Touring Trumps America – Part 3: Nashville

High Culture in the Heart of Country Music. (December 2018 – Mark Vawser)

Nashville is typically known for its country music scene. The Grand Ole Opry music theatre is such a staple that its name is included on the city line signs on all major highways as “Home of the Grand Ole Opry”. Membership of the Opry is one of the crowning achievements in country music, members include Johnny Cash, Dolly Pardon and Keith Urban. I, however, am not a country music fan, leaving me a little unsure what Nashville had to offer a self-professed history nerd.  Ignoring the billboards a quick google had me traversing the halls of fine art at the Frist Art Museum and the Nashville Parthenon. It’s time for some high culture in the heart of country music.

The Grand Ole Opry (December 2018)

Winter in the south provided some interesting colours. Orange and muted blue, always a good combo. If only my framing was better at the time!

The Parthenon

The Nashville Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the original Ancient Greek Parthenon built in Athens. It was designed by Confederate veteran William Crawford Smithland and built in 1897. The Parthenon is built as a full-scale replica of what the original would have looked like over 2000 years ago. Although made of concrete, not marble the Parthenon is as close to the original as possible. The marble statues that occupy the rear section of the building are concrete replicas of the original sculptures which adorned the pediments of the Athenian Parthenon dating back to 438 BC. The surviving originals of which are in the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The grand pillars the run along every side of the building is breathtaking, the scale of the project when related to the original building over two millennia ago shows the immense effort it would have taken to build without modern machinery.

The interior is just as impressive. Through grand bronze doors lies the visitor’s center and gift shop. Admission was only $6.50, reasonably priced considering it also contained its own art gallery. To be honest, I only gave the art gallery a passing look, I didn’t know the artist and none of the work grabbed me. Upstairs the main hall stood a 13 meter (42 feet) statue of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom and the arts. As if this statue wasn’t enough in her outstretched palm is a 1.8-meter statue of Nike (Victory). Made out of plaster and gilded with gold leaf it is no less impressive. It, like the building itself was built as close to the original as possible, which has been lost to history, only written accounts survive but the results speak for themselves. The Parthenon in Athens was considered the pinnacle of classical architecture, the Nashville Parthenon while not the pinnacle of modern architecture it is the closest we can come to walking the halls of one of the seven great wonders of the world.

Athena holding Victory statue.

The Frist Art Museum

The Frist Art Museum is the hidden gem of Nashville. With tickets costing only $10 USD ($13 AUD) it was the cheapest museum ticket so far, and with three exhibitions it was worth the price of admission. Host to an impressive Renascence collection, a modern art exhibit by Korean artist Do Ho Suh, and a French art exhibition called Paris 1900: City of Entertainment. In the city of love at the height of the bohemian period, 1900 Paris was known for fantasy, excess, and boundless faith in progress through science and technology. The exhibition depicts this sense of boundless optimism with cityscapes of festivals and events under the most memorable Paris monuments. Highlights of the Paris exhibition were Leon-Francois Comerre’s ‘Bicycle in Vesinet’, Rene Lelong’s ‘Carousel at the Grand Palais’, and the fantastically macabre ‘Ophelia’ by Paul Steck (1894). Based on the Shakespeare character from Hamlet, the death of Ophelia uses the art nouveau style to focus on the shape of her body matching the vegetation rather than the horror of her death.

‘Esmeralda and Quasimodo’ Luc-Olivier Merson (1905)

‘Ophelia’ Paul Steck (1894)

Leon-Francois Comerre’s ‘Bicycle in Vesinet’

The contemporary art exhibition ‘Specimens’ by Do Ho Suh was surprising, to say the least. My first impression upon seeing household items wrought in gossamer fabric was to roll my eyes at the state of modern art in its pretentiousness. After looking more closely at the works I could see the immense details sewn into the pieces, each letter on every label reproduced with needle and thread. Even the interior trays and pipes are represented adding a layer of deconstruction into the artwork. Art at its best when it invokes a response, this exhibition turned my cynicism into admiration, the ability to take mundane household items and turn them into something interesting. That’s Art.

‘Specimens’ by Do Ho Suh

The renascence exhibition ‘Life, Love, Marriage Chests in Renascence Italy’ was interesting to a history buff like myself, but I admit this exhibit is not for everyone. Unlike the previous Paris exhibition there was little to no artwork, but instead, marriage chests made up the bulk of the artefacts. These chests were given to a couple as a marriage gift and would be displayed in their new home. The chests were their own pieces of art with intricate carving, painting, and mosaics. The highlight of the exhibition for me was a set of Armor from 1570’s Milan. The acid etched details of the guard armor were fantastic, each stroke a statement that whoever could afford to outfit their guards with this much opulence was a power in the land. Like everything in renascence Italy, it’s all about bragging rights.

The Guard (2018)

I love taking photo’s of armor, the little details, the wear, the individuality of each set is remarkable.

While it looks impressive as a full portrait shot, the acid etched details always draw my eye. The close ups provide the better range of compositions and detail that gets lost in a more traditional portrait shot.

Final Thoughts

Nashville the city was very similar to Memphis, if not a little more developed and in better repair. The home of country music wears a cowboy hat and works 9-5, but look a little harder and you’ll find a cultured soul. The Parthenon is the crown jewel of Nashville and the Art Museum a hidden gem.

*All Photo’s taken by me unless otherwise stated.

Published by castleforgephotography

Hi, I am an Australian History Teacher & Photographer living in London.

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