Nashville’s “Athens of the South” nickname was coined by classical scholar and former Princeton University, then College of New Jersey, president Philip Lindsley who took over Nashville’s struggling Cumberland College in 1824. The Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition of 1897 saw the construction of a replica of The Parthenon in Nashville’s Centennial Park. The site was so popular that it was permanently rebuilt between 1920-1931, and Nashville sculptor Alan LeQuire installed his monumental replica of Athena Parthenos in the space in 1990. Today, the Parthenon is a museum and contemporary art gallery.
Fountain is Nashville artist Duncan McDaniel’s solo museum debut, and it’s one of the best shows the city’s seen in 2023. The exhibition includes McDaniel’s paintings of repeating lines in wide-ranging palettes, and colorful 3D arrangements of abstract paintings on clear acrylic sheets. With Fountain, McDaniel creates a conversation with the Parthenon’s collection of fourteen casts of the original Parthenon Marbles, which were purchased in the 1920s from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The show also recasts Southern pop culture icons as figures in Greek mythology. McDaniel renders his gods, goddesses, heroes, and horses in his dancing, repeating lines. The marble replicas serve as his models, but his candy-stripe abstractions flatten each figure into a sometimes unrecognizable silhouette, void of representational details. Pyrios (2023) is clearly a horse’s head, but it also looks like a sci-fi demon. Pyrios was one of the horses that pulled the chariot of the sun god Helios. The palette is appropriately firey and McDaniel’s horse emanates a golden aura of pulsating lines. Another pair of standouts are two illuminated,3D paintings that anchor the back wall of the gallery. Pegasus (2023) is rendered in a warm palette of straight stripes and long loops on stacked sheets of clear acrylic plastic, framed in a replica of a Mobilgas Pegasus sign. The work hangs alongside Chrysaor (2023), which is named for Pegasus’ brother, who is sometimes depicted as a winged pig. McDaniel’s version is a languid expression of watery blues on acrylic plastic. This piece, also internally illuminated, is built inside of the frame from an actual Piggly Wiggly grocery sign.
Fountain is a striking and smart display that revives age-old myths and evergreen cultural conversations in Nashville.