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The beginner's guide to art openings

The beginner's guide to art openings

I don't know that much about contemporary art, but that doesn't stop me from attending local gallery openings and art events—nor should it. A good gallery opening has the spirited energy of a lively cocktail party, and the people-watching is always as engaging as the exhibits (sometimes more so). Some local gallery patrons have picked up on the fact that receptions are the perfect way to get their fill of hors d'oeuvres and cheap wine or beer. So if you're an art scene novice, take comfort in the free booze and potential for quality mingling. Thanks in part to a continually growing community of art professors and students—in programs at Belmont, MTSU, Vandy and Watkins College of Art & Design—the local art scene attracts a multi-culti crowd of indie boys and alterna-babes, prospective collectors, calculatingly disheveled trustafarians and authentically struggling bust-funders. Go to an art opening in this town, and there's a good chance you might run into scruffy punks barely out of their teens standing next to well-heeled, middle-aged academics.

And yet people continue to be intimidated by the local art scene, assuming it to be cliquish and snooty. Allow me to allay your fears. Sure, you may run into a few beleaguered, "artier than thou" beatniks, but know that Nashville's galleries, studio spaces and artist organizations (such as the open-membership group Untitled) make an effort to be friendly and accessible. Julie and Jerry Dale McFadden, owners of TAG Art Gallery, curate their shows with the budding collector in mind. During events at their Hillsboro Village gallery, helpful staff members wear cheery, "Hi, I work here!" badges. Prices are affordable, the atmosphere is cordial and the art is edifying.

This weekend I attended distinctive shows at Ruby Green, TAG and Zeitgeist. Some girlfriends asked me, "What do you wear to these things?" Normally, I wear whatever strikes my fancy, but this Saturday I was en route to the Tennessee Waltz—an über-elegant benefit for the Tennessee State Museum—and was thus swaddled in a long evening gown. No one batted an eye. Art is about expression, so go ahead and dress as you please.

The less you know about art, the easier it may be simply to enjoy it. Two weeks ago, I went to the Fugitive Art Center's fifth anniversary show, which featured works in a variety of media. Intrigued by a multimedia installation that involved projecting video onto a milky glass ball, I mumbled, "Interesting." That prompted a nearby onlooker to respond, "Well, Tony Oursler does this much better." Oh?

OK, so I didn't know that Tony Oursler is one of the country's leading video artists, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the artwork. Most art spaces recognize that viewers need a little context for what they're seeing: Fugitive and TAG leave out artist bios for people to look at, and last Saturday, Ruby Green hosted a talk by its featured artist, Adrian Göllner, who helped visitors get a better feel for the sly, satirical commentary in his artwork.

All that said, sometimes an art opening is really just about the chance to get out and be around interesting people. And it's probably worth pointing out that noncommercial and alternative spaces are likely to have wilder parties. Soon after I left the Fugitive's opening, it turns out that some fellow kept pulling down his trousers and tackling another gallery-goer in some sort of strange, homoerotic ritual. Maybe he was offering his own impromptu performance art. More likely, he'd taken unfair advantage of the free beer.

It's easy to get invited to these events. Simply stop by, call or e-mail the galleries and ask to be put on their mailing list; also, the Scene's art listings offer a comprehensive list of happenings each week. There will be a host of art events this spring and summer and plenty of opportunities to see something different besides the inside of a bar. Get a start this weekend, when Rumours Gallery on 12th Avenue South hosts an opening reception for Seth Conley. At worst, you'll sip some wine, meet some funky peeps and experience a bit of culture.

—By Amy Waddell

To report about arty openings, etc., e-mail Amy at


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