White Angel Breadline by Dorothea Lange

Art of the Week

Few have ever achieved the artistic and documentary goals of photography as successfully as Dorothea Lange.

Lange began her photography career in 1918, working in a photographic supply shop and shooting portraits of San Francisco’s upper crust. But as the Great Depression rose, Lange shifted her focus to documenting the unemployed and homeless, capturing one of the most pivotal eras in American history through starkly straightforward yet emotionally charged photographic studies.

Her first such study was White Angel Breadline, depicting a crowd of men with backs to the camera and a single figure leaning on a fence in the foreground, eyes covered by the brim of his hat, a tin cup sheltered near his body. The scene took place in 1933, outside of a soup kitchen run by a widow known as the “white angel.” The photograph captured the rising depression — its mass effect on the working class, the dejecting struggle for basic necessities and the resigned acceptance many had come to adopt — in unvarnished truth and led to Lange’s employment with the Farm Security Administration. In her new role, she traveled through rural America, photographing migrant laborers and sharecroppers, and her work was published widely.

She went on to catalog some of the country’s other historically pivotal moments in similar style and, while Lange’s heartbreakingly beautiful documentation of the Great Depression may be her best-known work, it is just one part of the retrospective currently on view at Frist Art Museum in the exhibition “Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing.”

“Dorothea Lange … is recognized as one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century, and her insightful and compassionate work has exerted a profound influence on the development of modern documentary photography,” according to a press release from the museum. “In addition to presenting Lange’s iconic photographs from the Great Depression, the exhibition will feature works from her early years as a studio portraitist in San Francisco, along with images of the grim conditions of incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II, naval shipyard workers of different sexes and races contributing to the patriotic cause, and inequity in our judicial system in the 1950s.”

Upon her death in 1965, her husband Paul Taylor donated her archive of more than 20,000 negatives and 6,000 prints to the Oakland Museum of California. The Frist exhibition will be the fourth time this collection is presented — following its display in Oakland, at London’s Barbican and the Jeu de Paume in Paris. The works will be in Frist Museum’s upper galleries until May 27.

Frist Art Museum is located at 919 Broadway.

Changes by Faig Ahmed

Art of the Week

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, the historic grounds on Nashville’s western edge that were once home to a dynastic wholesale grocery tycoon and now house botanical gardens and an art museum, lives as one of the area’s most inspiring and precisely designed locales.

It’s hard to walk Cheekwood’s acres, explore its mansion and consider its art galleries while remaining blasé. Manicured lawns and blooming flower beds are reminders of the everlasting splendor of nature. The Cheek family’s historic mansion offers architecture, furniture and ornamentation of a quality that isn’t seen anymore. And a rotating selection of contemporary art juxtaposes this all with dynamic and thoughtful interpretations of what creativity can mean today and in the future.

Cheekwood’s latest exhibition to accentuate its historic legacy through a new lens is called “Derived from the Decorative: Works by Faig Ahmed, Beth Lipman and Bouke de Vries.” It is a collection made particularly powerful in contrast to the antiquities that populate the Cheek’s former mansion.

“The exhibition consists of artists who take cues from decorative arts traditions yet invert the precepts by blurring the space between functional forms and art forms,” according to a description from Cheekwood. “The exhibition celebrates the work of a national and international group of artists who look at traditional decorative arts as a point of departure for contemporary creations. The artists in this show challenge the idea of historically informed notions of craft and provide a contemporary entry point into the space between fine and decorative art.”

Pieces include deconstructed glasswork by Beth Lipman, a multimedia artist from Philadelphia; fragmented china statues by de Vried, a Dutch conservator and fashion designer working in London; and Changes by Faig Ahmed, an artist from Azerbaijan who incorporates traditional carpet-weaving techniques with mind-bending alterations to create unique textile sculptures.

“Ahmed takes an object meant to be functional and positioned on a floor and presents it on the wall as one would a painting, removing the intended use most frequently associated with carpets,” per Cheekwood.

