When it comes to the business of contemporary fine art, Memphis has always been something of a one-gallery town. The mantle passed from Alice Bingham, who opened the city’s first-ever contemporary gallery in 1979, to Bingham’s protegé Lisa Kurts, who continued Bingham’s business in the early 1990s. From Kurts, the informal position was assumed by David Lusk, whose gallery opened in East Memphis in 1995 and has gained momentum over the past two decades. Lusk’s gallery, which this month relocated to a permanent home on Tillman Street in central Memphis, represents a mix of established Memphis artists and educators, such as painters Veda Reed and the late Ted Fairs, as well as mid-career and up-and-coming artists such as Tyler Hildebrand and Jared Small. The gallery is also known for hosting an annual “Art Under $1000” that introduces less-established artists to potential buyers.
The past five years have been a period of growth for contemporary art in the region, and Lusk’s gallery has proved no exception. In March of 2014, Lusk opened a second space in Nashville. In May of last year, Lusk’s original gallery left its longtime home in East Memphis’ Laurelwood Shopping Center, a rented space. The new site, which Lusk purchased, formerly housed a gallery that focused on Eastern European artworks. The space is airy and high-ceilinged, with concrete floors and architectural details contributed by regional artists with whom Lusk has a relationship. It has a more modern feel than Lusk’s former space, and feels larger, despite being about the same square footage. Its location in the center of the city works to the gallery’s advantage. Says Lusk, “When we opened in 1995, where we were was certainly the heart of the city. The city has grown east but I don’t have that many collectors who live east. This location is more central to my collector base.”
Currently on view in the new space are shows by the Memphis-born, New-York-based photographer Huger Foote and Memphis-based abstract painter and sculptor Kit Reuther, both on view through April 9. Foote’s photography draws inspiration from the photographer’s mentor, William Eggleston, though this exhibition, titled “now here then,” also owes something to the hyperpersonal work of Nan Goldin. With this new collection, Foote seems to be moving away from his formalist origins and towards work saturated with both Egglestonian color and human candor. Reuther’s exhibition, “trending geometric,” is likewise a continuance of the self-trained artist’s Cy Twombly-esque mark-making and tendency towards the understated.
Next up at the new space are shows by a longtime Memphis educator and expressive abstractionist Pinkney Herbert, and by Iowa-born landscape realist Bruce Brainard. The exhibitions will run from April 12 to May 14.
Eileen Townsend writes regularly on arts and culture for The Memphis Flyer and Memphis Magazine. She tweets @eileen_townsend.