Nashville's Art Crawl is turning 5, and while its profound effect on the city's art scene is a given, the popping-up of a Big Apple gallery in The Gulch this month suggests that the half-decade-old happening has not only come of age, but also extended its reach well beyond the narrow strip of downtown where it first took root.
ZieherSmith is one of the top emerging galleries in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, and their booth was voted "Best of Basel" at Art Basel Miami Beach 2010. They will open a temporary pop-up gallery at the Icon building in The Gulch, with an opening party during the Art Crawl. Their BNA: Brooklyn to Nashville exhibit features a roster of happening Brooklyn artists along with Nashville's talented Caroline Allison. The hipster-ific borough hosts one of the densest concentrations of art studios in the world, and many of this exhibit's artists are making waves in the international art scene. Rachel Owens' steer skull covered in green glass will be familiar to patrons of Zeitgeist Gallery, where the piece was displayed in 2009, and Zeitgeist photographer Caroline Allison's meticulous interiors are by turns enigmatic and charming. Vadis Turner is a former Nashvillian whose latest work includes multimedia ribbon paintings on canvas. Eddie Martinez's Basquiat-inspired canvases found him named one of Interview Magazine's top 15 young artists in 2009, and Javier Piñón's gorgeous collages reference both Renaissance masters and fantasy painter Frank Frazetta. The exhibition includes nearly 20 artists in a variety of media and runs through Aug. 27.
But the larger celebration here is for the Art Crawl itself, the story of which begins with Anne Brown, a group of active citizens and some thoughtful city planners.
"We met up every week," Brown says, remembering the casual get-togethers that birthed the concept of a Fifth Avenue of the Arts. Brown was already working on creative projects in the upstairs of her popular space when she moved down to street level to "start doing projects with my friends" and improve the storefront's profile. In 1996, The Arts Company became the first gallery on the block, and Brown's pioneer spirit endures to this day.
"Our plans for the future are even more dramatic," she enthuses. "We're going to do a lot more when the convention center comes in."
Fifth Avenue of the Arts really grew into its name with the explosion of art in the Arcade. While artists had made use of Arcade spaces as studios over the years, the opening of New York transplant Daniel Lai's now-defunct Dangenart Gallery in August 2005 sparked the downtown art scene as we know it. Lai referred to the resulting Arcade phenomenon as an "art colony," and artists and galleries quickly filled every spot on the balcony floor for the first time in decades. While Arcade galleries have come and gone since that first flush, Twist Gallery was a part of the first Art Crawl. Along with co-founder Caroline Carlisle, Beth Gilmore opened Twist in 2006 while finishing her bachelor's degree at Watkins College Art, Design & Film.
"Watkins always encouraged us to get out and do something," she laughs. "Opening a gallery seemed like the perfect project."
With the addition of Jerry Dale McFadden and Susan Tinney's TAG Gallery — in the Fifth Avenue spot where Tinney now runs Tinney Contemporary — the principal players of the inaugural First Saturday Art Crawl were all in place. The decision to have a once-a-month-communal opening wasn't a deliberate choice so much as a mutual realization. They were all in the right place at the right time to create a central expression of the city's artistic identity — and the Nashville art scene has never looked back.
The reverberations of the event have inspired numerous attempts to create additional monthly arts-related events — some more successful than others — and it's become difficult to find a Nashville gallery show that hangs longer than three weeks, a breakneck pace that weighs novelty against the deep viewing that only multiple gallery visits can offer. Despite such unintended consequences, the real, true good that the Art Crawl has wrought is twofold: It has created a permanent and growing audience for art in Nashville; it has also exploded the size and diversity of our art scene to the point that even New York galleries want in on the action.
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