Many comparisons were drawn between 30 Americans, the exhibit of contemporary African-American art that closed earlier this month in the ground-floor galleries at the Frist, and Norman Rockwell's America, which still occupies the museum's upstairs galleries. But the Rockwell exhibit, with its comprehensive scope and ephemera-studded supplements — e.g., a room plastered floor to ceiling with Saturday Evening Post covers — may have more in common with the three history-leaning exhibitions that will open there on Friday.
Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan explores the influence Japan had on Western art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During that time, Japan opened up its ports to Western trade for the first time in centuries, allowing a wave of Japanese exports to arrive on European and American shores. That cultural exchange prompted some of the greatest artists of the period to adopt an Eastern-influenced aesthetic, among them Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and Edvard Munch — all of whom have work on display in the Looking East exhibit. Looking East will show at the Frist before it travels to Japan, Canada and San Francisco, and is drawn entirely from the collection of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.
Another Western artist directly influenced by Japan was architect Frank Lloyd Wright. But the Frist Center's Education Gallery exhibit of his work flows in the opposite direction as Looking East. In 1915, Japan's Imperial household commissioned Wright to build a Western-style hotel in the heart of Tokyo called the Imperial Hotel. The Frist's Building the Imperial Hotel features architectural drawings, photographs, ephemera and a digital rendering of the hotel created by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design — making the exhibit something of a one-artist distillation of the way Eastern and Western aesthetics melded during the period.
In the contemporary art galleries in the back of the space, Nashville-based artist and Zeitgeist gallery director Lain York will show a new series of his work. Cleverly (or confusingly, depending on your perspective) titled Selections From the National Gallery, York's exhibit is a tribute to John Adams, the second American president. But don't expect staid portraits of the founding father in York's tribute. York may have been inspired by American political history books — his artist's statement name-checks David McCullough's biography of Adams as well as Doris Kearns Goodwin's epic Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln — but the brightly colored silhouettes and gritty assemblage of stick-on vinyl and correction tape are much more the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" than "Hail to the Chief."
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