Masterworks to Fun House 

A year of art in Memphis.

It was a great year for Memphis art. Exhibitions ranged from works by nationally and internationally acclaimed artists to shows by accomplished local artists and strikingly original newcomers.

Last summer, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art mounted a comprehensive show of masterworks by Andy Warhol, who transformed celebrity photo-ops and commercial logos into fine art and captured the best and worst of America with symbols that still resonate.

At the Dixon, in another summer show, the cast-iron figures by renowned Icelandic sculptor Steinunn Thorarinsdottir walked like Buddhas down the long sloping lawn of the gallery's gardens. Last fall, one of New York's most noted installation artists, Margaret Cogswell, filled the Art Museum of the University of Memphis with sounds, images, and stories of the Mississippi River.

For her December show at David Lusk Gallery, "Pieces of Sky," Memphis-born Maysey Craddock surrounded us with gouache paintings of skeletal trees and homes destroyed by Katrina that were painted on paper bags stitched together with silk thread. With titles that read like poetry (Somewhere South of Violet and The Moon Is a Blanket on the Stars) and a slow-motion video of a flooded Gulf Coast that moved almost imperceptibly toward and away from the viewer, Craddock eased us into a deeply meditative space where we could acknowledge our own mortality but still feel buoyed by passionate art and ideas that survive from one generation to the next.

Fog and smog blurred the edges of fast-moving semi trucks and SUVs and clusters of bungalows along slick wet interstates in "Words Can't Describe," Mary Long's February show at Perry Nicole Fine Art. There was something deeply satisfying about this Memphis artist's nearly abstracted encaustic paintings that suggested a composite of all the trips along all the highways through all the towns seen out of the corner of our eyes and stored away at the edge of consciousness.

J.C. Graham's ingenious "Conversations with the Children," at Artists on Central in November, consisted of sepia tones and clapboard houses, ravens on watch and newspapers and musical scores collaged on images of infants. Memories from our childhoods rushed into consciousness as Graham's artwork took us to places still in need of comfort or approval.

click to enlarge From Maysey Craddock's "Pieces of Sky," at David Lusk Gallery
  • From Maysey Craddock's "Pieces of Sky," at David Lusk Gallery

Carl Moore's November show, "Project Genesis," at L Ross Gallery was one of the strongest of his career. An Ethiopian princess with almond eyes and dark full lips held up the pale-green bittersweet fruit in Eve and the Serpent, one of A combination CEO/satan/viper, dressed in a slick-black suit, slithered against the small of Eve's back and pressed its fiery-red head into her bare flesh. Moore performed a miracle in this age-old story, with 21st-century twists, by transforming egg-head-shaped cartoons into two of the most iconic, sensual figures of the year.

University of Memphis professor Niles Wallace's 8-foot-tall pile of work boots, inexpensive sneakers, and low-heeled plastic pumps leaned against the wall like a large, hunched-over figure in "Nappy-Headed Stranger," Clough-Hanson's fall show. In this most poignant and apropos metaphor for 2008, these were Americans as scuffed-up and worn-out as second-hand shoes — Americans who had lost jobs and homes, Americans who were working too many hours for too little pay, Americans who were fighting an unpopular war overseas, while, at home, their civil liberties were threatened.

Memphis College of Art graduate student Alex Paulus filled P&H Artspace with some big ideas in another notable show, "The Truth About Theories." By parsing words like "create" and "truth" and drawing humorous images of primates on pieces of broken slate, Paulus got us past the rancor and dogma that accompany most discussions about evolution and creationism into a mindset more playful, more expansive, and, probably, more akin to the force that created us all.

In bold print on one of the walls at Odessa's November show, "Process and Documention," newcomer Lance Turner asserted that his paintings were "a continually spinning record," "the transformation of the Mona Lisa into Dust," and the viewer's "reflection behind a piece of glass beside a mirror" — claims that were difficult to envision much less paint, but Turner delivered. With full-length mirrors, sharply angled freestanding partitions, skateboards standing on their noses, intricate designs of Persian rugs, mathematically generated portraits that looked like schizophrenic Medusas, and wall-filling murals of archetypal images (including Escher-like images of endlessly replicating Buddhist deities), Turner turned an entire gallery into a fun house that was one of the most wildly imaginative shows of the year.


click to enlarge Deck the walls: Lance Turner turned a gallery into a fun house in his wildly imaginative show at Odessa.
  • Deck the walls: Lance Turner turned a gallery into a fun house in his wildly imaginative show at Odessa.

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