first major commissions, was the centerpiece of the largest public collection of monumental contemporary art in the world along the then-new Fulton Industrial Boulevard. When the area slipped into decline, most of the 30 other sculptures were either bought by private collectors or simply vanished.
I set out early, turning onto Fulton Industrial Blvd from I-20. Starship Adult Novelties catches my eye in the pre-dawn light, and I swing the car in and fuss with my camera and equipment. A young man parked nearby eyes me, then pulls his car up to mine and cracks a broad, questioning smile. I’m not looking for whatever he may have, and so I wave him away. He drives off. This pre-dawn encounter with its wink-and-nod solicitation sets the tone for a day of visiting an Atlanta neighborhood with many facets.
People come here from points unknown to work and play in offices, warehouses, strip clubs, and, of course, the nearby Six Flags amusement park and its Magic Mountain roller coaster. I believe the neighborhood’s mix would have interested Forakis, who was himself the child of working-class Greek immigrants. I frame the storefront through my open window, click the shutter a few times, then head towards Gateway, noting a large group of people waiting for the bus across the street. The Fulton Industrial zone may not look residential, but for many it’s home.
A few miles on, sun lifting above the tree line, I see the jagged top of Gateway first. Forakis’ work is impossible to miss. The sunrise red of a recent Community Improvement District restoration clashes with the green of the summer grass. For all of its leggy height, Gateway is not what you would call elegant. Rather, it oversees my arrival with an angular glare, corners sharp, framing a tree-crowded horizon raw with early gray light.
I park and begin to walk. Details emerge: enormous rivets, red metal, and an unexpected curvaceousness. I find a faded pink patch that the painters missed. The beams are large and round as they rise to dissect the sky. I run my hand up one of the wide poles, echoing its form with my palm, then point the camera upwards to where the sculpture cuts through the sky.
I click, click, then leave, stopping on the way to photograph the sun coming sideways through kudzu-choked pines on the side of Fulton Industrial Boulevard.
Magic Mountain is on the horizon, and I head that way, pulling over to photograph a demolished motel and its neighbor, The Fulton Inn, in states of quiet change. The rides of Six Flags come into full view, and I imagine them as Gateway’s extravagant sisters swinging low and then rising to dizzying heights in matte metallic arcs.
Later that afternoon, I return to Gateway with a fellow photographer. It’s muggy and bright, and now the beams are warm to the touch as we clamber around, laughing as I try to hide from the sun in the sculpture’s angular shadows. Gateway’s red becomes playful and primary against blue sky and fluffy white clouds.
We walk through the office park behind Gateway. In the parking lot, we find several sculptures including a replica of the Statue of Liberty, an Incredible Hulk, and some American eagles. Afternoon shower clouds move in, the water in the air condenses on my viewfinder, and the heat becomes oppressive. It’s the end of my visit to this corner of Atlanta.
Forakis was drawn to investigate the geometry of the universe, not just as an equation, but as a participatory exercise in living. Atlanta Gateway exists in its own microcosm, odd colleague to quirky headquarters, empty office buildings, curling kudzu, and the folks who use the streets as visitors or residents. This corner of Atlanta may be overlooked, but the blood, bones, and matter that Forakis spoke of are all here, subject to interlocking sets of laws both natural and man-made.
Karley Sullivan is an artist-photographer based in Los Angeles. Her work has been shown at ArtCenter College of Design, the California Institute of Arts, Whitespace Gallery of Atlanta, Yogiga Artspace of Seoul, and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibits. She holds a BFA in Drawing from the University of Tennessee and an MFA in Photo/Media from Calarts. Her words and images have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times and Bomb Magazine.
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