Janet Decker Yanez

Art by Nashville’s Janet Decker Yanez in Dumbo Tonight + Thoughts on the Scene

Tonight during Dumbo’s first Thursday gallery walk, A.I.R. Gallery opens Transformed Viewpoints. Curated by Brooklyn Museum’s Emerita Charlotta Kotik, the exhibition features eighteen A.I.R. artists from around the country, including Nashville’s Janet Decker Yanez, owner of Ground Floor Gallery + Studios.

Janet Decker Yanez. "Your Heiness." On view in A.I.R. Gallery's Transformed Viewpoints, opening tonight in Dumbo.

Janet Decker Yanez. “Your Heiness.” On view in A.I.R. Gallery’s Transformed Viewpoints, opening tonight in Dumbo.

A.I.R. opened in1972 in SoHo as the U.S.’s first all female artist cooperative. I interviewed Yanez for Country Life last summer and reviewed Ground Floor’s juried A.I.R. exhibition in BURNAWAY in October. It’s exciting whenever the work of local artists ventures out of state, but Yanez’s inclusion in the exhibition seems especially poignant. Yanez opened the studio and gallery space in the Chestnut Square building in 2012 at the urging of other local artists. While Chestnut has its charms, it doesn’t have heat or air conditioning, and some parts of the building are exposed to the elements. In addition, no one’s ever sure if it’s been bought out by developers; its fate seems always to hang in the balance. Last summer, Yanez moved everything to a 3,250 square foot space at 942 Fourth Avenue, and nine artists now work out of the space.

There are few places in Nashville where so many artists are drawn together in a common workspace. It satisfies a need for connection in the often solitary practice of art making. The GRG artists frequently hold open studios, and I love poking my nose into their spaces and talking with them about their work. It’s a space with vitality and camaraderie that seems emblematic of Nashville’s arts boom.

However, lately, I wonder if we’re in the midst of a fairy tale. While artists and patrons soar on the collective energy of a dozen new galleries, as well as art crawls, stellar programming at the Frist, and an unprecedented number of arts events, artists aren’t selling their work to outside buyers nearly as much as they should be. Part of this stems from Nashville’s outward-facing model, muchly controlled by the Convention Center Visitors Bureau that’s hell bent on keeping the city trapped in its Music City chokehold. Part of it stems from our lack of an M.F.A. program that would surely bring in outside artists, investors, and patrons. National art fairs also get thrown into the mix; collectors are increasingly flocking to Miami and elsewhere to purchase art, instead of supporting local galleries. Many other factors complete the corner we’re painting ourselves into, and I am no expert. I do think that we need to start having frank conversations about the sustainability of our arts community if we want to continue riding this wave.

Impulse and the Anonymous Artist + Open Studios

I am not sure when or how I came to this understanding, but for a long time I have considered artists to populate the upper echelon of society, to be its most influential members, and to leave behind a testament of it that can inform generations to come. Much of what we know about the past and about other cultures is found through the work of artists. How much have we learned from artifacts discovered from ancient Mesopotamia? How many people know the extent of suppression of free speech in China because of Ai Wei Wei? What would the Great Depression look like without The Grapes of Wrath? You get the point.

We are fascinated by artists, and we delight in discovering their kinks and eccentricities. To learn about the life and habits of an artist I admire is to gain a bit more understanding of her greatness; my own is both dwarfed and magnetized by the knowledge. Marina Abramović will fast for days, weeks, or months as part of a performance. Hemingway stood up at a podium and wrote in pencil on yellow legal pads, every day at 6:00 am. Nabokov planned his novels out on index cards before writing a word of manuscript.

"Impulse: Playing House as a Blank Artist" will be performed at Ground Floor Gallery and Studios Saturday, Dec. 6.

“Impulse: Playing House as a Blank Artist” will be performed at Ground Floor Gallery and Studios Saturday, Dec. 6.

