• Print

    ‘Public/Art/ists' a sweeping survey of Memphis artists who do public projects

    Fredric Koeppel

    Picture by CHRIS DESMOND


    One of the largest group exhibitions in the history of the arts in Memphis opens Friday, February 6, and it’s only the first in a series of three.

    The exhibition, opening with a reception from 6 to 9 at Crosstown Arts, is “Public/Art/ists,” and it represents an ambitious collaboration among three nonprofit arts incubators: Crosstown Arts, ArtsMemphis and UrbanArt Commission. The show gathers a dizzying variety of works from 45 or so of the artists who have provided public art since 1997 under the agency of UrbanArt or who may have contributed to projects without being the primary artist involved or even artists who worked on other public art projects.
    “This is really about being inclusive,” said Lauren Kennedy, recently installed director of UrbanArt Commission. “We want people to understand that all of this is truly a collective and collaborative effort.”
    As expansive as this exhibition is, a second installment is scheduled for display from the end of August through the end of October at the ArtsMemphis offices, with a third show planned for November in a venue Downtown. The present segment of “Public/Art/ists” will be on view through Feb. 28.
    A gallery talk at 2 p.m. Saturday will offer a casual discussion about the process and opportunities available for local public art projects.
    “Multiple ideas motivated the show,” said Emily Harris Halpern, Crosstown Arts program director, “one being our mission to collaborate with and connect artists and audiences. This series will not only act as a connection point to and for these artists but also collectively reveal the many facets and the range of their practices in the studio and in the community.”
    Works for the exhibition were submitted after a call went out to the artists. The pieces selected for the show are not urban landscape artworks but efforts that reflect what the artists do in their studios when they are creating on a private rather than a public level. Still, the exhibition will provide insight into the artists’ processes and their involvement in creating public art projects from conception to completion.
    UrbanArt Commission has completed about 140 projects since its founding in 1997. Not all of the commissions were for major or highly visible projects, like the Tom Lee memorial in the eponymous park by the Mississippi River. Many involved artworks for or enhancements to the city’s neighborhood parks or public buildings such as police stations, libraries and community centers.
    “Part of what the series of exhibitions is about,” Kennedy said, “is that people don’t have an idea what the scope of the work has been or how extensive it is. We want to convey that sense of excitement and celebration.”
    Lauren Boyer, new media and marketing manager for ArtsMemphis, called the collaboration among the three arts groups “thrilling, especially on this citywide scale.”
    For the exhibition planned to fill the galleries of ArtsMemphis later this year, Boyer emphasized that the differences between the spaces — Crosstown Arts a large, deep open room; ArtsMemphis divided into offices and hallways — partly dictated the selection of artists who will show appropriate work there.
    “There will be some bleed-over of artists from the first show to the second,” she said, “though most of the artists in our exhibition will be new. Some artists were not able to meet the call that went out in January, so we’re giving them a chance too. It’s amazing that so many artists have been involved with UrbanArt projects from the beginning. We have so much to choose from.”
    ArtsMemphis is a financial supporter of UrbanArt Commission, Boyer said, and has worked with Crosstown Arts on various projects.
    It’s a measure of UrbanArt’s sense of inclusion that the artists commissioned for projects and featured in the exhibition comprise a roster of not only some of the region’s best-known artists and teachers but also many who labor outside of the collegiate and commercial gallery mainstream. The work itself is equally expansive, with eclectic examples of painting, video, large-scale installation, sculpture, drawing, mixed-media, prints, photography and textiles.
    And the artists?
    Beth Edwards, Cat Pena, Greely Myatt, Anne J. Froning, Jill Wissmiller, Jonathan Auger, Anthony Lee, Kiersten Williams, Pinkney Herbert, Jamond Bullock, Jeannie Tomlinson Saltmarsh, Carol Deforest, Tootsie Bell, Sean Murphy, Richard Lou, Jeane Umbreit, Jay Crum, Jason Miller, Robin Salant, Tad Lauritzen Wright, Elisha Gold, Anne Davey, Louis “Ziggy” Tucker, Kia Lola, Mary Long, Jason Bowles, Bob X, Annabelle Meacham, Penny Dodds, Yvonne Bobo, Susan Maakestaad, Suzy Hendrix, April Pierce, Stephanie Cosby, Yvonne Bobo, Meredith Olinger, Eszter Sziksz, Jamin Carter, Vitus Shell, Phyllis Boger, Kristi Duckworth, Pam Cobb, Brandon Marshall, Lea Holland, Whitney Kerr, Yancy Villa-Calvo and Erica Qualy.
    This is why the concept of “something for everyone” was invented.
    Through Feb. 28 at Crosstown Arts, 422 N. Cleveland. Opening reception 6-9 p.m. tonight. Gallery talk at 2 p.m. Saturday. Call 901-507-8030, or visit crosstownarts.org.