Immediately inside the entrance to the Ingram Gallery loom six immense bee hives. Or are they sea anemone? Upon further examination, it becomes clear that these mysterious hanging structures are none other than several prescription pill bottles, wine corks, and pieces of twine hand-wrapped into a piece of art. This work, entitled Hooked on Svelte (2014) by Joel S. Allen, is the first of many in the Frist Center for the Visual Arts’ current exhibition, State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. The show, open through September 10th, was organized by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and features a broad survey of art from video installations and mixed media pieces to photographs and sculptures by over 40 different artists across the nation.
Each carefully hand-selected piece carries a message for its audience. In fact, the exhibit is thematically divided by works centered around human emotions such as anxiety and discomfort, the environment, race, and politics as well as other issues that confront today’s society. Not only are these artworks visually stimulating, but they are deeply intellectual as well, evoking personal emotions of all kinds and providing insight into the inner workings of an entire country.
One piece bound to elicit a range of human emotion is that of Vincent Valdez entitled The Strangest Fruit (2013). His painting of a man seemingly floating in midair is surreally serene; one could even infer that he is dancing. With a closer look, however, it becomes clear that the meaning is much darker. The man’s authentic dress and glazed eyes echo the very real lynchings of Latinos in Texas during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The absence of the rope breaks down the barrier of discomfort that often causes an audience to shift their glance. Without the rope, viewers are intrigued and eventually forced to see the horrors of the lynchings that are so often overlooked by mainstream society and media.
Although not every piece in the exhibit is as somber as Valdez’s, they are each filled with just as much meaning and impact. Not only does State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now offer a wide range of messages for its audience, but it is also vastly diverse in creativity and inspiration. While it is impossible to encompass every kind of art that exists in America today in one space alone, this exhibit does a phenomenal job of capturing a variety of powerful pieces unique to their country of origin.