And this is why I’ve been thinking all month about Impulse: Playing House as a Blank Artist, showing at Ground Floor Gallery. Created by Austin Hoke, Ziona Riley and Evelyn Walker, the installation opened in November and gallery owner Janet Decker Yanez has kept it up for another run this Saturday from 3 to 6. The piece decontextualizes the objects of the artist, blasting them apart so they can be re-examined. I read it as a study of the artist that mocks my own inclinations to put him or her on a pedestal above the rest of humanity. The objects could not be more mundane, the life that emerges more ordinary. The only thing that threw me was an overly vague installation statement, which seemed to obscure for the sake of obscuring. Where it should reveal more about the piece, it pulls it into art-speak pretense, which seems to be exactly the thing that installation is attempting to trump. Impulse collage

This one criticism aside, Impulse is innovative and provocative. The trio has set up six stations in the space to mark the anonymous artist’s belongings, or more accurately, the physical pieces that make up the artist, with an audio tour that sounds like 70s-style documentary footage. (“When you hear these tones…prepare to transition to the next station.”) Each station takes the viewer to a set of objects owned by “the artist”, things like thrown-away trash, objects that are precious only to their owner, photos of “strangers found amongst the artist’s family.” Playful but instructive, I felt a sort of tug of war with the audio recording; when I thought I was headed toward a meaty conclusion about the work, it pulled me in another direction charged with the possibility to make meaning. In station one, I found dozens of framed family photos, yet I was told they are not the photos of the artist’s family, and the narrator comments wryly, “If you have ever wound up with someone’s stray sock amongst your clean laundry, you will know what it is like to end up in someone else’s shoebox.” Section six is wall of trash items mounted on rectangles of carpet. “The objects were used up, diminished, and cast away, mingled with dirt, orphaned, run over by indifference and better places to be. Have they really outlived their usefulness?”  Both clean and soiled clothes form a pile in the corner; the garments “filabuster our shifting skins, sediments posing as sentiment.” Spend some time with these elements, and you begin to imagine their owner, the Blank Artist. impulse collage 2

The work is enjoyable for these moments of poetry and for the overall harmony of its elements. The many items to examine, the cello performed by Austin Hoke, it’s an experience that gave me a deep feeling of contentment and pleasure. There are also, of course, any number of meta-analyses about the work (artists using their own objects to perform an artwork about the artist’s objects.) It’s a fresh exhibition by some cool, young artists in Nashville that we’d all do well to keep on the radar.

On Saturday, Ground Floor will also have open studios, so you can check out the work of Yanez, Heidi Martin Kuster, Mandy Brown, Desire Hough, and Shana Kohnstamm. It’s a big day with Porter Flea and the two art crawls, but GFG is smart to host the reception early in the day. The gallery is located at 924 4th Ave. South.

Gallery Visit: Heidi Martin Kuster at Ground Floor Gallery

2012-01-01 03.32.22Thursday, Ground Floor Gallery opened its doors for its very own Heidi Martin Kuster. In her exhibit Rock, Paper, Plastic, she looks back and forward, anchored in her geological interest. This is a great exhibit on a conceptual and aesthetic level that you should definitely check out. It will be up all month. Ground Floor is also an open studio, and the artists renting space from owner Janet Decker Yanez are multiplying. (I think they’re up to seven, and the huge space buzzes with great vibes.) They’ll be open Saturday night and keep regular hours, so drop by. 

2012-01-01 03.52.16The show’s title, Rock, Paper, Plastic, reveals the artist’s conceptual framework. Kuster borrows the phrasing from the popular childhood game in order to “step back, be present and look forward.” But unlike the game, paper doesn’t beat rock et cetera, but all three coexist on the walls and floor of the new gallery. The Past is seen in the rocks themselves; rocks are evidence of the past. They also exist without human intervention. For the artist, rocks seem to evoke the sacred: “A pebble in my hand holds the memory of a hike, a conversation with my son, a breathtaking, time stopping vista.”

Paper is the Present. It is human made. We use it to record and remember, but it will not last. Kuster writes in her show’s statement, “In the scheme of earth’s historic changes it will be an instant, quickly disappearing into the fertile compost of time.”

