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NYC Gallery’s Latest Pop-up in Nashville 

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Willie Stewart, Brenda, 2015; digital tapestry 80 by 60 inches.
Willie Stewart, Brenda, 2015; digital tapestry 80 by 60 inches.

“Summer Reading” was the fourth pop-up show that New York gallery ZieherSmith has curated in Nashville, and their first since joining up with C. Sean Horton of Horton Gallery to officially become Zieher, Smith & Horton in September of 2014. These almost yearly events were born of Andrea Smith Zieher’s familial ties to Nashville and the city’s growing reputation as a national arts destination.

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“We keep coming back because we now feel even more tied to the city and the arts community,” says Smith Zieher. For their previous Nashville shows, Smith Zieher and her husband, Scott Zieher, built-out existing gallery spaces. Their most recent pop-up, in a half-renovated brick office building in Nashville’s SoBro neighborhood, dispensed with white walls; paintings and photographs were hung directly on mortar and sculptures were scattered throughout various rooms, creating a busy warren of small displays. It was a group show with a lot of variety, including almost 40 works by nearly 20 artists from across the country. Works by two of these artists pleased and provoked more than the rest.

Willie Stewart is a former Nashvillian whose digital tapestry Brenda stole the show for me. Brenda is the kind of cheap, tacky wall rug you order online by sending a digital image off to be immortalized on your new “tapestry.” Stewart’s piece pictures a pretty young woman photographed in the 1970s – total Farrah hair. She’s looking up at camera while she peels a potato over a pot in a kitchen. She’s wearing a blue sweatshirt featuring a graphic of Santa Claus riding a motorcycle as she, presumably, prepares a holiday feast. The portrait paradoxically calls to mind the nonfigurative weaving traditions we’ve come to expect from Islamic and Navajo rug/tapestry artists. The mosaic nature of the woven image also delivers a playful twist on its pixelated source, making the piece seem simultaneously ancient and worthy of reverence as well as crass and disposable.

I’ve always been a fan of Rachel Owens‘s work. She showed one of her glass buffalo skulls in a group show at Nashville’s Zeitgeist gallery in 2009 and displayed it again in 2011 at ZieherSmith’s first Nashville pop-up. In 2013, the gallery displayed the artist’s works on paper, textiles, and videos reflecting on Hurricane Sandy at Nashville’s Track 13. They also brought a massive sculpture made from repurposed replica Humvees, covered in white paint. “Inveterate Composition for Clare” was installed outdoors behind Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts where passersby could hear the sounds of the whale songs that reverberated from the sculpture’s built-in speakers.

Rachel Owens, Footwear (Turquoise Heel), 2015; broken glass cast in resin with steel base, 4 by 7 by 4 inches.
Rachel Owens, Footwear (Turquoise Heel), 2015; broken glass cast in resin with steel base, 4 by 7 by 4 inches.

For “Summer Reading” Owens made a series of small, colorful, cast resin feet. The tiny toes curl up from the balls of the feet, but Owens has finished the works by simply drilling a plain drywall screw through the back of each piece, creating something like the high heel of a shoe. Owens’s past work has engaged nuanced conversations about big topics, including the environment, war and consumerism – and pieces like Clare are literally monumental in scale. Are these little feet supposed to be making a statement about women being “screwed” by high-heeled fashions? If so, it’s a pretty clumsy little pun to hang her art on. The ugly screws only make sense in that they do the job of keeping the feet from falling over. In that, they seem like a utilitarian solution for an aesthetic problem, and that seems lazy. And that seems puzzling coming from Owens.

Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist, and intermedia artist in Nashville. Find out more about his projects at www.joenolan.com.