One of the newer entries in Nashville’s gallery scene is Dangenart Gallery, located on the second floor of the downtown Arcade with windows overlooking Fifth Avenue North. Dangenart curator Daniel Lai moved from New Jersey to Nashville last summer expressly to open a gallery. Lai uses the Internet to solicit submissions from all over, and his exhibits reflect a network that stretches across the country.
Most of the pieces in Dangenart’s current group show fall into one of two camps—three artists are surrealists, while several others are connected by their surprising choice of materials and execution. Nothing against the first group, but the second group provides this exhibit’s showstoppers. Chief among these is Young Kim’s “Salt and Earth,” a sepia-toned portrait of an Asian woman displayed on the floor of one room in the gallery. Rather than put paint on canvas, Kim created the image with clay powder applied on a base of packed salt. A typical first reaction is disbelief that anyone could conjure an image out of such delicate and unstable stuff. In fact, the piece started to decay almost as soon as it was done—the edges of the salt base began crumbling. Over the three weeks in the gallery, moisture, air drafts, vibrations and possibly the clumsiness of viewers will eat away at this work, ephemeral by design. And like a Tibetan sand mandala, at the end of the show it will be completely obliterated. It’s not like you can move a pile of salt intact.
The woman portrayed in the work is middle-aged and has her eyes closed in a mood of repose, though death comes to mind also. Knowing that the image will fall apart makes recognition of the impermanent qualities of human life unavoidable, and the visual properties of the materials work completely in synch with these sensations. Clay powder applied to the granular salt surface appears light and slightly hazy, suggesting the figure is not firmly tied to the corporeal world.
In addition to this quasi-ritualistic exercise, several other pieces lead with their craftsmanship. Zane Pappas covered two long silk scrolls with fine, interlocking geometric patterns in violet and blue-green ink. When you look closer, you see that every line is in fact handwriting, done in an improbably even script of uniform size and tracing out perfect curves and straight lines. The text is impossible to follow—the scrolls run the entire height of the gallery walls, and the lines intersect in ways that provide no obvious starting point or order. The words end up as a completely cryptic message. Fastidious craft also marks Judith Braun’s graphite drawings. She lays down extremely simple patterns in dashed lines, but subtly lightens the line weights at the tops and bottoms of the forms to give them a slight curve, like a musician shaping a held note.
While not part of the group show, curator Lai’s own portraits and abstractions offer their own technical surprises. He creates images by burning canvas with a Zippo candle lighter, a soldering iron and a heated butter knife. As in the work of Richard Painter, who shows at Zeitgeist, making an image with fire seems like a feat of amazing technical control. Lai’s portraits in particular have an appealing intensity. A portrayal of early 20th century artist Amedeo Modigliani looks like a wild man with his face covered in bees.
Currently, in major art centers like New York, there is an emphasis on technical extremes, encompassing surprising manipulations of unlikely materials, bravura displays of draftsmanship and obsessive details. Under Daniel Lai’s curating, Dangenart tunes into that ethos and looks like it will consistently bring in au courant works with the capacity to amaze.