All in One Place 

The Frist Center’s spring exhibits cover a lot of territory, all worth a look

The Frist Center’s spring exhibits cover a lot of territory, all worth a look

Frist Center for the Visual Arts

919 Broadway. 244-3340

Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., open until 8 p.m. Thurs.; 1-5 p.m. Sun.

One of my fondest memories of living in Manhattan during the 1970s is of spending Sundays at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. No matter how often I went, there always seemed to be something new to see among the Met’s permanent collections and changing exhibits. I was reminded again of those big-city art afternoons when I spent a Sunday catching up on the new shows at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. While our own art center may not have the vast resources of larger, older art spaces, the Frist’s current shows offer the kind of quality and variety that kept me going back to the Met every week.

The centerpiece of the Frist’s spring shows is “Reflections in Black: Smithsonian African American Photography,” on view in the main gallery through April 20. The exhibit, which was profiled in the Jan. 30 Scene, features 300 images by 120 photographers that illustrate stylistic changes and technical advances in photography since the invention of the art form in 1839. Just as importantly, the chronologically organized works trace the black experience from slavery through the civil rights era to the present day. It is a show of staggering impact, in which images of lyrical beauty alternate with ones of raw power.

Nashville artist Carlton Wilkinson is one of the contemporary photographers featured in the show, and he’ll discuss his work 6 p.m. March 20 at the Frist. He’ll explain how his photographs of black males relate to ideas of gender, race, spirituality and African heritage. Wilkinson also plans to talk about his struggle as a photographer to break free of the legacy of Robert Mapplethorpe, whose photographs helped to define the black male image in the 1980s and ’90s.

Perhaps because most of the images in the Smithsonian photography show are black-and-white, the wildly colorful “Fantastic Patterns” installation in the Frist’s Contemporary Artists Project Gallery is all the more effective. New York artist Liz Whitney Quisgard uses hundreds of thousands of dots of color to create curving, swirling patterns that define staircases, vaulted ceilings, arched windows and fluted columns in paintings, sculptures and wall hangings. Showing through April 20, Quisgard’s works create an environment that references everything from Byzantine palaces, Islamic mosques and African textiles to pointillism and American quilts. Her painted column sculptures and woven wall hangings in the gallery’s first room suggest an exotic bazaar; large-scale paintings fill the second room with elaborate, mosaic-like patterns that seduce the eye with optical illusions of space. Stairs really do seem to lead upward and inward in these paintings, while the ceilings soar and the windows suggest the reality of a world beyond these architectural interiors. And the dots of pink, purple and gold shimmer, merge, separate and then merge again as the viewer focuses on the works from different vantage points.

In the upstairs gallery, “Real Illusions” explores trends in local art collecting. The show features 64 works drawn from private and public art collections in Nashville, with a focus on contemporary realist and narrative art. The show is especially strong in photorealist works, foremost among them Duane Hanson’s 1975 sculpture “Cement Worker,” which looks like it just stepped off the job site. Looks are deceptive, though: The burly life-sized workman is cast in polyester resin and fiberglass, then painted. Since the artist also uses real clothing and props in his sculptures, it’s impossible to tell just from looking whether the cement-stained boots, brown lunch sack and torn T-shirt are the genuine articles or not.

Other works aren’t quite as literalistic. Nashville painter Robert Durham’s “Waltz Across Texas” gives us just a few elements—a sad-faced woman in a red party dress, a discarded pair of cowboy boots and an open umbrella—with which to construct our own narrative. Another Nashville artist, Marilyn Murphy, offers an unfinished mystery in “Ranch Twister,” a graphite drawing of a cowgirl in full rodeo regalia on her trusted steed, facing off with a tornado on the open plain. Works by Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and other internationally known artists are also included in the show, which is on view through June 22.

Finally, “Women Beyond Borders” in the Frist’s foyer gallery features objects from all over the world, commissioned and collected as part of an ongoing project by California artist Lorraine Serena. In 1991, Serena founded “Women Beyond Borders” as a means of connecting women artists around the world. The connection comes in the form of identical wooden boxes that Serena sends to artists and curators, who are asked to find women in their own countries to create a work out of this simple raw material. Since its inception, the project has involved 500 artists, curators, critics and sponsors in 36 countries.

Well-known local artists Adrienne Outlaw, Carrie McGee, Kit Reuther, Jane Braddock and Sylvia Hyman are among those with boxes on display at the Frist. Young girls in Nashville’s Rites of Passage and Hermanitas Girl Scout programs have also created boxes for the show. The dozens of tiny works run the gamut from one covered entirely with mirror shards (from a Los Angeles woman commenting on her hometown’s preoccupation with appearances) to Kenyan artist Kabura Simpiri’s box painted with elegant figures in tribal attire. The show is on view through June 11.

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