Music is, without a doubt, the art form for which Nashville is best-known. Over at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, though, Director and CEO Susan Edwards and her team are steadily raising the profile for visual art in the city as well. Since she joined the museum staff in 2004, Edwards has overseen exhibitions that showcase iconic photographers, illustrators, and experimental multimedia artists. This winter, the museum is presenting one show about samurai warriors and one, Ragnar Kjartansson: The Visitors, that features a very long, complex music video—an hour long, it spans nine screens. Talk about diverse programming. Edwards spoke to us about Nashville’s art scene and the convergence of music and art in the city.
You’ve studied and worked around the country. What most surprised you about Nashville, and its art community in particular?
When I moved to Nashville twelve years ago, I was surprised to learn that despite having more than 20 institutions of higher learning in the area, there was no MFA program in visual art or architecture and no PhD program in art history in Nashville. These academic programs contribute almost as much to a community as to the professions. I still hold out hope that one or more of the local colleges or universities will pursue programs for these advanced degrees.
The Ragnar Kjartansson show merges visual art with music, the art form for which Nashville is best known. How else are the Frist and other institutions in the city merging the two in new and exciting ways?
We are extremely pleased to be able to present The Visitors by Kjartansson at the same time that the artist has a major retrospective exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. We will not all have the opportunity to see this stunning work in New York, Washington, Los Angeles or Iceland. Next year, the Frist Center will host Pattern Recognition in the Conte Community Gallery – which means there is no admission fee. Mark Scala organized the exhibition with the objective of bringing together two sides of Nashville’s creative community: visual art and music. The participating artists couple optics with harmonic or asynchronous music. The exhibition is not to be missed.
You’re a photography expert and have mounted shows by such contemporary greats as Carrie Mae Weems and William Eggleston. Who are a few photographers you’re particularly interested in now who deserve more attention (and why)?
I want to clarify that Katie Delmez was the curator for the Carrie Mae Weems exhibition. Clearly, the project had my full support as the director of the Frist and as a photography specialist. It was a perfect moment for Carrie and we were thrilled to share that important exhibition with three other venues across the country. William Eggleston is arguably one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, in any medium. That he lives and works in Tennessee made presenting his work at the Frist Center essential.
I am very interested in the work of New Orleans photographers Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick. They are a husband and wife team who live and work in the Ninth Ward. I was blown away by their installation at the 2015 Venice Biennale ”The Prison Industrial Complex.” Having written extensively on the photographs Ben Shahn made during the Great Depression, I was moved by how little had changed in the penal system. This series and others by Calhoun and McCormick are beautiful yet provocative, challenging us to consider issues larger than ourselves.
Where do you take artists / guests of the museum when they’re in town? Or celebrate with your staff?
We always recommend nowplayingnashville.com. Visiting artists and curators can research the options. Our goal is to offer the warmest hospitality possible by tailoring a Nashville visit with our guest’s interests. I like supporting local designers and find that out-of-towners are impressed by the local fashion scene. For celebrations, we mix destinations that have been here for a long time with the new restaurants in the various parts of town. Many of us have dietary restrictions for health reasons or matters of conscience. Almost every restaurant – new or a standby – will accommodate us. What a pleasure to have so many alternatives!