If one measure of success in any business is more startups than closings, then 2001 was a very good year for Nashville’s visual arts enterprises. While the city lost a commercial art gallery when Outside the Lines closed in Hillsboro Village, it gained the Frist Center for the Visual Arts downtown, Premiere Art Décor and Design near Music Row, Madison Arts Center in Madison and Plowhaus in East Nashville. But these new spaces didn’t just bring more art to Nashville; they each brought a different sort of art experience to the city as well. With the Frist, the city finally had a flagship for the visual artsand a venue capable of presenting world-class touring exhibitions. The center’s debut season included such highlights as “Modernism and Abstraction: Treasures From the Smithsonian American Art Museum” and “European Masterworks: Paintings From the Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario.” Just as impressive was its schedule of educational outreach programs and free lectures by nationally known artists such as Petah Coyne and Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Premiere Art Décor, a commercial gallery devoted primarily to works by African American artists, created a welcome art outpost in the Music Row Roundabout area where collectors like Titan Eddie George can find the latest works of Marvin Posey and other too rarely exhibited artists. Madison Arts Center introduced the idea of a multiuse art space to the Madison community with exhibits, classroom space and a retail shop, all housed in a renovated former movie theater. Plowhaus, Nashville’s newest gallery, is an artists’ co-op in East Nashville featuring works by members Sheila B., Stephanie Cook, owner Franne Lee, Jennifer Quigley, Scene photographer Eric England and others.
With a friendly competitive nod to the Frist, Nashville’s established art spaces presented an impressive slate of shows in 2001. The highlight at Cheekwood Museum of Art was a touring exhibit of works by the 1930s photojournalist Weegee. Coincidentally, a highlight of the museum’s 2002 season is a touring photography exhibition filled with works by the top photographers of the 20th century.
The Parthenon finally completed a decade-long renovation last year, and the scaffolding came down just in time for a New Year’s Eve celebration. Despite the exterior renovation project, the museum maintained a full schedule of changing art exhibits in its downstairs galleries. Highlights in 2001 ranged from a Nashville Artists Guild 50-year retrospective to a showing of rare prints by French artist Paul Jacoulet. Nashville’s university galleriesVanderbilt’s Fine Art Gallery and Sarratt Gallery, Belmont’s Leu Gallery and Fisk’s Van Vechten Galleryalso continued to offer challenging art exhibitions.
Tennessee State Museum had a good art year as well, ending on a high note with its “Best of Tennessee” juried exhibition of works by artists from across the state. Unfortunately, art lovers can’t expect more of the same in 2002, since the museum isn’t mounting any exhibits at all this year. That’s because its changing exhibit space is being impacted by the renovation of the TPAC building, where it resides. The museum does intend, however, to keep its permanent historical displays open to visitors. Its next new show, opening in early 2003, will be “Buffalo Soldiers,” a touring exhibition exploring the history of African American soldiers in the 19th century American West.
Nashville’s retail galleries continued to refine their respective niches in 2001. Cumberland Gallery still sets the standard for exhibiting national-level contemporary artists. The Fugitive Art Center and ruby green contemporary arts foundation have emerged as the places to go for installation art, performance art, conceptual art and 1960s-style art happenings. For outsider art, the best bet is The Attic Gallery or The Arts Company, the latter of which is also known for photography and for works by contemporary trained artists. Art lovers know they can find traditional regional art at Bennett Galleries, classic American art at Williams American Art Galleries and the best of fine art crafts from around the country at American Artisan. Likewise, Finer Things Gallery has become known for its annual outdoor sculpture show and indoor fine art furniture exhibits, Zeitgeist for work by emerging contemporary artists, and Auld Alliance Gallery, Local Color Gallery and Midtown Gallery for regional artists working in traditional styles. In the Gallery, meanwhile, regularly showcases the photography of owner Carlton Wilkinson and other African American artists.
If 2001 was a banner year for the visual arts in Nashville, the challenge for galleries and museums in 2002 may be to resist the desire to rest on their laurels. The bar has been setnow it’s up to every offbeat art space, well-heeled gallery, nonprofit museum and university art venue to raise it.
Walton Goggins for Fox. Claire Danes, if you squint, for Barry.
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