Chattanooga mixes scrappy, DIY, contemporary art doings with the support of impressive institutional cornerstones. And it’s a city that’s still brimming with the kind of creative potential that artists are always the first to discover in transitional urban spaces. It has some of the mountain town coziness of Asheville or Boulder, and the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Tennessee Aquarium mean a summertime family tourist crowd that’s like Nashville without all the boozy bridesmaids – bless their hearts. The Scenic City’s art scene – like many art scenes – is a little sleepier during the warm weather months, but there’s plenty of spaces to explore, people to meet and possibilities to ponder before the long days end.
Art-A-Nooga is an “art variety hour” originally organized by artist/curator Clayton Aldridge at his Dry Ice Gallery space. The series began in winter of 2021 and takes place on the third Friday of every month. Dry Ice took its name from the former dry ice warehouse where Aldridge and gallery co-founder, Jackson Case curated exhibitions, talks and gallery events like Art-A-Nooga. The pair recently lost the space when the owners decided to sell the building, but the Art-A-Nooga happenings have relocated to Stove Works. Art-A-Nooga includes a number of seven-minute-long creative presentations from artists and curators that span the creative spectrum. The recent June event included songs from filmmaker Blake Hall – a live musical trailer from his soon-to-be-released debut feature film, Fallacy. Artist, Harvey’s parody slide presentation Who Had it Worse? Jesus Christ v. The Average Fish was a highlight, and it was perfectly balanced by the sacred grieving in a movement performance by Katya Grokhovsky. Art-A-Nooga is our top recommendation for Chattanooga visitors looking to orient themselves to the city’s contemporary artist community.
Grokhovsky has been a Stove Works artist-in-residence, and Art-A-Nooga’s new digs couldn’t make for a better match. The former stove works – I’m seeing a pattern – is a 75,000 square foot facility near Chattanooga’s Southside. Stove Works founder and director, Charlotte Caldwell purchased the building in 2017, and the expansive interior now hosts a variety of rotating exhibitions, live performances, classes, and a teen curators program in addition to its residents. The story of Art-A-Nooga and Stove Works demonstrates how ownership of assets and properties are necessary for contemporary arts communities to gather, grow and endure. Find out about the next Art-A-Nooga, the upcoming Dry Ice Retrospective, and all the latest happenings on the Stove Works calendar.
One of the reasons Chattanooga’s art scene gets sleepy in the summer is because of the influence of their local campus of the University of Tennessee. I was pleased at the very good news that the UT faculty and students play a central role in the city’s art scene for nine months out of the year. I can’t imagine Nashville’s art scene developing as it has if not for the faculty and students of Watkins College of Art and Vanderbilt University. And the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Institute of Contemporary Art is exactly the model Nashville and Vanderbilt should follow to realize a dedicated contemporary art institution of our own. The ICA Chattanooga at UTC is closed for summer maintenance until August 24, but add it to your itinerary if you’re hitting the road later in the season.
Another institution in the Chattanooga scene is the venerable Hunter Museum of American Art. The Hunter facilities are broken into three distinct-but-interconnected buildings from three different eras: a 1904 classical-revival mansion; a brutalist addition built in 1975; and a contemporary addition opened in 2005. The contemporary addition now houses the museum’s West Wing and entrance. I love matching contemporary art with antique objects and spaces and the Hunter embraces that aesthetic inside and out.
In Nature’s Studio: Two Centuries of American Landscape Painting is organized by the Reading Public Museum in Reading Pennsylvania, and the Hunter’s sprawling contemporary spaces make a for a fresh take on paintings from the Hudson River School to N.C Wyeth to modernist expressions of the flora and fauna of the U.S.A. The exhibition runs through September 24, but don’t miss Amy Pleasant: Passing Through before it closes on July 28. The Birmingham-based artist paints huge figurative silhouette designs on massive canvases. The Hunter has arranged Passing Through in a showstopping installation in the spiral staircase of the old mansion section of the museum, and it’s one of the best solo art displays I’ve seen this year. Various artworks and decorative objects from the Hunter’s amazing collection are on display throughout the mansion and the rest of the East Wing. Highlights include offerings from Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Charles Burchfield and Duane Hansen.
Air conditioning is one of the best reasons to be visiting summer art exhibitions in Tennessee. No shame. But if your Chattanooga visit includes a mild weather day, don’t miss Sculpture Fields – a 33 acre park that’s home to the largest outdoor sculpture collection in the Southeast. Sculpture Fields includes creations from an international roster of artists, and the more than 50 works even offer some interactive art for the kids to hang from, hide under and climb on. The park also has an slick app that can guide you through the whole exhibition from your phone. Sculpture Fields is open from 8 A.M. – 8 P.M. during the summer months, and your leashed pets are also welcome at the park. Bring your own clean-up bags or find two bag stations near the entrance. Free parking and free admission.