The Cumberland River Overflowed Its Banks by Larry McCormack

Art of the Week

The intersection of visual art and historical record can create particularly moving work. While abstract or fantastical pieces may illicit an instinctual reaction from viewers, without the use of any real-world figures or recognizable places, the composed presentation of recent events can stir even stronger emotions.

As is the case in Frist Art Museum’s current exhibition, “The Nashville Flood: Ten Years Later” on view until May 17, 2020.

The exhibition includes an interactive display of photos taken during Tennessee’s catastrophic flooding in May 2010, when torrential rains brought more than 19 inches of water to some areas, resulting in 21 recorded deaths in the state and millions of dollars in property damage. This display juxtaposes these stark images with illustrations of recovery or lack thereof throughout the Nashville area and includes excerpts of oral histories from the Nashville Public Library’s flood archives and The Tennessean.

“Newcomers to Nashville may not be aware of the extent of destruction, as well as the resilience and camaraderie in the aftermath,” museum curator Katie Delmez said in a press release. “For Nashville residents who lived through the historic event, visiting the exhibition will be an opportunity to reflect on their own stories while seeing the perspective of others who share similar experiences.”

Illustration of the flooding is no more starkly presented than in a press photograph captured by Larry McCormack for The Tennessean. It shows downtown Nashville engulfed by muddy water on an otherwise clear and sunny day, capturing the surreal aftermath of the disaster. Though a press photograph, it is a piece that will move viewers with its composition and subject matter as much as any other example of visual art. Its use of brightly-rendered color and long-distance framing firmly place it in this fruitful intersection of artistic evocation and documentary of real event.

For the exhibition, McCormack’s piece is presented along with images of the rain pouring down, residents fleeing, rescue and recovery efforts and other images of local landmarks inundated with water to provide a comprehensive sense of the flood.

“This exhibition features photographs and excerpts of oral histories from ten different neighborhoods — including Antioch, Belle Meade, Bellevue, Bordeaux and others, in addition to downtown — to present a broad picture of both the destruction and the relief efforts,” per the release.

McCormack is a photojournalist for The Tennessean who has captured the area’s 1998 tornado, local sports and everyday life in the region for more than 30 years. His work has been recognized by the National Press Photographers Association and the Associated Press. His photographs of the 2010 flooding made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Frist Art Museum is located at 919 Broadway.

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