Regional Update: Memphis


A spartan, one story, open plan office building out east was retrofit through November 12 with a selection of art that belies typical 9 to 5 workspace eye candy. This is due to the space being the hub of ArtsMemphis, the area’s leading arts fundraising organization (its spokes, the variety of arts communities citywide it supports). The particular art came by way of TOPS Gallery, on view with the purpose “to bring TOPS’ affiliated artists to ArtsMemphis’ friends and donors”.

The TOPS Gallery experience itself is something all together different. Downtown, in the South Main Arts District, on the adjacent Front Street, TOPS is marked with a sign bearing its name in white neon. Upon entering you go down, not up, and pass through a stained glass workshop before the gallery reveals itself to you: a reclaimed coal processing area, with paintings by Jered Sprecher (represented in the ArtsMemphis show) on view until December 7.

On South Main, a series of eight art installations sponsored by the Downtown Memphis Commission were made public on October 3. The “Mosaic Artwalk” includes a baby grand street piano, painted and placed by artist Nick Pena (Razzle Dazzle ‘Em Piano); a site-specific window display (Strictly Moral); a collaboration between two artists with railroad work heritage (Train Mural); and Jay, a painted portrait of the late Jay Reatard by artist Lance Turner that only comes into focus if you view it at an angle–head on, it’s random, pixelated, grayscale. This is a modern take on an old painting technique known as perspectival anamorphosis. Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadorsin which a skull reveals itself in side view, is the classic example.

It’s all in where you are sitting. Perspective and positioning seem to be running themes when we talk about the arts and arts development inside the 901 area code. From ArtsMemphis hosting TOPS Gallery artists, to a recent discussion at Hattiloo Theatre billed as “Where’s Memphis’ Harlem?” in which Hattiloo Theatre founder Ekundayo Bandele and Eric Robertson, president of the neighborhood revitalization intermediary Community LIFT, discussed the future of Black Creative Arts Districts in Memphis.

Although over, it would be remiss to not mention two recent exhibitions of artwork by Edward Perry, organized by Memphis College of Art, and held simultaneously at the Hyde Gallery and Rust Hall Alumni Gallery. Edward Perry, now deceased, lived in Memphis from 1967 to 1972, and studied at Memphis Academy of Art (now Memphis College of Art) where he received a BFA in painting, and Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College), where he took several classes in physics. From there he participated in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Visual Studies program, worked under Dr. Leon Goldman, the pioneer of laser medicine, and shared a communal workspace with artists Rockne Krebs and Sam Gilliam throughout the 1970s. But it was a body of work he created in solitary, in his parent’s barn and then his own Stephensport, Kentucky residence, that brought Edward Perry, the artist, back to Memphis, perhaps now as a legend. As described by Ellen Daugherty, Associate Professor of Art History and Chair of Liberal Arts at the Memphis College of Art, “a remarkable, unnamed group of constructed artworks that play with the traditional boundaries between painting and sculpture, two- and three- dimensionality, and “high” art and “folk” craft, luxury materials and detritus, abstraction and figuration, solids and voids, and the image on a canvas and its surrounding frame.” It was a gift that these works grace Memphis, if only for so long, and one can only hope to see them on view again soon.