By Mary Phan
On January 11, The Collective, a Memphis-based group of black creatives, hosted their inaugural exhibition, Inheritance: A Lineage of Black Art, at their new exhibition space, The CMPLX. Curated by Lawrence Matthews and Grace Stewart, the exhibition is on display until February 1, on which date the artists will present talks about their work.
CMPLX’s location imbues the current Inheritance exhibition with a poignant appropriateness. The Collective, a coalition of black artists and staple of the Memphis art scene for the past four years, is serving its own community by deliberately placing the exhibition space, studio space and maker’s market in historic Orange Mound, an area especially relevant to their mission to elevate black artists, empower black communities, and shift the culture of Memphis. Located on a strip mall at Lamar Avenue and Airways Boulevard, CMPLX’s neighbors include Save-A-Lot Groceries and a little dress shop. Its location offers a space for the marginalized community to safely congregate, create, and showcase the splendors of black culture in Memphis.
Inheritance retains many elements of previous Collective exhibitions in Memphis — dynamic media, eclectic artist groupings, steadfast activism – but very importantly, the Collective now has a home. The exhibition features more artists, more work, and utilizes a far larger space than any past Collective event. Featured artists included long-time veterans of the Memphis art scene – Jared Small, Carl E. Moore, Chuck Johnson, Terry Lynn, and Lester Merriweather – as well as other younger artists including Catherine Elizabeth Patton, Silas Vassar, Lawrence Matthews, Natalie Eddings, Felicia Wheeler, Benin Ford, Ziggy Mack, A. Myers, and Nubia Yasin.
Vitus Shell, New Panther, 2016. Photo courtesy of Carl Moore.With forty pieces on display, the curators use traditional, reverent gallery lighting and cleverly employ a triptych system, groupings in three that accentuated flows in color, media, and maker. The exhibition greets the viewer with a found materials sculpture, Coalesce…More or Less by Felicia Wheeler. The piece features a glass paint portrait on an aged window pane, a long gossamer curtain draped atop it with punch needle embroidery in a creamy ecru floss that craftily declares MUCH LIKE THE SUN, THE BEST WILL COME; the text on the curtain lingers over the exhibition as a reminder of the significance of the space, the artists in the exhibition, and their place in our city. Wheeler’s piece is a lone sculpture in a mostly hung show; stepping into the space for the first time, the pedestal of Coalesce…More or Less delineates the symmetry of both the space and curation of the exhibition.
Jared Small’s painterly Pale Ranunculus, a fairly petite canvas with a ghostly palette and delicate form and finish, is juxtaposed on the opposite wall by Vitus Shell’s large piece on paper, New Panther. Shell’s work represents more of a pop or poster art style, incorporating words and figures into the paint medium. There is a wide of array of photography in the exhibition, including old-fashioned analog, digital manipulations, and mixed media. Natalie Eddings’ photographic works, George Washington’s Teeth and Loeb Properties, are prominently displayed as they frame the center background of the gallery into the back space; the gazes of the compositions’ figures are directed towards the entrance of the gallery.
With a show of this size, it is impossible to give each piece a fair analysis in a review that does not take on the length of a catalog, so to summarize the show in one word: success. Viewers crave color, composition, and purpose. Inheritance offers it all and then some, and even adds on the bonus of significance in place. A small criticism for the show is that I want to know more context of artists’ biographies, media, and processes. I am sure some of this will be touched upon in the upcoming artists’ talks, but a pamphlet with a little more detail would have been appreciated.
Title often leads to elusion in art: the titular connotations of the exhibition, Inheritance: A Lineage of Black Art, echo resoundingly through the show. The ambitious work featured in the exhibition and its thoughtful curation serve to not only successfully utilize the space but also reinforce and even proclaim the mission of The Collective.
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Mary Phan is a native Memphian writing on art and culture. She was a recipient of the 2016 National Association for Business Economics and Americans for the Arts Award. She graduated from Rhodes College with degrees in art history and economics.