Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Nashville Critical

Strange Cocktail: Watkins mixes Faculty and Student Work
Filed under: Uncategorized — nashvillecritical @ 11:49 pm
Though Twist is one of the most exciting galleries in Nashville, this month’s exhibit of Watkins faculty and students failed to live up to the high expectations that accompany the Watkins clan. The work itself was not all bad; however, the manner of presentation left much to be desired. The show, which was inaccurately dubbed Watkins Five + 5, was actually Watkins Five + 6. The show featured the work of five faculty members: Brady Haston, Ron Lambert, Terry Thacker, Kristi Hargrove, and Derek Coté. The faculty then chose six students to join them in the exhibit: Lauren Willis, Clayton Lancaster, Robert Dunn, Claudia O’Steen, Alexis Hicks, and Timothy Marchbanks.

Upon first entering the gallery, the extreme variation of media, color, form, and presentation made my heart race. I love nothing more than to see a display of experimentation and rule breaking. My brow began to furrow as I made my way through the front room; it was difficult to link all the work together. There seemed to be no cohesive theme running through the exhibit aside from the fact that everyone gathered in the same building on Rosa Parks Boulevard everyday. A great tool for helping the viewer connect the dots between a broad range of work is a statement from the group or curator. It is true that with group shows involving that many artists, it is not logical for everyone to have a statement beside their work, especially in this case when each artist is only showing one or two pieces. Nonetheless, a simple one page group statement near the beginning of the exhibit would have done wonders for the viewers’ ability to tie the work together.

Preventable Accidents

The first set of work I saw in the gallery was the group of hand-sized geometric sculptures by Alexis Hicks. The four tiny contraptions were made of paper reinforcements, the doughnut shaped white stickers you use to repair your paper when it pulls out of a three-ring binder. They were displayed on a large wooden shelf that competed with the delicacy of the sculptures. Though the little shapes, collectively titled Preventable Accidents, probably took a while to make and are quite crafty, the conceptual substance was hard to find.
After having heard Kristi Hargrove’s artist talk at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts recently, I was thrilled to see two of her drawings up close and personal. Hargrove, the well-read professor packing a bag full of mom issues that she often addresses in her work, is an extremely careful artist. Every mark is deliberately psychological and completely calculated. Hargrove said of the drawings, “This current work questions boundaries and limitations. I’m pressing the physicality of the paper to the point of exhausting the surface.”

Kristi Hargrove

The results are fleshy organic drawings that suggest the inexactness of the body. With a ballpoint pen, she pushes, pulls, and presses the backside of the paper to manipulate the surface of the front. “I’m finding the place where the tenderness and sensitivity of the paper mimics the pliability of my skin,” explained the artist. Her simultaneously delicate and heavy-handed graphite drawings are beautiful, sensual, and tortured. In pristine condition, the excavated drawings were the highlight of the show.
Terry Thacker, whose rumored brilliance precedes him, displayed three untitled mixed media collages and one unframed painting. All four pieces were brought together by a rich blue color, while the topless frames segregated them. His work has an accessible, immature quality that reminds me of his former student Matt Christy’s exhibition last month. In an interview Christy once told me that Thacker had greatly influenced his work. One can definitely see the influence.
Switching dimensions, faculty member Ron Lambert’s well-crafted polygonal model of a scarce environment bearing only two trees commented on the relationship between nature and technology.

Robert Dunn

Student Robert Dunn’s video titled (F)utility depicted a person wearing a bright pink jersey and a bedazzled helmet poorly chopping wood. The footage then played in reverse as if to “un-do” all the work that had just been done.The video was successful in that it was attention-grabbing and prodded the viewer to watch the entire awkward display of masculinity. However, the video could have stood on its own without the physical objects being present right next to it. Displaying the outfit used in the video did not necessarily contribute to the work.

An Easily Distinguished Set of Characteristics Suggesting a Type of Relationship between Individuals

I visited the show twice, once during the crowded Art Crawl and once entirely alone a couple of weeks later, to fully interrogate the work. Funny thing, during the second visit I noticed a sound installation existed in the back room of the gallery that was almost entirely drowned out and largely overlooked during the Art Crawl.Derek Coté’s cringing installation had an extended but necessary title, An Easily Distinguished Set of Characteristics Suggesting a Type of Relationship between Individuals. One speaker repeats in an obnoxiously cheerful female voice, “Hi, how are you? How’s it going?” while out of the other speaker drones a lifeless male voice spouting fractions of narratives such as, “One day, a French boy asks his dad for ten dollars.” Between the speakers were juvenile scrawlings made in pencil by the public. The experience of standing with your head between the two speakers was priceless. The urge to pull out my hair competed with the desire to numbly stand there and listen to several hours of the simulated conversation. The Canadian-born Coté received his Masters in Fine Art from Virginia Commonwealth University and has an impressive oeuvre in sculpture and installation. His work alone is worth the trip downtown.
Overall, the work in this show was hit or miss. There were definitely some gems in the gallery that made it worthwhile. The Watkins Five + 5 exhibit is up through March 4th at Twist Gallery in the Arcade on 5th Avenue.

Check out for more information and a list of upcoming exhibitions.
by Sara Estes
Arts Writer, Nashville Pix,