Watkins College of Art, Design & Film is an important player in Nashville’s visual arts scene. The students at Watkins have often taken an active role in the city’s visual culture—dreaming up imaginative pop-up projects, programming and creating the exhibitions for the Watkins Arcade Gallery in downtown Nashville, and participating in the larger dialogue that the city is having about visual arts beyond the bounds of campus life.
I’ve always thought of the talents and work ethics of the Watkins students as a barometer for the future of Nashville’s visual culture. Of course, the efforts of the students are a reflection of the school’s instructors, and that’s why the college’s annual faculty exhibition matters.
Wandering into this year’s version, “Monuments, Hotel Soap and Linear Progressions,” at the school’s Brownlee O. Currey, Jr. Gallery, I was immediately struck by Ariel Lavery’s Linear Progression of Chest, Wall Shelf, Shoe Organizer, Broiler Pan, and Napkin Rings. The piece consists of a tall, lean panel of drywall decorated with floral wallpaper that serves as the substrate for the protruding blades of an old ceiling fan, a vintage wood banister, and the decorative broiler pan mentioned in the title. The assemblage leans threateningly at the viewer, held in place by a single length of electrical cord that connects to an illuminated Christmas tree star that’s fixed to the board. The cord emerges from a spool inside a container that’s topped with the lid of an old trunk. The artist’s title might imply a literary succession of events, and this piece examines how—in the stories of our lives—the domestic objects we acquire and inherit reflect the values we learn from our families and friends, and even the genetic memories and traits stored in our DNA.
Mary Addison Hackett’s painterly canvases range from tiny to medium-sized here, and the work in this exhibition is a continuation of her process-based practice of documenting the objects and spaces in her childhood home, which serves as her studio. But whether Hackett is painting coffee spilled on her stovetop or a light switch framed by a fleur-de-lis wallpaper design, her work is really about the generous sense of whimsy she evokes in the gooey, streaked application of her vibrant, floral palette.
The exhibition is dominated by 19 large, abstract photographs of historical monuments. The prints hang from binder clips that are pinned to the gallery walls; the unframed, objectlike presentation of these photographs is spot-on for a show that documents monumental sculptures. A collaboration between associate professor Robin Paris and art history assistant professor Tom Williams, Monuments distorts and blurs its cast figures in a depersonalizing manner that reduces these warriors, politicians, and captains of industry to rhetorical gestures, while also calling to mind the ephemeral nature of historical narratives in the dynamic evolution of cultural memory.
“Monuments, Hotel Soap and Linear Progressions” runs through September 28.
Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist, and intermedia artist in Nashville. Find out more about his projects at www.joenolan.com