Destination: Art - Nashville edition

Destination: Art - Nashville edition

On a recent trip to Nashville I spent two days wandering the city to soak up as much art as I could. Having grown up in Nashville it never ceases to amaze me at how rapidly the city is growing. New restaurants and cultural spaces are popping up to satisfy the estimated hundred people a day relocating to the city, and they want more than just country music. In between visiting friends and family I discovered new favorites as well as revisiting old ones. Below is a list of a few places I would say are “can’t miss” if artwork is a priority when you travel.


Frist Center for the Visual Arts

You can’t mention art in Nashville without mentioning the Frist. The building itself is a piece of art; it was constructed in 1934 as the city's main post office and still retains all the Art Deco details you would associate with The Great Gatsby. The Frist does not have a permanent collection of art, but this gives them the freedom to showcase a multitude of traveling exhibitions. While I was there State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now and Vadis Turner: Tempest were on display. I was blown away by the former. The Frist’s website sums up the exhibit better than I could, “The resulting exhibition is particularly rich in art that responds to place, conveys personal and familial experience, and communicates the artists’ concerns with issues of the environment, the economy, gender, race, and identity.” I loved the thematic grouping of artwork and discovered many artists that were new to me. Ala Ebtekar’s Fantastic Voyage was a favorite of mine. If you’re in Nashville, make sure you see this show before it closes on September 10th!


Rymer Gallery

One of the largest contemporary gallery’s in the city. They host a rotation of local artists. If you’re in town on the first Saturday of the month stop by as part of the Nashville Art Crawl. I was particularly enchanted with the sculptures by Herb Williams. His use of crayons to create lifesize dog sculptures brought a smile to my face.

21c Museum Hotel

The concept of a “museum hotel” was completely foreign to me before this trip. I wouldn’t have even known about this gem had it not been for the suggestion by the lovely people at the Rymer Gallery. Located just a short walk from the Rymer, 21c boosts a large exhibition space, Gray & Dudley (a fun bar/restaurant with additional art installations), and of course, a hotel. Don’t be intimidated by the lobby and front desk, the downstairs gallery is free and open to the public. 21c’s mission is to showcase artists from… the 21st century. This was the most surprising find of my trip and definitely a place I would go back. The range of contemporary artists and mediums on display surprised me. It was extremely well curated; what could have easily been a gimmick was instead a cool and well-rounded art space. Next time I’m staying for happy hour at Gray & Dudley!

21c Museum Hotel - Let's Play!

Public Art – murals and sculpture

If budget is a concern, grab an ice coffee (or sweet tea) and walk the city to find murals. Like many other cities, Nashville has embraced artist commissioned murals. You’ll get the most bang for your buck in 12 South. All of the pictures below were taken within a few blocks from each other. The neighborhood is a mix of both tourist trap and local hangouts. You’ll find local favorite Frothy Monkey for coffee right down the street from Reese Witherspoon’s preppy boutique, Draper James.

Public art is also becoming a huge part of Nashville’s landscape. You'll see monumental sculptures like Alice Aycock's Ghost Ballet, Alan LeQuire's Musica, and Christian Moeller's Stix along with smaller scultpures like Matt Young's Emerge and Wayne Henderson's Good Eats. The city is also finding fun and unexpected ways of incorporating art into everyday life from mosaics, to sculpture, to bike racks. Check out the city’s website for list of everything you can see.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the artwork you should see. There were so many more galleries and museums I didn't have time to visit. I'll keep you up to date with future editions of Nashville art city guides as I return to the city to see family.

Have you been to Nashville? What were your favorite spots? Let me know if you’d like me to expand this series to include restaurants, coffee shops, and other non-art related “must see” stops.

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