In Changes, Ahmed has produced a beautifully handmade, woolen carpet and warped its middle, inserting a new and disruptive perspective directly into one of the world’s most ancient functional art forms.

Ahmed’s work has been exhibited around the world and is held in collection at the Seattle Art Museum, the West Collection in Philadelphia, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and elsewhere. He represented Azerbaijan in the country’s pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale.

The Cheekwood Estate & Gardens are located in Belle Meade, 1200 Forrest Park Drive.

Dinosynchlastic by David Ribar

Art of the Week

In its latest exhibition, “David Ribar: A Semi-Retrospective,” Belmont University’s Department of Art is celebrating the namesake in a perfectly quintessential way.

Ribar has been producing visual art since arriving in Nashville in 1979. He’s explored drawing across many media, represented a wealth of the city’s cultural institutions and has explored nearly every facet of what visual art can be across four decades. He has written art criticism, served on art juries and curated and consulted for art galleries.

Now that he is retiring from his latest position as a professor at Belmont, the university has assembled a “highly random” selection of his work for the show.

“More specifically, the exhibit explores the three distinctly different ways Ribar likes to create art,” according to a press release from the university. “These include drawing directly and quickly from the figure engaging in the immediate moment; drawing for longer periods from photos and reproductions or with the use of Photoshop, for more calculated ends, which are more abstracted from the real moment; and working without reference to a person or thing.”

The piece Dinosynchlastic appears to be an example of the middle way: a highly elaborated rendering of a classical bust or portrait. With a superimposed grid, spectral bending and radical colors, the figure could have been transported from the classical era to a galactic space age via wormhole. It seems an appropriate representation of work from someone who has spent years considering what art has been, what it is and what it can be.

In addition to serving as a professor, Ribar has chaired the Belmont’s art department. When he first moved to Nashville, he worked as an exhibitions designer for the Cheekwood Museum of Art, then as its curator of exhibits. He has shown his own work in galleries across the country.

Belmont University’s Leu Art Gallery is located in the Lila D. Bunch Library, 1907 Belmont Boulevard.

Jen And Reba By John Paul Kesling

Art of the Week

In his latest exhibition, “Panic and Purpose” featured at Red Arrow Gallery until March 30, John Paul Kesling has assembled a series of works that rethink the familiar. Through harshly bright pastels, abstracted figures and convoluted scenery, he has rendered images that may be recognizable but still raise unsettling questions.

“Music, foggy memories, a new tube of paint, conversations, a comedy podcast, politics — they are all image-making materials,” Kesling said, according to a statement provided by the gallery. “I use these as fuel and interpret them into a personal lexicon of imagery, symbols and mark-making techniques. Through visual narration, I paint fluid ideas that try to answer questions about living but usually end in the creation of new questions.”

In Jen and Reba, an acrylic and pastel piece in the show, Kesling presents two figures entwined together in repose. The simplicity of their outlines and lack of detail in their expressions gives them a serene — if not uncanny — presence while the layering of their bodies and bright coloring gives the scene dynamism.

“In Jen and Reba, two friends, completely comfortable sharing a space, rest together in a midday nap,” Kesling explained. “Tangled like headphone wires but without the frustration, the figures, shapes and colors dance in the silence of the moment.”

Kesling is originally from Kentucky and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Morehead State University. He went on to obtain his Master of Fine Arts degree with a focus in painting from The Savannah College of Art and Design. He lived and practiced in New York City before moving to Madison in 2016.

Red Arrow Gallery is located at 919 Gallatin Avenue, Suite #4, in East Nashville.

Pinkie by Amelia Briggs

Art of the Week

Elephant Gallery, a studio and exhibition space in North Nashville, is not merely hosting “Moppet,” the latest exhibition from local artist Amelia Briggs. The space has been completely consumed by it.

