Frist Art Museum welcomes work of Nashville native Virginia Overton

The Frist Art Museum (Nashville) presents “Virginia Overton: Saved,” an exhibition of sculptures and site-specific installations made from repurposed everyday materials that create a dynamic visual poetry of reclamation and renewal. Organized by the Frist Art Museum, the exhibition will be on view in the from October 7 through December 31, 2022.

Virginia Overton seeks out the creative potential in ordinary building materials, defunct equipment, and other objects that have been discarded or fallen into disrepair.

“In her practice, Overton focuses on harnessing and examining associations carried by items, machined or organic, that retain aspects of their former lives,” Frist Art Museum chief curator Mark Scala said.

Through a process that embraces improvisation, the artist adds layers of meaning by dismantling, constructing, realigning, and juxtaposing elements.

“Encouraging us to see beauty and find value in neglected things, Overton presents an alternative to the attitude of disposability that prevails in consumer culture,” Scala said.

The exhibition’s title, Saved, is a reference to how material objects can be re-envisioned as art instead of being cast away. Overton’s work has numerous artistic touchstones, including Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, the minimalists’ interactions with industrial materials, the arte povera artists’ use of “poor” materials as a statement of solidarity with the working class, and the found object assemblages created by self-taught southern artists like Thornton Dial.

Though she has long worked in New York City, the Nashville-born artist maintains strong connections with Middle Tennessee, where her family has owned Wedge Oak Farm in Lebanon for more than a century.

“Implicit in her work are references to these two settings, meshing city and farm, industrial and organic, refined and rough,” said Scala. “Throughout the exhibition, we see not just isolated artifactsturned-artworks but also a larger gestalt in which the works inflect each other and the surrounding architecture.”

On visits to the family farm, Overton often finds materials for her projects. Her sculpture Sister Ham is a bronze cast from a ham produced by her sister at Wedge Oak Farm. An earlier version of the sculpture was an actual ham that was suspended from the ceiling in Overton’s 2016 exhibition Sculpture Gardens at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

“The original ham embodied the elevation of a ‘real’ found object into art status,” Scala said. “The bronze version is uncanny; a familiar food product is now transformed into an object of aesthetic contemplation that evokes the Dutch still life tradition of depicting meat and produce as a reminder of both abundance and the inevitability of death.”

Overton has also constructed a large chime using paired metal implements and other remnants from the farm hung over a gantry, equipment typically used during the production of work rather than its presentation.

“Like all her work, the chime closes the gap between life and art—here, the art comes alive through human interaction or, when displayed outside, the effects of the wind,” Scala said. “Guests can play this musical sculpture while enjoying its visual ingenuity that evokes an agricultural existence both pastoral and laborious.”

New works from the “Quartered Logs” series made from black cherry and oak trees are arranged to occupy three corners of a square.

“The fourth corner consists of an immoveable architectural column in our gallery that is usually an annoyance for artists, designers, and curators who must work around this element. Now, for the first time, the building becomes part of the artwork,” said Scala.

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens (Nashville) recently acquired one of Overton’s large outdoor sculptures that was specifically fabricated for the property. The piece, Untitled (4×8), will be permanently installed on The Ann & Monroe Carrell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail and debuts on October 8 in conjunction with the opening of “Saved” at the Frist.

Virginia Overton sculpture, Untitled (4x8). Cheekwood Estate and Gardens.
Virginia Overton sculpture, Untitled (4×8). Cheekwood Estate and Gardens.

About the Artist

Virginia Overton earned her bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts degrees from the University of Memphis. She has had solo exhibitions at Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland; Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

In 2018, she became the first woman to have a solo show at New York’s Socrates Sculpture Park. This year, she had a solo exhibition at Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in London; installed a permanent site-specific installation at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York; and is included in the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Cecilia Alemani, in Venice, Italy.

She is represented by Bortolami Gallery in New York City, White Cube in London, and Galerie Francesca Pia in Zurich.

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