Movements: Conceptual Art by Adrienne Outlaw
Through July 31 at Cheekwood
9 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.
For information, call 343-2130
Adrienne Outlaw is a familiar name to Nashvillians for several reasons. She has written about the visual arts for InReview and WPLN. Showing her own work in regional and national exhibitions, she is also well-known around here as an artist. Recently, she received commissions to create art for the Sarratt Gallery at Vanderbilt and for the new public library when it opens in 2001. And she has a memorable name that any rock ’n’ roller would envy.
Outlaw grew up in Nashville, attended Harding Academy and Franklin Road Academy, and moved to Chicago in the late 1980s. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the Art Institute of Chicago, she returned to Nashville three years ago. She serves on the board of the Visual Arts Alliance of Nashville and teaches with the Nashville Institute for the Arts.
Her current exhibition, the latest in Cheekwood’s Temporary Contemporary series, is entitled “Movements.” Outlaw says she came up with the name because she wanted to show how her art has evolved over the past eight years while consistently employing the same sorts of objectssoft materials such as fabrics, fur, and string, which are frequently pierced by pins and nails. She declares that the various materials “reference hand work, domesticity, and the female voice.”
But with their aggressive juxtaposition of contrasting materials, Outlaw’s pieces just as easily inspire associations with African and Polynesian fetishes and masksthose troubling, mesmerizing faces so punctured they make your average teenage Goth look as white-bread as a Mormon missionary. In other words, her work is nicely disturbing. But then, there’s a great deal that’s disturbing about domesticity and the traditional roles of women.
For example, straight pins are often used in the creation of a woman’s dress. But what about their role in Outlaw’s 1993 work “Exhaustion”? A white dress sits in a weary but bodiless pose on the floor, with hundreds of straight pins sticking through from the outside and riddling the interior like a sewing-box version of an Iron Maiden. Looking at it, the happier side of domesticity does not come immediately to mind.
To create her hollow, body-shaped clothing, Outlaw employs a strong glue to mold the sculptures into shape. A video playing in the reception area across the courtyard explains the method. But the point here is the result: ghostly figures, all of them white. Most prominent among these is a series of several figures suspended from hangers as if marching in single file, their frozen gestures representing another meaning in the show’s title and bringing to mind the invisible man.
Although this ghostly parade dominates the intimate gallery space, most of the works are of a different sort, less mysterious but more provocative. Consider the recent “Sacrifice,” which hangs to great effect on the wall opposite the gallery’s entrance. It consists of a cross made of downy sheepskin and thousands of straight pinsa typically provocative Outlaw combination. From across the room the pins blur into another, straighter layer of fur, like the bristles on a boar’s back. Yet up close the contrast between the two textures is jarring and even violent, as a cross should be. The images that come to mind are of pain and suffering.
I thought of pain again while viewing “Escape,” a 1997 piece that consists of a ragged patchwork quilt atop a bed-like frame. Piercing the quilt from underneath are hundreds of nails projecting straight up and outlining the bare silhouette of a small human figure lying on its side. This work, too, disturbs in a satisfying way. No item could be more mundane than a bed, none more domestic than a quilt. But the vague childlike figure is lying upon, or at least amid, a bed of nailsan image that invokes not just a torturous proof of endurance, but also a metaphor for extreme suffering.
Incidentally, it’s always interesting to consider the titles that artists choose for their work. They can be redundant, obvious, ironic, pretentious. In Outlaw’s case, they’re usually provocative, frequently contrasting with the work rather than describing it. (Contrast is the essence of her approach, so that makes sense.) But why “Escape”? Escape from the chains of traditional domesticity? Is there escape from such a scenario as a bed of nails brings to mind?
Most of Cheekwood’s recent “Temporary Contemporary” shows have been interesting at the very leastin contrast with some of the museum’s tedious installations, such as a yawn-inducing roomful of baby shoes. But in its wit and sincerity, Outlaw’s show is provocative and troubling and satisfying all at once.
However Outlaw intends to represent such things as domesticity and the feminine voicewhether such a manifesto is a crucial part of her thinking, or merely an afterthought that sounded good on the artist’s statementdoesn’t really matter. As always, all that matters is the art. And there is no doubt that these odd works are pronounced firmly in Outlaw’s personal artistic voice.
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I always read your column BEFORE I watch the show anymore. It's better that way.
What's the other review you read?
This was the worse review I've ever read. Maybe you should quit this career path…