by Bridget Bailey
“June, July, and August,” in the melodic words of Freddy Cannon, is the time for things to bloom and swelter, and much has bloomed and intensified in the Nashville art scene these summer months. The Frist Museum of Art has led the charge with the opening of the contemporary painting show Chaos and Awe, hurling swaths of color, dense material, and unsettlingly dystopian yet sublime themes onto the scene. I stumbled upon a catalogue for the exhibit, written by the Frist’s Chief Curator Mark Scala, prominently placed in the new release shelf in the gift shop at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and thought, “Ah, we’ve made it. How awesome and chaotic is the world, and yet, symbiotic.”
The storm of Chaos and Awe is quelled by a concurrent exhibition at the Frist entitled The Presence of your Absence is Everywhere by Afruz Amighi, an Iranian-born artist based in the United States. Her work is both haunting and peace-inducing, as it induces a sense of place inhabited by heroines of an undefined but timeless place and age. Place is created through intricate, graceful, architectural and ethereal installations of metal frames and screens, as well as lighting effects, all in a spectral spectrum of blacks and grays and white forming tomb-like, shrine-like, cloud-like structures. These installations are paired with drawings of headdresses and warrior ensembles that, to me, read as markedly feminine. The world that Amighi echoes and builds provides a sense of power and a force with which to reckon in this age of necessity for the respect and center staging of women warriors, especially of the non-Western variety.
COOP Gallery displayed work by artist Katie Wynn in June that is in direct dialogue with Amighi’s: I Figured It’d Be You was an installation of motorized clothes strung on strings—some striped, some pink—and fragmented in a way that provided a sense of both presence and absence with a highly feminine and haunting energy. Yet there was humor, too, particularly in the use of a bisected, high-heeled shoe placed at two different places of the gallery’s baseboard. The motorization was funny at first, too, but forceful in its automated movements.
In May, Dustin Hedrick of Channel to Channel gallery created a large-scale tape mural that played with light and shadow and occupation of space in similar ways to both Amighi and Wynn. His piece was figurative but abstracted and monumental but accessible; black tape lines depicted faces on the white walls, and white tape lines reflected and stretched the same forms in a shadow or reflection on the floor. In August, Channel to Channel hosted See Me, a series of paintings by Birmingham-based artist Chloe York in which whimsical plant forms grow atop silhouetted bust-forms, a return-to-nature self-portrait series rich and flat in pattern and neutral colors.
Best of the crop, however, was a group show at WAG (Watkins Arcade Gallery) in collaboration with Friends Life Community. Kith and Kin (and clouds) featured work by Watkins College of Art alumni Heather Dawn, artist Alison Moore, and work by adult artists with disabilities from Friends Life Community. They filled the space to the brim, work frolicking up and down walls in pure bliss. There was a menagerie of jungle animals, characters, cloud paintings, and much more, blooming in color, form, and exuberance.
Author: Bridget Bailey is an artist and educator in Nashville, TN.