The Frist Art Museum presents Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century, a sweeping survey of paintings from around the world that invite contemplation of seemingly ungraspable forces shaping contemporary society, from the ideological to the technological. Organized by Frist Art Museum chief curator Mark Scala, the exhibition will be on view in the museum’s Ingram Gallery from June 22 through September 16, 2018. It will be presented at the Chrysler Museum from November 15, 2018, through April 28, 2019.
Artists in the exhibition, Chaos and Awe (Franz Ackermann, Ahmed Alsoudani, Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Radcliffe Bailey, Ali Banisadr, Pedro Barbeito, Jeremy Blake, Matti Braun, Dean Byington, Hamlett Dobbins, Nogah Engler, Anoka Faruqee, Barnaby Furnas, Ellen Gallagher, Wayne Gonzales, Wade Guyton, Rokni Haerizadeh, Peter Halley, Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, Rashid Johnson,, Guillermo Kuitca, Heather Gwen Martin, Julie Mehretu, Jiha Moon, Wangechi Mutu, James Perrin, Neo Rauch, Matthew Ritchie, Rachel Rossin, Pat Steir, Barbara Takenaga, Dannielle Tegeder, Kazuki Umezawa, Charline von Heyl, Sarah Walker, Corinne Wasmuht and Sue Williams), convey the destabilizing effects of phenomena such as globalism, mass migration, the resurgence of radical political agendas, and the rapidly expanding impact of communications and information technology. These powerful forces are dramatically altering social relations in unpredictable ways, provoking emotions from anxiety to excitement about life in the present and future.
Affirming painting’s unfailing relevance as an art form in the digital era, Chaos and Awe celebrate the visual freshness, complexity, and associative richness of this age-old medium. “Taking advantage of paint’s chameleon-like properties, these works have a nuanced and alluring physical presence that is less attainable in virtual mediums,” says Scala.
“Even the physical nature of paint itself, scooped from a can or squeezed from a tube, has metaphorical resonance—its formlessness is well suited to depicting amorphous conditions that are the central themes of this show.”
Scala’s critically acclaimed 2009 exhibition Paint Made Flesh also examined how paint is an inherently effective medium for expressing the transitory nature of the human condition.
Organized in seven sections, Chaos and Awe begins with “No Place,” a meditation on complex technological systems that have enhanced the connectedness of people and cultures around the world, but also led to a heightened vulnerability in our social, political, and technical infrastructures. Paintings in “Shadows” and “Collisions” express unease, fear, and the fragmentation of identity in response to reemerging racism, nationalism, and conflicting belief systems. “Interzone” explores encounters between different cultures, less as sources of anxiety than as portrayals of the vibrant cross-fertilization that results from global migration. “Virtuality” relates to the impact of the digital age, in which the boundaries between reality and cyberspace have become increasingly tenuous. Paintings in “The Boundless” depict ephemeral phenomena such as atmosphere, fluid, and smoke as symbols of the uncontainable vastness of the human imagination. The exhibition concludes with “Everything,” which features works that convey a deep thirst for worldviews that can accommodate multiple understandings, welcoming rather than rejecting the dissolution of fixed ideas and borders.
The profound nature of the subject matter, paired with the masterly technique on display in the works, may overwhelm, disturb, or thrill the viewer—reactions that affirm the enduring ability of painting to communicate nascent and often unnamable ideas, emotions, and sensations. Scala hopes that the paintings will help shape viewers’ own perceptions of the forces swirling around them. “How we respond to the precarity of the world is the central question today, as it has been in other pivotal moments in history.”
This exhibition is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by an NEA Art Works Grant.
The Frist Art Museum has produced an exhibition catalog, Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century, published by The MIT Press with seventy-six full-color illustrations. It provides various perspectives on painting as a medium that is well suited to describing perceptions of growing instability, contradictory information, and warring extremisms, as well as celebrating the sublime and how artists represent connections in the unseen universe. Edited by Mark W. Scala, with essays by Media Farzin (a writer, editor, and educator and a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts and the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York), Simon Morley (an artist and professor at Dankook University in Korea), and Matthew Ritchie, the book addresses readers who seek patterns of meaning in culture through the lens of perception and aesthetics.
Simon Morley is the author of Writing on the Wall: Word and Image in Modern Art and editor of The Sublime (MIT Press/Whitechapel Gallery).
Matthew Ritchie’s work is regularly exhibited worldwide and in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has written for Artforum, Flash Art, Art & Text, October, and the Contemporary Arts Journal. He lectures widely and is currently a mentor professor in the graduate visual arts program at Columbia University.
Friday, June 22
Curator’s Perspective: From No Place to Everything Presented by Mark Scala, chief curator, Frist Auditorium, 6:30 p.m., free
In this lecture, chief curator Mark Scala will discuss how artists in Chaos and Awe respond to cultural shifts that are so sweeping and unpredictable that they lead to feelings ranging from helplessness, anxiety, and even terror to excitement at the possibilities of boundless knowledge and new levels of connectivity.
Thursday, July 12
Curator’s Tour: Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century Presented by Mark Scala, chief curator
Noon, Meet at exhibition entrance, Free to members; admission required for not-yet-members
Join chief curator Mark Scala for an in-depth look at this international survey of contemporary painting. Artists in Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century convey the destabilizing effects of phenomena such as globalism, mass migration, the resurgence of radical political agendas, and the rapidly expanding impact of communications and information technology through art. These powerful forces are dramatically altering social relations in unpredictable ways, provoking emotions from anxiety to excitement about life in the present and future. Frist Art Museum members can attend a Members-Only Curator’s Tour on Friday, July 13 at noon.
Friday, July 27
Frist Friday: An Evening of Chaos and Awe
6:00–9:00 p.m., Frist Art Museum members, visitors 18 and younger, college students with ID: FREE. General adult admission: $12
Experience the exhibitions of the Frist Art Museum in new and unexpected ways at Frist Fridays. Stay for an evening of extraordinary music and art, with live performances, interactive gallery activities, food and drink specials, and more, featuring Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century and The Presence of Your Absence Is Everywhere: Afruz Amighi.
Saturday, September 8
Symposium: Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century
10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., Auditorium
$30 members; $40 not-yet-members; $20 students and university faculty. Registration includes admission to the galleries and a boxed lunch.
The Frist Art Museum will hold a public symposium to coincide with the major exhibition Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century. The all-day event will feature exhibition artists and catalog contributors, including Ghada Amer, Ali Banisadr, Media Farzin, and Matthew Ritchie, who will discuss their work and the larger themes of the exhibition. Register at www.FristArtMuseum.org/symposium.
- Platinum Sponsor: HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA Healthcare/TriStar Health
- Hospitality Sponsor: Union Station Hotel
- Education and Outreach Sponsor: First Tennessee