ADGFAD: Contemporary Graphic Arts from the Graphic Designers, Art Directors, and Illustrators Association of Spain
Through Aug. 20 at Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery, 23rd and West End aves.
Summer at the Cumberland: A Group Show of Gallery Artists
Through Sept. 11 at Cumberland Gallery, 4107 Hillsboro Circle
During the summer, activity in the local arts scene tends to slow down. In the case of Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery, it’s because school is out for the semester, and the whole campus becomes fairly deserted. Hence the need to find a colorful, breezy show that’ll attract Nashvillians looking for a place to retreat from the heat. Curator Joseph Mella has found a suitable exhibit with a show of posters and prints from halfway across the world and from right here at home.
This isn’t the Vanderbilt gallery’s most exciting or original show, but it has its own quiet merits. The front half of exhibit space features recently donated posters from ADGFAD, the Graphic Designers, Art Directors, and Illustrators Association of Spain. When the organization was founded in 1961, the charter members vowed to promote artistic integrity and originality in graphic design.
The posters, which were intended to promote ADGFAD’s annual design competition, are well-conceived and nicely printed, but they’re seldom exciting. They cover the spectrum of modern art design, from cartoonish drawings to a neon-streaked photo of a speeding car. One nice example is Josep M. Mir’s and Joaquim Nolla’s adaptation of a 1933 cover painting for Wonder Stories Quarterly by classic science fiction artist Frank R. Paul. The campiness of early science fiction is used to good effect here.
In the back of the gallery, to complement the Spanish collection, is a mini-show of 20 recent posters by Nashville’s own Hatch Show Print, the oldest continually operating letterpress printing shop in the country. The prints are still produced the same beautifully simple way they were when the Hatch family founded the business over a century ago: Carved wooden blocks are inked and then pressed to paper.
Showy and dramatic in a pointedly old-fashioned way, posters for the likes of the Blue Heelers and Bob Dylan represent a venerable tradition. The show links these newer pieces with Hatch’s past by including a reprint of a poster the company did in 1879the year of its foundingfor a lecture tour by Henry Ward Beecher. By the 1920s, Hatch had become the premier vehicle for entertainment promotion in the South, turning out colorful advertisements for the Grand Ole Opry, tent shows, vaudeville, and Negro League baseball.
Amusingly, the gallery’s only permanent resident, Giovacchino Fortini’s marble bust of the Grand Dauphin of France, broods over these resolutely populist Hatch prints, which shout their commercial messages around him. His patrician nose seems to quiver with scorna reminder of the revolutionary effect that printing had on the visual arts. From Thomas Rowland’s satirical moralizing to Honoré Daumier’s sophisticated editorial cartoons to George Grosz’s mocking jibes at Nazis, printing in all its forms democratized the visual arts. Although with lesser lights than these famous names, the current show at Vanderbilt celebrates a noble history, paying tribute to two small corners of the vast world of printed art.
At Cumberland Gallery, summer means the opportunity to spotlight a variety of artists. ”This is an overview of what Cumberland Gallery is all about,“ owner Carol Stein says of her summer show. One room of the gallery’s three changes each week, so that the entire exhibit changes every three weeks. ”We get everybody who’s represented by the gallery up at some point during the summer,“ Stein adds.
This inclusiveness offers a second glimpse at artists featured in recent shows, but it also provides a chance to see new work by artists only recently represented in Nashville, or sometimes young artists just starting out. More than 50 regional and national artists are included.
Currently hanging on the gallery’s farthest downstairs wall is ”Dreamland,“ a large, colorful painting by Leonard Koscianski. This painting alone is worth paying a visit to the show: A gigantic golden fish almost leaps off the canvas, its teeth about to close on a dragonfly cleverly painted with a stop-action view of its frantic wings in several positions. The water, the exotic variegated lilies nearby, the shoreline, and the ominous sky all glow with luminous hues, yet they’re woven together by the painter’s sense of composition and draftsmanship, both of which are as sure as his eye for color. While some artists tend to engage in bebop noodling, Koscianski always orchestrates an opera of color and passion. It’s melodramatic, but then, most of the great emotions in life are melodramatic.
Nicely paired with Koscianski’s work is Nashville artist Marilyn Murphy’s large painting ”Night Winds Over Tulsa.“ A Hollywood producer might describe the noirishly lighted nighttime scene as ”Raymond Chandler meets the Twilight Zone.“ In a typically surreal flourish, a cascade of paper falls out of the dark sky. Always elegant and always well executed, Murphy’s cool drawings and paintings don’t necessarily quiver with passion, and any of her work is bound to look subdued compared to Leonard Koscianski’s. However, this image of a strangely illuminated house with no human beings in sight achieves an appealing loneliness.
California artist Bob Durham offers the show’s second most eye-catching contribution with his clever and lushly painted ”What the Doctor Ordered.“ A jointed wooden marionette sits upright like a child on a one-armed hospital table, and a primitive mask with a crown of skulls hangs on the wall. The colors glow, especially in the shadowing, and the varied textures are lovingly captured. The painter conveys an overall sly wit that’s at once hip and charming.
Gallery-goers familiar with the local scene will welcome a chance to see works by their favorite artists. The always inventive and witty Barry Buxkamper is represented by two pieces (three if you count the one in the bathroom, and you should). In his half-painting/half-sculpture ”Paradise Wrecked,“ a reworked Ken and Barbie are cast as Adam and Eve in a satirical take on the human tendency to foul one’s own nest. It’s an easy target, but Buxkamper’s wit and technique make it work.
These strong examples will only be up for a few weeks, but they represent an auspicious beginning for Cumberland Gallery’s summer smorgasbord. Stop in every so often, and you’ll encounter new surprises each time.
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