“Moppet” is no humble exhibition, it is a full-scale installation transforming the gallery space in Briggs’ own colorful, expansive imagination until March 30. It features oversized inflatables, furniture and interior decoration combined to capture the artist’s vision of a childhood playroom.

“The colors, shapes and lines associated with toys, games and objects of my youth get broken down and pieced together to form bloated objects that appear to be inflated,” according to an artist’s statement shared with Art of Nashville. “Acting as relics, each is personal and universal, suggestive of history and a search for identity.”

With the piece Pinkie, for instance, Briggs is not presenting a specific shape or reference but rather a communal essence of childhood that may spark nostalgia in others. It’s comprised of fabric, faux fur, Poly-Fil, acrylic and latex. Those visiting the installation will have a difficult time keeping their inner children at bay.

Briggs is a local gallery director who regularly exhibits her own work at studios throughout Nashville (as well as the rest of the country) and has been featured at Red Arrow Gallery, Zeitgeist Gallery and David Lusk Gallery, among others. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Memphis.

Elephant Gallery is located at 1411 Buchanan Street in North Nashville.

Untitled Attributed to Grinling Gibbons

Art of the Week

Nashville-based interior decorator Lannie Neal has spent decades appointing the homes and businesses of the area’s most discerning clientele with art from all over the world. In that time, Neal has collected dozens of pieces from Western Europe, visiting shops in some of the world’s most historic centers of culture.

Now, pieces from his personal collection of European art — some antique, some remarkably modern — are on display at Haynes Galleries in its current exhibition “The Lannie Neal Collection,” running until February 28.

“Delicate pen [and] ink drawings of classical and religious scenes, careful studies of anatomy, painted portraits of long-forgotten nobles [and] etchings of picturesque ancient ruins are just some of the highlights [of the collection],” according to the gallery. “But even though Neal admits to collecting mostly 16th, 17th and 18th century Old Master artworks, there are also eye-catching modern pieces in his collection.”

The collection includes classical figure drawings, surreal oil paintings, a wooden santo figure, a Norman Rockwell lithograph and more. Many of the works are untitled or attributed to unknown artists, enhancing the feeling in visitors that they are accompanying Neal on a trip through le marché de la création to collect whatever strikes them, regardless of genealogy.

One untitled work in the collection, a wood and marble relief sculpture attributed to an infamous classical sculptor, demonstrates the incredible history that this expatriate conglomeration holds.

“It is attributed to 17th century Dutch artist Grinling Gibbons, a prolific Dutch-English sculptor,” per Haynes Galleries. “From a distance it might appear like a monochromatic painted floral still life but upon close inspection, the flowers, vase and pedestal are all three-dimensional.”

Gibbons’ work lives in Windosr Castle, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trinity College Oxford and other British centers of art and history. He may very well be the most prolific wood carver in English history. In more ways than one, this piece and this collection demonstrate the secrets that any artwork can hold.

Haynes Galleries is located in Franklin.

Boom, Bust, Repeat by Nick Peña

Art of the Week

Nick Peña’s Boom, Bust, Repeat is exemplary (in title, message and form) of his solo exhibition “Cyclical,” running until February 23 at Channel to Channel.

Not only does the circular shape and moniker of the piece indicate a sequential symmetry, but the duel nature of the layered material and the representational outlines convey the larger themes found throughout the show.

“Nick Peña’s works range from painting to multimedia installations that question the ever-changing psychological landscape of America; asking the viewer to re-examine their perceptions of the ‘American Dream’ and the effects that pursuit has on our environment,” according to the gallery. “Persistently researching these topics has led him to create landscapes built on dichotomies: past and present, representation and abstraction, analog and digital, and stability and instability.”

To create the pieces in the show, Peña laser cut Sintra PVC board as the white layers placed over watercolor and acrylic paintings.

Peña lives in Memphis and works as an associate professor of art at Christian Brothers University. To complement contemporary art studies in Scotland and explorations of adaptive technology, he received an MFA at the University of Missouri.

Channel to Channel is located at 507 Hagan Street in We-Ho.