Wild Abandon 

Energy and ideas pour through "Perspectives."

You'll find no provincialism, colloquial kitsch, or partisan bickering in the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art's current exhibition, "Perspectives." From its explosive beginning to its magnetic end, this regional art show, put together by globe-trotting juror/curator Michael Rooks, brainstorms possibilities.

Memphian Bo Rodda plops us right into the heart of -46m, 248m, -572, a computer-generated universe where thousands of viewpoints simultaneously explode toward and away from the viewer. There is no horizon line, no ground, no bumper-to-bumper traffic in this parallel world. Instead, swerving lines, printed on metallic paper in endless shades of gray, read like stainless-steel intergalactic freeways that have swallowed up every square inch of space.

Nashville artist Kit Reuther's oils on canvas are as open-ended. In two of her strongest works, Blueline and Porcelancia, weeds scattered across crystalline cold landscapes become tours de force of painting and imagination. Dried pods morph into small urns, faded blue china, and hieroglyphs that wash into streams of ink excreted by squids and seaweeds floating in deep waters.

Memphian Jon Lee's mixed-media paintings appear to reach a boiling point. Exotic animals materialize out of scraped and scumbled backgrounds, and venom drips from the mouth of a cobra. Acrylics and aerosols crash across his surfaces and drip over the edges of these 21st-century abstractions mixed with the raw energy and materials of graffiti.

Many of the works in "Perspectives" lie at the edge of art and consciousness. Memphian Terri Jones' Stone's Line is quirky, nostalgic, and so minimal you could miss it altogether. It's worth finding for the associations it evokes, including the root-beer float you shared on your first date decades ago. Fifty-year-old paper straws thread together and disappear into the ceiling. As you move around Jones' free-hanging strand of straws and memory, notice how it sways, creating shadows that ooze like colas onto gray carpet.

click to enlarge Patrick DeGuira's Cannibal's Makeover (detail)
  • Patrick DeGuira's Cannibal's Makeover (detail)

Local artist Phillip Lewis' installation, "Atmosphere," both grounds us and arcs our point of view straight up. Droning sounds come from a speaker on the ceiling above a translucent blue rectangle that pulsates like an idle video monitor. Look up into Lewis' ingenious mandala and acclimate to its sound. Your heart rate will slow to the beat of the visual pulse, and you'll find yourself drawn some 300 yards above the museum where Lewis recorded winds with a parabolic mike.

Passionate, open-ended dialogue reaches a high point with Memphian Cedar Nordbye's wall-filling installation that builds, explores, and destroys civilization. Two-by-fours inscribed with mind-bending mottoes climb up and over the top of a 10-foot partition. A cast of characters, including Billie Holiday, Abbie Hoffman, Franz Kafka, and Noam Chomsky, is exquisitely rendered in ink and acrylic on the surfaces of wooden beams that build both architecture and ideas. On the far right, 2x4's tumble past cartoons of jet planes, replicas of the Empire State Building, and an image of a monk setting himself on fire.

A wry, informed mind is indispensable for deciphering Nashville artist Patrick DeGuira's Cannibal's Makeover, a small sooty room where shards of glass and human femurs are piled on the floor, hatchets are embedded in walls, human skulls are candleholders, a well-dressed man levitates just beyond reach, and almost everything (chairs, mirrors, bones, walls) is painted a dark gray. Humans feeding off humans will always be with us, DeGuira's dark, deadpan installation seems to say. But ritual sacrifice is so passé. Imagine, instead, dark forces as heads of countries and corporations chew us up and spit us out, millions of us. Instead of devouring humans, one by one, in this high-tech world think global warfare, corporate takeover, and environmental devastation.

Memphis artist Niles Wallace works another kind of magic. He transforms hundreds of layers of shag carpet into two of the most moving works in the show. His cone-shaped Temple suggests many kinds of worship, including stupas, sweat lodges, and pyramids. Suspended a foot or so from the ground, his circular Portal suggests the hoops through which we must jump to reach subtler realms. You'll find no ascetic, static perfection in Wallace's heavenly visions. Instead, we get a comforting spirituality inflected with the frayed, shaggy, well-worn textures of life.

Murfreesboro artist Jacqueline Meeks explores our darker impulses with a series of ink drawings of a bejeweled, plumed aristocrat. Meeks' metaphor for self-indulgence spinning out of control is political/social/psychological satire at its best. With her head covered by intricate petticoats and her elephantine bottom bared, an 18th-century French courtesan somersaults across the left wall of the gallery.

Above the entrance to "Perspectives," William Rowe's neon sign shouts "forget me" in ironic, electric-blue writing. Forget you? Forget this show which so beautifully reflects this mesmerizingly complex world? Not likely.

"Perspectives" at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art through September 9th

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