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Exhibitions

Menagerie: Art in Gray & Dudley

Showing at 21c Nashville On display from April 2017 - December 2023
  • Shelley Reed (American), In Dubious Battle, 2013. Oil on canvas.

  • Shelley Reed (American), In Dubious Battle (detail), 2013. Oil on canvas.

  • Shelley Reed (American), In Dubious Battle (detail), 2013. Oil on canvas.

  • Shelley Reed (American), In Dubious Battle (detail), 2013. Oil on canvas.

About the Exhibition

“Are humans a threat to the animals that exist in their absence?” artist Shelley Reed

Hanging high above the lounge, Beth Cavener’s ceramic sculptures combine human and animal traits in both form and subject matter. The Choleric—the yellow fox, poised for action and expressing youthful energy—is part of Cavener’s Emotions series and named for one of the four “humours,” the Greco-Roman theory that physical health and personality are determined by the relative balance of bodily fluids. Breathe, a peaceful goat with a serene face, balances against a wall on a beam above the bar. In each of Cavener’s sculptures, the intricate details of facial features, bodily form, color, and the lines delineating fur, muscle, and bone express and elicit a range of human emotions and experiences. Reflecting on her fascination with animal and human behavior, the artist says that since childhood she has learned “to read meaning in the subtler signs; a look, the way one holds one’s hands, the tightening of muscles in the shoulders, the incline of the head, the rhythm of a walk, and the slightest unconscious gestures. I rely on animal body language in my work as a metaphor for these underlying patterns, transforming the animal subjects into human psychological portraits. I want to pry at those uncomfortable, awkward edges between animal and human. Entangled in their own internal and external struggles, the figures express frustration for the human tendency towards cruelty and lack of understanding. Something conscious and knowing is captured in their gestures and expressions. An invitation and a rebuke.”

Mitch Eckert’s series, Field Notes, began with a family visit to Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. On an especially busy day, when children were running between the dioramas on display, Eckert noticed how the simulated scenes, placed side-by-side, erase the borders between the animals’ natural geographic habitats. These dioramas, Eckert observed, are more akin to sixteenth-century cabinets of curiosities, in which artifacts and objects collected in locations throughout the world were combined all together in intimate displays that were intended to evoke a sense of awe, rather than reflect or reference the origins of the objects in a collection. Eckert’s in-camera multiple exposure photographs of dioramas from various natural history museums reference the chaotic nature of the in-person museum experience while also highlighting concerns about the rapidly decreasing animal populations and loss of habitats occurring in the natural world. The imagery of Field Notes is dreamlike and surreal, yet poses a very real question: is collecting our only means of preservation?

 

Shelley Reed’s monumental, eleven-panel painting, In Dubious Battle, depicts an allegorical narrative, casting animals from art historical paintings as the characters in an unfolding drama that ends in an epic struggle between dogs, tigers, lions, and leopards. By painting in shades of grey, black, and white, Reed distills the scene and unifies the image by focusing on the heightened emotion between the animals. The artist spent years and thousands of hours painting excerpts and details from Old Master European paintings, often working from paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and from reproductions in art history books. Reed was fascinated by these animals; painted before the invention of photography, artists painted animals from memory, the stories from other people, or their imaginations. The resulting images, often fantastical renderings, were frequently very different from reality. In Dubious Battle is a mash-up of these details and passages, appropriations from twenty-three different artists including Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Alexandre-François Desportes, Melchior d’Hondecoeter, and George Stubbs, among others. While there are hints of human presence—the scenes take place within buildings, on top of drapery, and near guns, instruments, baskets of fruit, vases, and bottles—they emphasize the absence of people.

The title of the painting comes from John Milton’s 17th-century poem, Paradise Lost, in which Satan speaks to his troops and refers to the fight against the almighty, undefeatable God as In Dubious Battle. The struggle between good and evil is a defining aspect of the human condition, one that the artist evokes in this painting. As Reed explains, “The domestic and the wild exist in dangerous proximity. You see animals that were bred to be domestic, and you see animals tearing each other apart. There’s a hint of aggression—as if violence could break out at any time. There’s a hint of something sinister.”

 

Artist Bios:

Beth Cavener was born in Pasadena, California to a molecular biologist and an art teacher. Cavener graduated from Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania in 2002, studied at the Appalachian Center for Craft, Tennessee Tech University, Smithville, Tennessee, and in 2002 completed her MFA in ceramics at The Ohio State University. Cavener’s works have been collected and exhibited in museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Art and Design, the Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, and many others.

 

Mitch Eckert graduated from Herron School of Art with a BFA in photography and sculpture and received his MFA from Ohio University where he focused on photography, printmaking, and art history. Eckert’s work is held in the collections of 21c Museum, Butler Institute of American Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Photographic Archives at the University of Louisville, and Swope Museum of Art. Eckert currently lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky where he is an associate professor of art at the University of Louisville.

 

Shelley Reed was awarded a Traveling Fellowship in 2013 from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and was a finalist for a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in 2012.  In 2006 she received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. She was the recipient of the 2005 Maud Morgan Award from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and a 2005 Berkshire Taconic Artist’s Resource Trust Grant. Her work can be found in public and private collections including Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Wellington Management Company, Fidelity Investment Corporation, Hallmark Collection, Lila Acheson Wallace Collection, Bank of Boston, Rose Art Museum, Danforth Museum, and the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park.

Beth Cavener (American)
The Choleric, 2010
Stoneware, paint, mixed media

Breathe, 2008
Stoneware

Shelley Reed
In Dubious Battle, 2013
Oil on canvas

Mitch Eckert

FMNH No. 18, 2016

FMNH No. 32, 2019

AMNH No. 25, 2019

AMNH No. 5, 2019

AMNH No. 21, 2019

FMNH No. 33, 2019

AMNH No. 39, 2019

FMNH No. 27, 2016

AMNH No. 43, 2019

AMNH No. 116, 2019

AMNH No. 53, 2019

FMNH No. 61, 2016

AMNH No. 44, 2019

AMNH No. 103, 2019

FMNH No. 36, 2019

AMNH No. 25, 2019

ChromoLuxe Dye Sublimation Print on Aluminum

 

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