Image courtesy of CKramer. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
I spent most of this past weekend in Nashville, which was a delightful way to experience vast quantities of local beer, art, and musical theatre from a state other than my own. The trip was originally spurred by my realization that a round-trip Megabus ticket between Atlanta and Nashville was $35, total. The price can’t be beat, and for the most part the experience was a pleasant one–in particular, I was totally charmed by the dude who has set up a Megabus-specific food truck at the Atlanta station. It’s a van that he’s painted “Megasnacks” on, by hand, which pulls up for the half hour stopover that Megabuses make while loading and unloading passengers. Presumably, when the buses are not there he goes home.
I bought a diet coke from him on the way into Nashville. Later, while waiting in line to get on the bus, he came to peddle his wares outside of the truck. “Headphones and pregnancy tests–know before you go!” is pretty much the most delightful way I’ve ever seen pregnancy tests peddled, so hey. (No one bought one, though I did see a few dudes take him up on the headphones.)
Because the friend I was staying with in Nashville is a classy and cultured individual, we spent most of Saturday loking at art. Our first stop was at the Frist, Nashville’s fine art museum, which is interesting in that it doesn’t have a permenant collection and is also in a hollowed-out giant old post office. The two touring exhibits that we had access to were 30 Americans and a Norman Rockwell exhibition. The Norman Rockwell pieces were–though fun, and charming–pretty much totally overwhelming. Dude painted constantly, of course. The exhibit did clearly want to place as much emphasis as possible on Rockwell’s post-Post work for Look magazine–both New Kids in the Neighborhood and The Problem We All Live With were featured prominently, a valiant attempt on the curator’s part to help emphasize that some of the weirdness of Rockwell’s work was related to the Saturday Evening Post‘s own editorial restrictions (like the policy not to show African-Americans in non-service positions).
The show (and the focus of it) was particularly interesting in conjunction with 30 Americans, which was a collection of works from 30 African-American artists, spanning significant time and styles. The art was mindblowingly cool, and well-presented. I was delighted to see that there were four of Nick Cave’s sound suits on display (more or less one in each major room of the exhibit), after having seen one in Boston this past New Year’s. They are so, so cool, you guys–even mounted and still, they are neat, but when worn and filmed they are mindblowing. If the exhibit comes anywhere near you, you should go see it.
After the Frist, we headed to Cheekwood Gardens, a combination botanical garden/art museum in the fine tradition of my childhood favorite, the Philbrook (ie, old wealthy folks donate their house and yard to charity, art ensues). It was the closing weekend for Lights, a land art installation by Bruce Munro. The installation focuses on light interacting with the landscape, and winds up being ethereal and beautiful and weird. The largest piece, Field of Light, basically rolled over the entire grounds. It consisted of thousands of little glass bulbs on top of fiber-optic stalks, placed over the fairly hilly grounds. As the sun went down, the exhibit lit up, with whole sections of it taking on the same color, and changing color slowly. It’s the sort of thing that might have been cheesy on a small scale, but which was really beautiful on a large one–as I kept saying to my friend, it reminded me (and this is a weird comparison) of the scene in Spirited Away where the protagonist sees the spirit village emerge as the sun goes down.
Water Towers, set away from Field of Light, was also disorienting and lovely. It consists of several towers made out of filled plastic bottles, each plastic bottle containing an LED. The towers all have their own color, and have speakers installed in them. You wander into the circle, and can hear them singing–choral and South African music, while we were there. They reminded me a little bit of how Madeline L’Engle describes the fallen stars in A Wrinkle in Time, even though that comparison makes basically no sense.
Basically, it was an emotional art exhibit. I think that that might be how people feel at Burning Man.
We capped off the night with a trip to my friend’s high school to see a production of Hairspray, which was both an impressive testament to their drama department (it was an enjoyable production, not a “well-we-love-our-kid” production) and a nice reminder of just how cute high school drama kids are. It was closing night, so the teachers brought up all the seniors for roses, which led them to start crying. Then the kids gave out cards to all the teachers, which was wholesome and cute and earnest. They capped it off with the kids giving cards to other kids, and there was hugging, and they looked happy that it had gone off well. It made me nostalgic for my own wee drama geek days, which is insane because 22-year-olds probably shouldn’t be capable of nostalgia.
I am incrasingly convinced that weekend travel is the way to go: you get in, get out, and get to see All The Art. Plus, seriously: sound suits.