Named after the capital city of Egypt’s Old Kingdom, the modern-day Memphis is best known as the hometown of Elvis Presley. ‘Graceland‘ is the city’s biggest tourist attraction; but off the beaten path, Memphis is home to a plethora of high-quality exhibition spaces.
Bequeathed by Margaret and Hugo Dixon, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens is now open to the public. Their home, gardens, and art collection is rooted in the Dixons’ love of Impressionist paintings, and has expanded over the years to include more than 2,000 works of art. The space hosts approximately ten exhibitions per year, with themes investigating traditional and digital methods of contemporary illustration in Memphis to the self-explanatory Color! American Photography Transformed. Visitors favoring the 18th and 19th centuries will gravitate towards their permanent collection, whereas modern and contemporary connoisseurs will take interest in the space’s rotating exhibitions. The Dixon Gallery and Gardens delivers quality programing in a peaceful, bucolic setting.
Memphis College of Art | Courtesy of Memphis College of Art
Serving the local community for approximately 100 years, the Brooks Museum is a local and regional leader in the arts. The museum’s permanent collection houses works of art from antiquity to the present day. Modern and contemporary art highlights include works from Barbara Kruger and Nam June Paik’s Vide-O-Belisk; the latter of which was commissioned for the museum in 2002. To accompany the Paik commission, the museum also hosted The Paik Sessions, in which musicians responded to the sculpture with original compositions. The Brooks Museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but is open late on Thursdays.
Memphis College of Art is adjacent to the Memphis Brooks Museum in historic Overton Park. The college exhibits contemporary artwork in three galleries: the Main Gallery and the Alumni Gallery in Rust Hall, Overton Park, and the Hyde Gallery in the Nesin Graduate School, located in the heart of the South Main Arts District downtown. Exhibitions include professionally curated shows, as well as work by current students and alumni. MCA has educated generations of artists, many of whom remain in the Memphis area, contributing to the city’s rich visual arts culture. Successful graduates of the College include Emily Jacir, 2008 winner of the Hugo Boss prize (administered by the Guggenheim Museum) and the Alpert Award (California Institute of the Arts), and Jack Myers, motion and graphic designer in New York, whose work has been featured on HBO, Showtime, MTV, VH1, The New York Times, Print Magazine, Wired and Newsweek.
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Art Museum of the University of Memphis | Courtesy of Jay Etkin Gallery
Beginning as a temporary exhibition space at the University of Memphis, the Art Museum changed its name after accumulating a significant permanent collection over the course of 15 years. The Art Museum’s permanent collection has particular strengths in Egyptian antiquities and Sub-Saharan African art, as well as two suits of Japanese armor. The Caseworks Galleries provide space for temporary exhibitions of contemporary works, featuring artists such as Daryl Thetford and Jan Hankins, while the museum’s ArtLab is a space designated for “new, experimental, unreviewed, non-mainstream, and otherwise under-represented work.” This innovative space provides an important forum for underground artists as well as work that may be considered too avant-garde for mainstream exhibition.
The Jay Etkin Gallery can be found in the Cooper-Young district of Memphis. Dedicated to displaying the work of contemporary artists and African tribal art, Etkin also has a sister location in Santa Fe. The Memphis gallery has been in operation for over 25 years, demonstrating Etkin’s acute business sense and eye for quality art; Etkin has represented some of his artists for more than 20 years. The gallery tends to focus on painting and ethnographic sculpture. Etkin is also an artist in his own right, and occasionally exhibits at other local spaces.
Showcasing regional artists, Gallery Fifty Six focuses primarily on painting, but also includes ceramics and sculpture. Group and solo shows are exhibited on a regular basis. One of Gallery Fifty Six’s strengths is the dynamic range of works exhibited by the artists represented, ensuring that no two exhibitions are the same. Another factor that has contributed to its success is the owners’, Frank and Mindy Roberts, strategic decision to place the gallery in the historic Cooper-Young district.
David Lusk Gallery has two locations in Tennessee; one in Nashville and the other in Memphis. Beginning in Memphis, Lusk has recruited both local and national talent over the last 20 years. The gallery represents Memphis photography legend William Eggleston, as well as the estate of Carroll Cloar. The gallery’s artists possess clean, modern aesthetics with strong 20th century influences, and work across the mediums of photography, painting and sculpture. Shows rotate monthly, and the gallery typically features the work of two artists simultaneously.
The Metal Museum is “the only institution in the United States devoted exclusively to the art and craft of fine metalwork.” The museum is the industry museum of the National Ornamental and Miscellaneous Metals Association. Housed in a former United States Marine hospital dating back to 1884, it showcases its collection and temporary exhibitions in three historic buildings, hosting group and solo shows of emerging and mid-career metalsmiths. The space also exhibits the Master Metalsmith show each year. Works on display range from functional items such as door latches and locks to large-scale industrial sculpture. Visitors can also see metalsmithing in action and enroll in workshops.
The L. Ross Gallery showcases established artists working under the remit of contemporary Expressionism. Featuring an impressive representation of female artists, gallerist Linda Ross explains that her artists portray “a deep sense of the unknown.” Her roster includes graduates of the Memphis College of Art as well as artists educated at the Ringling College of Art and Design, and Indiana University. Primarily focused on painting, Ross exhibits a variety of Expressionist works from the abstract to representational pieces and landscape depictions. In all of these works, there is an underlying sense of wonder and respect for the sublime.
Curating a small roster of represented artists, Tops Gallery displays some of the most innovative and experimental contemporary art in Memphis from its basement; the former coal chambers of an industrial loft building. Many of the artists are well-established and have ties to the New York scene, where curator Matt Ducklo launched his career. The gallery exhibits photography, painting, sculpture, collage and other mixed media, and is a must-see for culturally-inclined visitors.