This February, Memphis will see the return of gallerist, art consultant, and painter Jay Etkin. Etkin previously operated first-of-their-kind galleries in the Cooper-Young and South Main neighborhoods. His South Main gallery closed in 2008, and Etkin relocated from Memphis to Santa Fe. After six years away, Etkin will re-enter the Memphis art scene by opening another Cooper-Young space, at 942 S. Cooper, only a stone's throw away from the location of his first Memphis gallery.
The new Jay Etkin Gallery is an old storefront space (formerly an overstuffed odds-and-ends shop) incarnated into a large, track-lit white room. Floating display walls are buttressed by steel columns. Etkin worked collaboratively with architect Jeff Blackledge to leave parts of the building's original structure revealed: cement floors and wooden rafters provide some context for the white box gallery space.
Hayes uses steel and "altered books" to form his works. The steel is exactingly cut to form parameters for old book pages. The pages are arrayed so that attention is drawn to the mass of their edges— gilded, watermarked or tiered, drawn from antique reference books. The steel pieces that support the pages could be seen as parabolic book covers, but the visual analogy is not a heavy-handed one.
Lester Merriweather has been doing a lot with Memphis art for the past decade, but 2013 may have been his most remarkable year to date. In addition to curating the University of Memphis's new Fogelman Gallery, he was featured in group shows at The Cotton Museum and Material and held two excellent solo exhibitions, "BLACK HOUSE" and "WHITE MARKET", at South Main's TOPS space. He produced an entirely new body of collage pieces, worked with ArtsMemphis and the UrbanArts Commission, and was a constant presence at openings and events throughout town.
The first time I visited Lester's studio, I found him standing several rungs up on a ladder, affixing a picture of a bejewled female wrist to the top of a 12 foot canvas. He was putting the finishing touches on the body of collage work that would form the first half of his solo exhibition at TOPS. Around us, glossy magazines were stacked floor-to-ceiling, along with Tupperwear containers full of carefully extracted clippings.
The collages, many imposingly large yet sparse, feature delicate wreaths of jewels, sunglasses, watches, lipstick, and other luxury ephemera. These images are interspersed with deconstructed pictures of celebrities, or parts of celebrities. The works are about wealth and race and pop culture, and about how human bodies are co-opted by the brutality of capitalism. In following weeks, hanging in the grimy TOPS basement, they looked both bleak and luxe.
I recently visited Merriweather in his studio for a second time, to talk about 2013 in Memphis art and in his work.
Flyer: You devoted this year to making work and showing work in Memphis. As an artist who has shown internationally, but who has spent his career here, what was that like?
LM: It's a mixed bag. You always have positives and negatives from situations in which you are exhibititing work. There were high moments, like being able to do the 100th show at Material. I think everything came from just wanting to focus on changing things in my studio, and developing different bodies of work that I had started on, and just wanting to get actual ideas materialized.
There is a long way to go for Memphis's communities, in terms of how they receive, understand, and support art. But a lot of my work, this year, was to achieve that specific goal [of making and showing work in Memphis]. TOPS was a highlight, because I felt like I got a chance to do several different types of work, and make them all work within the space. There are two other Memphis shows coming up on my radar. But I want to use this next year to travel [my work] to other museums and other spaces, and other places….The thing about Memphis is— you could say sometimes— the audience is relatively particular… it is not like you will be blackballed from the art world if you make a misstep here in Memphis. I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do.