After over a year of planning, The Frist Art Museum unveiled its newest installments for the summer season, “Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style”, “Bethany Collins: Evensong” and “Kara Walker: Cut To The Quick”. These exhibits explore the inspirations of artists that allow them to make their creations in ways that tell the story of their personal experiences and growth.
Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style
Allison Brown, the curator of Glasgow Museums, stated “No man is an island. Before now, Mackintosh has only been shown as a lone artist. The Frist shows the village it took to create such an incredibly noteworthy artist and architect.” Brown is referring to the 1996 exhibit which only showed the work of Mackintosh without acknowledging the others around him from whom he drew inspiration and help. The exhibit on display now highlights the importance of his friends and family in his art.
Mackintosh began studying at the Glasgow school of arts in Scotland in 1883. From there he met friends James McNair, Frances McDonald, as well as her sister and his soon-to-be wife, Margaret McDonald. The group became known as “The Four” and collaborated on many works of art in the early 1900s. While working together, they developed a unique style that focused on natural images like roses, seeds, and birds, as well as an elongated figure.
These forms can be seen in some of the posters that the group created as well as Mackintosh’s work afterward in his design of chairs, doors, and light fixtures. He designed these items for people like Catherine Cranston and her tea rooms as well as Walter Blackey’s personal home. He designed multiple items for Cranston’s tea room, some chairs, tables, and even wallpapers. She was a steady client of his and his work can be seen in many of her rooms. He worked alongside George Walton, who designed the wallpapers for the Cranston Tea Rooms in the early years, before undergoing the entire design project by himself when she opened her later tea rooms.
Because this exhibit focuses on Mackintosh and those who were important in his work, the star piece of this exhibit was actually designed by his wife. The May Queen is a mixed media tri-panel work that was designed by Margaret Mackintosh in 1900.
After dinner, the two would sit down to work on the details, adding glass beads, twine, hessian, and more. It was intended to be placed over a mantel, so it is normally viewed from below, but the First brought it down to eye level. Now, the intricacy of the piece, the facial expressions, the elongated figures, the colors, and more, could be seen up close. There is even an iPad next to it to display even more details that may not be seen by the average onlooker.
Though Mackintosh was an incredible artist, he did not always have the most steady work. He eventually lost interest in architecture and began using watercolors in his art around 1913. He moved to a village in England in 1914 during World War I. There he was arrested under suspicion of being a German spy due to his frequent correspondence with his clients back in Glasgow. He later moved to London until 1923. There was not much work for him as an architect, so he focused on finding work designing books, tombstones, and textiles.
The Frist is also displaying art from Chicago artist and Alabama native, Bethany Collins, the first living artist to accompany her work to the museum in over a year. Collins’ exhibit, Evensong, displays language in a way that many of us have never thought of. Her first piece upon entering the exhibit, “Homeland”, is a tribute to her home in Alabama. It’s written in floriography, and it is equal parts “love letter and indictment”. It is shown in 800 square feet whenever it is displayed so that at least 300 Camelia petals can be seen.
Other works of hers on display include her retranslation of a line from the 13th book of the Odyssey. She finds it fascinating that the story is thousands of years old and has been translated more than 30 times, and there are still so many discrepancies in the text. “I love other people’s language, but I hate writing,” Collins declared. “The work is about editing and helping to show the poetry of the piece.” She was referring to the Odyssey translation at the time, but it is clear that this sentiment applies to the rest of her work as well.
She uses special techniques in her drawings that include a bit of her spit so that she is now a part of the work in a way that is more than “just rewriting someone else’s writing.” She also uses a method of writing and rewriting until her hand hurts so that she has left her pain in the art so that she could take something and “release it back into the world as something more beautiful than it started as.”
Kara Walker: Cut To The Quick
The Frist unveiled a third showcase in July, “Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick”. This particular group of work is on display from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation. Walker’s work “speaks to both the important history of African Americans and their struggle for equality as well as issues of racial and gender inequality,” writes Schnitzer. Though Walker’s work is both graphic and unsettling, it also has a simple subtlety in its nature. The shadows, cutouts, and silhouettes are descriptive, but still leave an air of mystery for the onlooker. “The silhouette lends itself to the avoidance of the subject- of not being able to look at it directly- yet there it is, all the time, staring you in the face” Walker proclaimed.
This exhibit, featuring works from 1994-2019, is meant to create, expose, and release some uncomfortable emotions. Vanderbilt University professor Vivien Green Fryd states, “If you’re not troubled when you look at Kara Walker’s exhibition, then I would say you need to look again.”
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