2012-01-01 03.32.46It really gets interesting with the Future, represented by plastic. Kuster told me that after years of trying to avoid and reuse plastic bags, she just started collecting them, taking as many as the world would throw at her. “They become, for me,” she writes, “the perfect admission of how my choices will inevitably impact the rock I live on for my children and their future.” She began layering them into her work and bunching them into bumpy balls that are collected on the floor of the gallery. 

2012-01-01 03.52.05It was interesting to watch people interact with the work during the opening. Some moved easily among the “rocks” as they viewed the paintings, barely acknowledging their presence. Others tiptoed carefully around them. I noticed Kuster nonchalantly kick one aside as she spoke to a guest. My favorite moment was definitely when a friend’s daughter began almost frantically moving them into mounds and shapes, darting from one end of the room to the other, carefully setting them in her own little installation. Kuster encouraged her behavior and snapped pictures of the new creations. I thought, how fitting. In a piece about what we will leave to the next generation, an artsy member of our lineage reconstructs the installation herself.
2012-01-01 03.29.05Side note: How delighted was I that the gals at GFG+S went ahead and planned this opening for Thursday, rather than during Saturday’s art crawls. In the great debate regarding the monthly crawls, I air on the side of splitting up downtown’s and WeHo’s simply because I want to see everything. Joe Nolan has an article in this week’s issue of the the Scene that explores both points of view. It seems like some galleries are wizening up to the fact that Nashvillians will come out to support the arts on nights other than the first Saturday of the month, which allowed me a full hour to chat with friends and artists at Ground Floor this evening. 2012-01-01 03.28.13

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Ground Floor Gallery’s New Digs

Next month, Ground Floor Gallery + Studios will reopen at 942 4th Ave. South. From the press release:

Announcing Ground Floor Gallery’s Grand Reopening featuring “Utopia: Can it Stay Dream” in the gallery’s new home located at 942 4th Avenue South in Nashville. The show opening and artist talk with the Culture Laboratory Collective and members of the international group–Brian JobeRyder Richards and Ian F. Thomas will coincide with the monthly Arts & Music @Wedgewood/Houston Saturday July 5th from 7- 10pm.  

For the past two years Ground Floor Gallery + Studios has been located in the old Mays’ hosiery mill on Chestnut Avenue. The charm of the gallery’s former space with its original windows and hardwood floors, that feature yellow stripes from the mill’s operating days ran across the floor of the gallery, will be greatly missed by the artists of the Ground Floor. Having said that, the new, larger space with heating and air conditioning will be welcomed as summer comes to Nashville. 

As she was packing up her studio to move, Janet Decker Yanez, artist and director of GfG+S stated, “I am so excited about our new space on 4th Ave S. which will allow for year round studio production, more gallery programming and special events. We’ll miss the other artists in the building but the spirit of the Chestnut will forever give us a certain strength knowing that it is our old stompin’ ground!”

Ground Floor features the open studios of Janet Decker Yanez, Mandy Brown, Heidi Martin Kuster, and Anne Daigh. I love visiting Ground Floor because their work is as different as their personalities. Martin Kuster‘s geological impressions are as elemental as her down to earth personality. Mandy Brown‘s crowd paintings show the same openness and dynamism you’ll find in a conversation with the artist. Janet Decker Yanez‘s work is intense and personal—sometimes playful, sometimes dark—and always distinctive.

The artists present a not-to-be-missed opening show,  Utopia: Can it Stay Dream? by Culture Laboratory Collective. The Collective offers reflections on Utopia, where “there remains a dream of the perfect place or person, a possible nostalgic future designed outside of cynicism with intellectual optimism.” 

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Robert H. Goddard, The Ultimate Migration, 1918. Showing at Ground Floor Gallery + Studio, July 5th, 2014.

Decker Yanez bills the new studio as a perfect stop between the art crawls downtown and in We-Ho. Regardless of where you’ll be Saturday, July 5th, do not miss this!