Top Art Exhibits, Memphis, TN

Fredric Koeppel: Year’s top art exhibits
Area’s best shows played upon mysteries
By Fredric Koeppel
Friday, December 28, 2007

This end-of-the-year wrapup of best exhibitions is, annually, the most fun and the
most difficult story to write. What to include? What to omit? Out of the 40 exhibitions
that I reviewed in 2007 and the 20 or so shows that I looked at and did not review, for
various reasons, eliminating 40 or 45 shows wasn’t hard; it was the remaining 10 or
15 that gave me fits.

Still, in going back through all of this year’s reviews and stories about exhibitions, it
became clear to me what makes art stick in my mind, heart and imagination.

It is work that allows for the mysteries and dreams of human life and consciousness
without presuming to provide answers, knowing instead how to ask the important, if
unanswerable, questions.

These are the exhibitions that performed those feats for me in 2007.

“Inhale … from the Corners,” Terri Jones at David Lusk Gallery, Feb. 28-March 31.
Terri Jones makes art that is, as she said in an interview in March, “like a fleeting
thought.” Her installation pieces — often made with sheets of translucent vellum, tiny
organic drawings, charcoal lines on a wall and, in the case of this show, pieces of
brownish-gray felt laid on the floor — are spare and elegant. Jones’ work can be
almost monumental, as in the major piece here called “Inhale,” but more often it is
patient, self-effacing, almost invisible. Why, then, does it register as so powerful, so
astringent and chastening, so transcendent?

“Manufacturing Expectations,” Tim Best at Medicine Factory, March 30-April 20. For
Medicine Factory’s old industrial space Downtown, Best, from New Orleans, created a
clean and thrilling video and photo installation that pitted hundreds of brightly colored
gum-balls against a young businessman’s attempts to control them. The result was
an insightful and witty meditation on conformity and freedom, and the mysteries of the
infinite.

“Taking Aim: Selections from the Elliot L. Perry Collection,” Sept. 7-Oct. 11, Clough-
Hanson Gallery, Rhodes College. Native Memphian, University of Memphis basketball
standout and 10-year NBA point guard, Elliot Perry leapt into art collecting in the mid
1990s and never looked back. His acquisitions since 2000 have centered on younger
black contemporary artists, and the 15 stunning works in this exhibition addressed
issues of racism, sexism and oppression in manners that were provocative and
confrontational.

“Inside Out,” Beth Edwards at David Lusk Gallery, Sept 5-Sept. 29. Few artists could
invoke profound meditations on the nature of art and life by painting meticulous
renderings of plastic dolls and animal figures in Day-Glo colors. But Edwards, who
teaches in the art department at the University of Memphis, seemed to pull off the feat
with ease in this sweet, funny and deeply thoughtful show that balanced ecstasy with
subversion.

“Adolph Gottlieb: Early Prints,” at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, Sept.
8-Oct 20. Gottlieb (1903-1974), a mainstay of the American abstract expressionist
movement and a largely self-taught artist, began making etchings in 1933. In this
show of 40 small prints, from the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, all of his
styles and transformations were displayed: the buoyant Klee-like surrealism, the
child-like realism, the graphic and grafitti-like “pictographs.”

“Every One, Every Day,” Hamlett Dobbins at David Lusk Gallery, Oct. 2-Oct. 27.
Dobbins took the abstract technique he has exercised since his student days and
extended both reach and grasp into paintings of radiant and gorgeous
accomplishment, embracing risk, rushing toward chaos, embodying paradox.
Disconcertingly, not one of the 21 untitled pieces was like any other, while each
seemed highly personal, representing forays into the DNA of human feelings.

“Pissarro: Creating the Impressionist Landscape,” Memphis Brooks Museum of Art,
Oct. 7-Jan. 6. Organized by the Baltimore Museum of Arts, this important exhibition
allows viewers to observe how, in the years between 1864 and 1874, one of the
founders of the French Impressionist movement slowly yet inevitably evolved as an
artist and an Impressionist. The paintings are small to medium in size, subdued in
color and humble in subject — small town streets, rural roads and fields, a few
factories — yet you feel in each one the quiet revolutionary spirit that changes a world.

“The Solid Matter of a Celestial Body,” Jillian Conrad, Clough-Hanson Gallery,
Rhodes College, Oct. 19-Dec. 5. Jillian Conrad improbably used such common
materials as cardboard, paper, pen and ink, small rocks and liquid plaster to construct
little implied landscapes and disjunctive narratives that spoke of the impermanence of
material and the durability of art — and that happened to witty, engaging and very
mysterious.

“Crave,” Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts, Nov. 9-Dec. 13. Five artists working in different
media and from widely divergent stances — poignant, ardent, sardonic — focused on
the meanings and implications of craving, seeming to settle on the notion that craving
is emotional and psychological, physical and esthetic, embodying the need and the
struggle to create a work of art. Amanda Sparks’ astonishing “Half a World Away,”
a monumental, hand-made pop-up book about the innocence and idealism of an American
childhood, was the Great Art Attraction of 2007.

–Fredric Koeppel: 529-2376