I don't know anything about art. I know the names of all of the famous painters, and even some of those not-so-famous. I have a list of artists I admire and those I consider a waste of canvas space. I like Van Gogh, but if I were to write a paper on his famous sunflowers, the crux of my argument would be that they are pretty. In short, I will never be able to impress art history professors, or even the cashiers at the Frist Center's gift shop.
And yet, I like art. I like to visit museums and galleries, walk slowly by the white walls lined with paintings, and pick out something new, something I haven't seen before, something that makes me think. Most of my artistic experiences take place within hushed galleries and exhibits of painting after painting by the same few artists. Claude Monet may be one of the best painters to ever live, but after five or six pictures of haystacks, even he gets a little tiresome. That's why, when invited to the Untitled Artists' Show last Friday at Plowhaus, I readily accepted. A show in which each artist displays only one work will always prove interesting. What's more, Untitled shows are unjuried; if you have a piece of art, you can hang it in the show. It's as simple as that. There are very few art shows that would have me as a member, and unlike Groucho, I have no problem with the ones that do.
Plowhaus is a small venue made even smaller by the division of rooms. Hundreds of people poured into the crude East Nashville building with a cracked front door held together with tape. They crammed into corners and lingered in doorways, making it difficult to see parts of the exhibit. The art itself was all over the placea beautiful watercolor painting of a woman, each strand of hair meticulously arranged, hung next to a stenciled image of George W. Bush surrounded by flames and plastic army men. But that's what makes the event so unique. The art didn't match. It wasn't a cohesive exhibit like the ones found in museums or established galleries, but who said art was supposed to match? How many haystacks can one person care about anyway?
While at the art show, I noticed something. Untitled artists are loud. They don't stand in front of their works wearing berets and musing over the philosophical significance of the color blue. They grab a beer, check out the artwork and then grab another beer. For the established members of the art community, Untitled shows are a chance to relax and have fun. Here, artists can say whatever they like with their workhang an unfinished painting for feedback, try a medium that they usually ignorefree of the usual disparagement artists impose upon each other.
As is the case with any collection of creativitybe it fine art, literature or musicthe Untitled Show had a few pieces of, well, crap. One would-be artist glued slices of wine corks onto a FedEx package. Another used a blunt pencil to drow something I could have made in first grade. With my left hand. But the good drastically outweighed the bad at this show, more so than ever before. An art deco mirror surrounded by alternating colors of glass; a black and white image of cracked skin on a woman's breast and thigh; and a simple, stark photograph of a young woman sitting in a chair highlighted the exhibit. Franne Lee, owner of Plowhaus, displayed It's Superman!, a Mexican calacas doll and shadow box shrine to Christopher Reeve. Mike Bielaczyc, a Watkins student, put up a painting reminiscent of Darren Waterstone, whose works the Frist exhibited last spring. His brother, Paul, sold a surreal charcoal drawing of floating hands.
And of course, two other Watkins students, Elvan Penny and Scott Phelps, showed their emotionally draining, so-controversial-it-hurts film, Fearful Symmetry, about the terrorist beheading of Eugene Armstrong. If Superman dolls and authentic footage of beheadings don't explain the degree of eclecticism at an Untitled show, or respectable art in general, I don't know what can. At the end of the night, I came away from the show full of cheap alcohol and a greater sense of Nashville's art community. Which, I'm happy to say, does not involve haystacks.