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The Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville has a world-class reputation, bringing thought-provoking and ground-breaking exhibits to Nashville, TN on a regular basis. But this time they’ve outdone themselves with a trio of original exhibits developed by the museum’s talented curatorial staff. They are “Lyrical Traditions: Four Centuries of Chinese Painting from the Papp Collection,” “Whispering Wind: Recent Chinese Photography,” and “Sylvia Hyman: Fictional Clay.”

Lyrical Traditions: Four Centuries of Chinese Painting from the Papp Collection

The “Lyrical Traditions” exhibit invites visitors into the world of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties with 60 magnificently illustrated hand scrolls, hanging scrolls, fans and albums. This art has been collected over the past 20 years by Phoenix, AZ, residents Marilyn and Roy Papp, who have acquired about 200 priceless pieces through the years. Their interest was piqued when the couple lived in Asia. The Asian Art curator at The Phoenix Art Museum at the time, Claudia Brown, encouraged them and gave advice to the two as they began to amass their collection.

One of the most amazing pieces in the collection, "Kangxi's Journey to the South" by Wang Hui, a landscape painting which illustrates the daily activities of the citizens in a small rural village more than 500 years ago, was added to the Papp’s collection when Brown’s husband encouraged Mrs. Papp to bid on it. Since it was a prize scroll on auction at Sotheby’s Mrs. Papp feared it would surely be far too expensive for her to afford, but he encouraged her to take a chance.

“He said, ‘Put in a low bid, what harm could it do, and maybe no one will bid against you,’” Mrs. Papp told Dish. And as it turned out, no one did. The Papp’s acquired the majestic piece for the lowest price possible.

The works in this exhibit, remarkable for their poetic tranquility, feature a variety of subjects, including images of court officials, scholars or religious figures, and depictions of animals, birds and flowers. However, landscapes most fully represent the ambitions of the Chinese artists, embodying not only their appreciation for nature, but also their profound understanding of the universe and their sense of humanity’s place in the world.

Whispering Wind: Recent Chinese Photography

Skipping centuries ahead, the “Whispering Wind: Recent Chinese Photography” exhibit features 20 contemporary artists from China who have achieved international renown for their aesthetic experimentation and expressions of deep humanity.

Many of the photographs in the exhibition refer to China’s historical identity and artistic heritage. Over the past half century, mainstream art has been controlled by the strict Communist government.

Because of fear, these photographers have consciously avoided a serious reflection on the past, particularly in regard to the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution. From 1966 to 1976, Chairman Mao Ze-dong sought to crush any residual bourgeois tendencies among the Chinese people by having his Red Guard purge physical, cultural, and intellectual traces of the pre-Communist past, thereby destroying national treasures of all kinds.

Still, during and even after the Cultural Revolution, the government did commission art as propaganda for itself. The images in this exhibition are not propagandistic, though, and the photographers belong to a large group of experimental artists who have devised a new iconography to reflect on current realities, and the role of the individual in Chinese society that were undreamed of even two decades ago.

“Their work is often an audience’s first exposure to changes in Chinese culture, the enormity of which is only beginning to be understood in the West,” says Mark Scala, chief curator of the Frist Center and this exhibit’s organizer.

Sylvia Hyman: Fictional Clay

Featuring 22 meticulously crafted trompe l’oeil sculptures created over the last eight years, the “Sylvia Hyman: Fictional Clay” exhibit will coincide with the renowned clay artist’s 90th birthday.

Based in Nashville, ceramic sculptor Hyman had a successful career for 30 years sculpting images of plants and flowers and was featured in solo exhibits at the Tennessee State Museum and the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, both in Nashville. 12 years ago her interests changed, when she got the idea of making a ceramic birthday cake for her friend’s birthday. From there, she started making small items she gave away as gifts.

But something happened. Inspiration hit her, and she began losing interest in doing ceramic flowers and plants, only wanting to use her time to make what has become her hallmark, clay reproductions of everyday objects that are so life-like a viewer cannot believe they’re not real. Hyman translates objects that reflect her own interests and personal history—letters, maps, scrolls of sheet music, etc.—into stoneware and porcelain, and often screenprints these with text, symbols, or images. This is a form of sculpture known as trompe l’oeil, or “to deceive the eye.” “Other artists create trompe l’oeil, fool the eye sculptures, but mine fool the eye into something else,” she says.

Her sculptures inspire both delight and confusion for viewers as they realize each object is created entirely out of clay. Hyman makes four sculptures at a time because as one part of one piece dries, she can start on another. The four sculptures typically take around four months to complete. Hyman laughs, “I guess you could say it takes me about a month to do each one.”

Hyman’s internationally renowned work was the subject of a recent documentary titled “Sylvia Hyman: Eternal Wonder.” An abbreviated version of the 23-minute film is featured in the exhibition.

All three exhibits will be on view at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts from June 22-Oct. 9, 2007. For more information about these marvelous exhibits, please call 615 244 3340 or go to "" / Issue 75 - September 2018
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