Review: Nashville First Saturday Art Crawl, June 2013

Last Saturday, I took my four-and-a-half-year-old, Annie, to the First Saturday Art Crawl in downtown Nashville. Every first Saturday of the month, a bunch of art galleries and co-ops open up for the evening so art lovers can wander from one gallery to another. It started in the famous Arcade between Fourth and Fifth avenue, but has expanded to the rest of Fifth Avenue.

Since this is Nashville, the weather is usually too hot or too cold to take a toddler (I guess she’s a kid now!) to a bunch of art galleries that open up on the street.

But this time, the weather was perfect. We almost didn’t go, since there had been severe thunderstorms an hour or so before we left, but it cleared out just in time for us to head downtown.

The first thing we saw as we turned onto 5th Avenue from Church Street was a wedding party being photographed in the middle of the street. They had rented out Puckett’s Grocery for their dinner.

Fifth Avenue of the Arts

Fifth Avenue of the Arts has been renovated to be more pedestrian-friendly, with new lighting over the street. Between light posts, icicle-style lights (only much nicer than the Christmas lights you can buy at Walgreen’s) hang from a wire over the street with a large lamp suspended over the center of the street. We missed the lighting ceremony where Mayor Karl Dean threw the switch to turn on the lights.

With 5th Avenue blocked off to traffic, the yellow art crawl buses weren’t running anywhere that I could see. I only saw one as we were making our way to 5th, and never saw where to get on.

The new work on 5th Avenue includes little platforms where performers of all stripes can do their thing for pedestrian audiences. It’s really nice, and lots of fun. Blue Coast Burrito was giving out delicious samples of chips and pineapple salsa!

There was a giant two-story styrofoam head right in the middle of the street right in front of Blue Coast Burrito. The sculpture was made of giant styrofoam blocks, jagged at the bottom and refined at the top so you can see all the facial features. It looked like some character from Greek mythology. Triton, perhaps? I don’t know who the artist was.

The Arts Company

This was our first stop. Annie didn’t recognize the place, but in her defense it has been six months to a year since we last went. She didn’t seem all that impressed with the art. I’m not sure what she was expecting, though. I didn’t get much chance to really look at it since Annie asked almost immediately: “Can we go to another gallery?” I tried to get her to look at the large pieces in the Five From Memphis exhibit, but I don’t guess it was very interesting to a four-year-old.

However, we noticed lots of people going to the back. I thought they might be going upstairs, but nope, they were going to the garage in back of the gallery.

That’s where we discovered the Nashville Public Library puppeteers demonstrating their marionette puppets! Annie had a blast interacting with the puppets.

Remember the platforms I mentioned earlier? Apparently the plan was for the puppeteers to perform with their puppets there and in the street. Unfortunately the inclement weather drove them inside. I don’t guess lots of rain and wind are too good for marionettes.

Annie loved the puppets. She asked typical four-year-old questions, and claimed she can do the same things, too. So when Annie saw a backdrop artist working in chalk/pastel on a large board, creating a scene of the Cheshire Cat from “Alice in Wonderland,” she asked if she could help. Of course, she wrote her name in pink, her favorite color.

We made our way to several other galleries, including the Rymer Gallery and the Tinney Contemporary Gallery across from the Arcade.

The Rymer Gallery

At the Rymer Gallery, Annie was fascinated with Herb Williams’ crayon sculptures of a guitar and a bunny. I think it’s because these things are so accessible to her, and the idea of using crayons (“crowns,” as she pronounces it) to make something like that was such a neat idea. It probably didn’t hurt that it was pink.

In the loft part of the Rymer were some interesting dimensional sculpture-paintings by Will Penny. They hang flat on the wall, but have angled planes that protrude a few inches into the room. These planes appear to be spray-painted in two tones, with varying concentrations of color. It’s not unlike two-color printing where different ink percentages create new colors.

There were some nice abstract pieces by Carly Witmer that I liked. The canvases were unusually shaped, with transparent lines that dripped off the edges.

These two sets were so cool and very different from anything I’ve seen, but they seem relatively easy to recreate. It’s unique and novel, but it lacks that thing that could make it really hard for someone else to do. That’s really my only criticism. What’s the thing that could push it into something really new?

I think that’s where Herb Williams’ crayon sculptures really shine: the concept is simple: three-dimensional sculptures made of Crayolas. Anybody could do it, but no one could pull it off quite like he does, with the same attention to detail.

Tinney Contemporary

The first thing we saw as we came to Tinney was a floor-to-cieling installation of cut paper. Black and white crescent-shaped pieces of cut paper comprised a tornado that went from the ceiling to the floor, threatening some small houses. I explained that several tornadoes, big storms, had last night been in the area where her “Auntie” Kelly lives, and these storms can knock over and tear up houses.

Then of course, Annie spit all this information back out to some ladies who were looking at the art right after us. Silly girl, haven’t I told you to not talk to strangers!

The Arcade

As we entered the Arcade, we were blasted by a very loud band. Annie hated the noise. It made her really unhappy. I tolerated it.

But of course, we went to The Peanut Shop, which for Annie is THE HIGHLIGHT of the Art Crawl. She got some jelly beans, I got an ice cream cone, and we got some orange slices to take home to Mama.

The galleries in the upstairs of the Arcade had moved around a bit as they tend to do when old tenants leave and current ones take up their spots. Unfortunately there wasn’t anything really remarkable upstairs, and my friends at Blend Studio weren’t showing anything this time.

The Tennessee Art League / Chestnut Group

The biggest surprise of the evening for me was finding that the Tennessee Art League had moved to Fifth Avenue. It makes sense, given that it is now closer to the Art Crawl and the rest of the “Arts District,” but after months of thinking it had closed altogether I was glad to see they had simply moved. This was special to me since my grandfather was a member for years.

The space is somewhat claustrophobic with odd bottlenecks, but the location is an old downtown building which was never intended to be an art gallery. It’s in one of the spaces between The Arts Company and the Rymer Gallery.

There at the new TAL gallery, The Chestnut Group had a showing of lots of plein aire pieces of Nashville scenes, and reminded me of the Nashville365 series I did a while back, as well as some of the pieces my friend Pete Sullivan paints.

Summing Up

Annie and I had a great time. The weather was perfect. I keep hoping to see some really unique, breakthrough art show up in Nashville, but I’ve never seen anything that really pushes the idea of what art can be.

Annie is already talking about going again next month.