Skinned: Sculptures by Greg Pond
Through July 10 at Ruby Green, 514 Fifth Ave. S.
Noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.; 1-4 p.m. Sun.
Opening reception 6-9 p.m. May 21
For more information, call 244-7179
Think back to art class, and you’ll recall that red and green are complementary colors, perceived by the eye as completing or enhancing one another. Even those who never dabbled in art past their crayon days notice every December how good red and green look together. While Chris Campbell and Richard Reesman, cofounders of Ruby Green, chose the colorful name for its harmonious implications, the art at the nonprofit space is meant to provoke rather than placate the viewer. “You can count on seeing contemporary, progressive art by trained artists here,” Campbell says. “We show art you can talk about.”
If the gallery’s March debut show of shimmering metal sculptures by Pidge Cash generated conversation, the second exhibit, featuring works by Nashville artist Greg Pond, should cause even livelier debate. Pond combines animal hides with machinery to create works that suggest an absurd and disturbing collision of the natural world and the man-made one. Metal pieces, electric cords, and working motors replace the bony skeletons that once supported the animal skins. In some pieces, the motors create vibrations and movement, giving the sculptures an unnatural sense of life. Two works even seem to be intent on destroying Pond’s freakish life forms, as the hides are slowly torn apart by the machines to which they’re attached. There’s also a full-size motorcycle encased in hide and suspended, meat-packing-house-style, from the ceiling.
“The animal hides are a real attention-grabber, and their contrast with the machine elements creates a reaction in the viewer,” says Pond, who moved to Nashville last October. The most common reaction, he says, is laughter, followed by confusion about why one finds skin-covered machinery funny. “It’s the confusion that I’m after,” Pond says. “I’m interested in how we as human beings fit into the natural world and what our relationship is to it.”
Pond is originally from Oregon, and many of the hides, which range from deer and cow to buffalo and elk, come from his contacts in the Pacific Northwest. “I get them from hunters I know and from contacts in the cattle industry. Some of them were shot by my father, and I ate the meat, so I have a very personal connection with the material,” he says.
Pond met Campbell and Reesman, both artists themselves, through untitled, a group of visual artists who stage art shows in non-gallery spaces around town. Campbell is the current president of untitled, though the group is not connected with Ruby Green. “Richard and I realized that the one thing that held untitled back was the lack of a permanent space,” she says of the pair’s decision to open the new gallery.
When Campbell was looking for affordable space for the nonprofit gallery, she recalled a small, red brick building on Fifth Avenue between Peabody and Lea streets. At one time, the structure, with its rough cinder block interior and exposed pipes and wiring, had been used as studio space by as many as a dozen visual artists, including Campbell. The building’s landlord, Fred Allen (who also owns American Fire and Safety Equipment next door), was still interested in seeing the space used by artists, but in a more organized fashion. Campbell and Reesman paid for the build-out that added finished interior walls and ceilings, as well as upgraded wiring and plumbing. The result is the pristine white-box setting essential to displaying contemporary artespecially the sizable floor pieces included in Pond’s show.
To the south of Ruby Green on Fifth Avenue are Tuck Hinton Architects and the new headquarters for ArtSynergy. A few blocks to the north are the Nashville Arena and the future site of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Across Broadway are more arts venues, including the Ryman Auditorium, Downtown Presbyterian Church, the Arts Company, the Tennessee State Museum, and TPAC. “We’re setting ourselves up to be in a real good place,” Campbell says of the street that many hope will emerge as a full-fledged arts district in a few years. Right now, obstacles facing the “Fifth Avenue of the Arts,” as the street is being promoted, include a perceived inaccessibilityit runs one way into downtownand the growing number of pornography shops along its southern tip.
Already, that’s starting to change, thanks to some collaborative efforts among Fifth Avenue’s creative denizens. Along with other arts groups located on the street, Ruby Green participates in the Sunday Arts Matinees held the third Sunday of each month. As part of the June 20 matinee, the gallery is hosting “ParkNArt,” an outdoor art show that will feature works by local artists and music by the Canebrake Quartet. Campbell sees such special-events programming as essential to the gallery’s success. “We also offer open figure-drawing sessions, and we’re planning workshops on paper-making, mold-making, and other skills,” she says. “We also have a lecture series on topics that are useful to artists, like taxes and the IRS, and how to approach galleries and talk to the media.”
Still, the heart of Ruby Green is art that inspires dialogue, and Campbell says she and Reesman have had no problem lining up such shows. While the first two exhibits have focused on three-dimensional works, the summer show will feature the paintings of Michael Nott and Gregori Maiofis. An exhibit of paintings by Cheryl Pfeiffer will open the fall season. A special “Millennium Show” in November and December will take a look at U.S. presidents of the 20th century through editorial cartoons.
While most galleries change exhibits every six weeks, Ruby Green shows are up for eight weeks, which Campbell says appeals to many artists. “We’re booked with shows through the fall of 2000,” she says. For such a new exhibit space, that sounds like an auspicious beginning indeed.
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