People rarely visit a convention center specifically to experience art. And yet conventioneers expect it. Without an art collection, a convention center can be as visually monotonous and oppressive as a vast livestock pen — and anonymous to boot, reflecting little of the host city's character, taste or personality.
For that reason, a major tenet of the Music City Center's development has been to represent and reflect Nashville's visual arts identity. Art may not be the MCC's point, but the place would be incomplete without it. That (rightly) made selecting the pieces a challenge.
When the MCC's art advisory launched a "request for proposals" in 2010, it was crucial that more than 85 percent of the artists represented be based in Davidson County. The resulting list contains more than 150 selections, and it's all the more impressive for looking beyond done-to-death Nashville tropes — the guitar, that Music City icon, doesn't pervade the collection.
These artists suggest the range of the collection's holdings — pieces that convey a sense of Nashville, as well as works that could be from Anywhere, USA, while still carrying the collection forward into the realm of good art.
Caroline Allison, Twitty City
One of a handful of photographers presented in the MCC collection, Allison possesses a distinct eye for Nashville and the surrounding region. Her aesthetic recalls the Music City of Robert Altman's 1975 Nashville, the recovering-rural bohemia of glitz and grit and glamour that Danes dream of when they say, "Oh cool, you are from Nashville? I love Gillian Welch. I want to go there!" It's the Nashville that urban planners try to summon from the city's collective memory when they consider the issue of retrofitting. Allison's investigation of the way the past exists in the present — both as a relic and a palpable setting — gets across some of the most complex aspects of Nashville as a city, an alluring yet sometimes disturbing territory where someone could get lost, if not trapped.
Sam Dunson, Ode to the First Mound
The last time I experienced mound-based art in Nashville occurred when Texas artist Trenton Doyle Hancock introduced his ambitious "Mound vs. Vegans" series in the Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination exhibit at the Frist Center in 2012. Like Hancock's, Dunson's work is character-driven and repeatedly returns to the mound. Is the mound an eyeball poking out of the earth, a void, an homage to Dr. Seuss? Is it passive or active? Here Dunson unravels a sliver of his personal history in a style that suggests a children's book. This adds a unique contribution to the collection — it represents a pictorial narrative process that rarely makes it onto the walls of a museum. Or a convention center, for that matter.
Mary Addison Hackett, Mystic Hovercraft
As a painter, Hackett is a poet. In a sense, her painting shows the collection's true scope because it does not conjure Nashville. It captures the viewer's gaze not because it depicts something local, but because the artist commands her use of color, space, the movement of lines, the expression of the composition. If this happens to be connected to a Southern landscape, then so be it; it could just as well be the Alpine foothills in 1910. This work may be inspired by a sense of place, but it is not distinctly about it. It exists on its own as the work of a painter who knows how to transfer her experience to the canvas without being too explicit.
Dane Carder, The Light of Hope
What would a Southern convention center art collection be without art that addresses the Civil War? Based on a photograph of a Battle of Shiloh re-enactment, The Light of Hope is one of the paintings from Carder's Proof of Ghosts series. What's striking is that the painter isn't a Civil War buff; he doesn't know the details behind the Battle of Crampton's Gap, or the defining characteristics of all the generals. Instead, he paints mammoth canvases of Civil War scenes to explore parallels between an event that haunts his individual existence and the way the Civil War continues to hang over the South. Evoking the process of memory, Carder demonstrates how an artist can pore over a ritualistic practice, reworking the same terrain, painting a photograph of a re-enactment of an imagined scene that defines a place.
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