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Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined the five stages of grief in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In his exhibition Mausoleum at Electric Shed, Nashville-based artist Andrés Bustamante offers alternatives: silence, contemplation, remembrance, community and beauty. The display of sculptures and installation art was inspired by the death of Bustamante’s father in 2020, but viewers might also read the exhibition as a response to the lethal pandemic, or even the deadly 2020 tornado that our city is still recovering from.

Mausoleum features Bustamante’s abstract acrylic plastic sculptures as well as a graveyard-like installation of soil and rocks in the middle of the utility shed in the backyard of artist David Onri Anderson’s house in South Nashville. Bustamante displays his colorful plastic forms as wall sculptures inside the shed, and as tombstone-like works balanced on wooden forms scattered in the grass outside. This inventive organizing — bringing the outside inside and the inside outside — is emblematic of the artist’s tireless reimagining of the possibilities of materials and space.  

Just a few years ago, Bustamante was making street-art-inspired spray-painted works on panels and stretched canvases. Many of these colorful pieces were pleasant enough, but not particularly unique or remarkable. Then, in 2019, the artist made a huge leap forward, painting raw, unstretched canvases with black-light and fluorescent paints before folding and draping them into abstract shapes and mounting them like wall sculptures. The artist’s Birth. Death. Rebirth display at the Rockwall Gallery at Houston Station in July 2019 was a surreal and deeply affecting affair. His follow-up exhibition at Open Gallery that November marked the debut of his acrylic sculptures, which read like the 2.0 version of the unstretched canvas pieces. After installing his show in Anderson’s shed last month, Bustamante packed his car with additional sculptures and headed to Art Miami to show his work at Red Dot Art Fair. We expect young artists to grow and develop, but Bustamante’s creative and career evolution has been nothing short of relentless.  

The titles of Bustamante’s exhibitions —  Birth. Death. Rebirth and Mausoleum — might lead viewers to think the artist’s work is morbid or overly preoccupied with dark themes. In fact, Bustamante’s paintings, sculptures and installations are better understood as spiritual explorations that reflect the artist’s personal interest in expanded consciousness: The Rockwall show was inspired by an out-of-body experience, and Bustamante is enthusiastic about his interests in psychedelic culture and meditation. 

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Photo: Chris Wormald

Bustamante was born in Colombia, and moved to Nashville with his mother when he was 10 years old. His immigrant experiences have informed his curatorial project Persona Contemporary, which he’s organized to benefit the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. He’s also created art for the organization’s headquarters. But Bustamante’s personal work digs deeper, beyond identity themes and activist concerns to deliver more compelling, idiosyncratic, uniquely individual expressions focused on transcendental themes.  

The sculptures in Mausoleum vary from rough and even a little banged-up (“Vivir.Morir”) to perfectly polished, slick pop-art-inspired pieces (“Eres Ser Eterno”). Most of them are made of acrylic plastic, but a few are made from aluminum composite. Their shapes vary from geometric and angular to curving, flowing, organic forms. Bustamante achieves these shapes using a blow torch to heat the plastic to a high temperature before he can bend and shape it. The process is inexact, and looking at these works one can sense the kind of creative conversation the artist and his torch have with these materials before they arrive at some final form to cool and harden.  

Inside the shed, a few of the sculptures are balanced on upright cinder blocks, just like the outdoor sculptures are balanced on raw wooden pedestals that viewers might think are actual tree stumps. It’s tempting to consider some natural/artificial conceptualizing happening here, but it’s more likely that these unusual displays resulted from an off-hand decision based on materials Bustamante had available or simply found. Reusing and recycling materials has always been a feature of Bustamante’s practice, and the unique combinations of materials the artist discovers are part of what makes his work stand out when compared with more traditional sculpture.  

The grave-like display in the shed is a mound of black soil covered with gravel. It’s decorated with one of Bustamante’s flowing forms — its shining surface reflects the faces of viewers as they examine it. A candle burns at the top of the piece, and visitors at the exhibition’s opening reception left funeral remembrance cards and photographs of deceased loved ones scattered about the work. Two potted mums in the corners of the gallery complete the funeral-home setting. This interactive element gave the reception a ritualistic sensibility, and a respectful and somber tone still permeates the space.

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