On Friday, the Nasher Sculpture Center will unveil its latest exhibition, but the doors to the museum won’t be open. And no, you won’t have to stream it. The glassy, Renzo Piano-designed building offers a unique opportunity for the Nasher and its audience to engage with art intimately and safely in this time of social distancing. The new series called Nasher Windows highlights the work of North Texas artists, particularly pieces that would’ve made their debut in now-cancelled exhibitions across Dallas this spring.
Those works will be positioned in the building’s large windows on Flora Street, creating the space for a physical yet contact-free art encounter.
“The idea for Nasher Windows just came out of a lot of brainstorming that we’ve been doing at the Nasher about how to reengage our local audience in the midst of this big pivot to digital engagement, which I think museums all over the world had to do in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says associate curator Leigh Arnold. “And you know a big part of sculpture–and really all art–is being to see it in person having that kind of bodily experience with a work of art.”
The museum’s giant windows have always given passersby a peek inside, but the Nasher had never really oriented an exhibition to be experienced from outside the museum. Arnold started thinking about how iconic artists like Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg had gotten their start designing window displays.
“So, thinking about front facing exhibitions and that idea, the idea for displaying art, grew from thinking about a question to thinking about something a little bit more urgent, and working with artists locally, especially those who seem to have a greater need, or perhaps might have some work already in the studio because they prepared it for an exhibition that has been canceled or postponed.”
They’re kicking things off with Tamara Johnson’s whimsical Deviled Egg and Okra Column (2020), which would’ve been shown at Allison Klion’s gallery, ex ovo. A precarious tower of petrified deviled eggs and okra, the piece is a chaotic, Southern nod to Brancusi’s Endless Column. At the bottom, the colors are rich—golden yolks dusted with paprika, bright green okra–but they pale to white as the tower ascends, its proportions impossible. There’s something almost nerve wracking about it.
Johnson was born in Waco, and she returned to Texas in 2018 after six years in New York City. She and her partner, Trey Burns, came to Dallas to pursue their dream of opening a sculpture park. Now, the two operate Sweet Pass Sculpture Park, a small outdoor space neighboring ex ovo. Johnson is also a visiting lecturer at SMU.
She explained in a statement that the cultural shift of returning to her home state inspired the Deviled Egg and Okra Column: “Since moving back to Texas in 2018, my work has shifted to explicitly focus on a more personal iconography – my relationship to the South and the ways in which my (temporary) body moves and works within this familiar, yet unfamiliar landscape. Each of these works explore a personal terrain, embedding meaning in foods I associate with my upbringing, like deviled eggs, picked okra and Rotel. These items become condensed bouillon cubes of material meaning, holding vulnerability, sexuality, and humor in a delicate balance.”
Considering its reference to the iconic work of Brancusi, it should be a natural fit for the halls of the Nasher. The piece will be on view in the windows on Flora Street from Friday, May 22 through Wednesday, May 27.
On Friday, May 29, the museum will start the second installment in the series, a thoughtful work by Dallas’ Xxavier Edward Carter. You may remember Carter as the SMU Fine Arts Master’s student whose emotional, self-mutilating thesis was barred by the university. His piece for the Nasher Windows, Start Livin’ in the New World, is a tapestry of paper receipts and other souvenirs of consumerism, hung across a magnolia branch. The title is taken from a song by The Roots.
In the artist’s words, “this space surveils the viewer, being set inside of the institutional glass façade of the Nasher Sculpture Center during a global pandemic, echoing the words of the song, ‘It ain’t nowhere to run, it ain’t hardly nowhere to hide,’ at a time where communities of color are being disproportionately affected by a crisis that is being exacerbated by the consumption of capitalist living and a government that continues to adhere to corporate safety and racial divisions rather than investing in the people.”
Carter’s piece will be up for a few days, then another, not-yet-announced installment will take over the following week. While general admission to the museum is a considerable barrier to entry at $10, viewing the Nasher Windows is, of course, free. Happy window shopping.