The Frist Art Museum presents Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick, From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, an exhibition that offers a broad overview of the artist’s career and explores racial and gender exploitation, abuse, and inequity. Co-organized by Frist Art Museum executive director and CEO Dr. Susan H. Edwards and Nashville-based poet Ciona Rouse, Cut to the Quick will be on view from July 23 through October 10, 2021.
A leading artist of her generation, Kara Walker (b. 1969) works in a diverse range of media, including prints, drawings, paintings, sculpture, film, and the large-scale silhouette cutouts for which she is perhaps most recognized. Her powerful and provocative images employ contradictions to critique the painful legacies of slavery, sexism, violence, imperialism, and other power structures, including those in the history and hierarchies of art and contemporary culture. Through more than 80 works created between 1994 and 2019 from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation—premier collectors of works on paper in the United States—Cut to the Quick simultaneously demonstrates Walker’s fluency in medium and power in message.
“Her hard-hitting, unorthodox depictions of taboo subjects expose the raw flesh of generational wounds that have never healed,” writes Dr. Edwards in an introduction to the exhibition. “Intentionally unsentimental and ambiguous, the works can be disturbing yet also humorous, always exploring the irreconcilable inconsistencies that mirror the human condition.”
This is Walker’s first solo exhibition at the Frist Art Museum; her work Camptown Ladies appeared in the Frist’s presentation of 30 Americans in 2013–14. Cut to the Quick includes several of the artist’s most renowned series: The Emancipation Approximation (1999–2000), Testimony (2005), Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) (2005), An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters (2010), and Porgy & Bess (2013). The earliest work in the exhibition is Topsy (1994), which depicts a figure from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). The most recent work is a bronze replica of Fons Americanus, the 43-foot-tall allegorical monument installed in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2019. Walker’s original and the version coming to the Frist, both based on the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace, address the interconnectedness of governments and private enterprise in generating American and European wealth through the transatlantic slave trade.
Walker’s process involves extensive research in history, literature, art history, and popular culture. Her groundbreaking room-sized installations of silhouette tableaux were inspired additionally by mythology and fantasy and emerged from her study of colonial portraiture, animated films, and cut-paper silhouettes (a domestic craft popular in nineteenth-century America).
“Controversial at the beginning of her career, Walker’s unwavering vision places her, more than twenty-five years later, at the forefront of centuries-old outcries against injustice, articulated most recently in the international groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement,” writes Dr. Edwards. “Walker’s art demands attention. Can the discomfort, disgust, tension, anxiety, and titillation provoked by these images explode stereotypes?”
In addition to her curatorial responsibilities, co-curator Ciona Rouse composed poems inspired by Walker’s works that will be displayed in the gallery, with QR codes directing guests to audio versions of the poems. “Rouse’s words coalesce genre within genre, expanding our understanding of the visual, verbal, oral, and performative complexity of the artist’s rhetoric,” writes Dr. Edwards. “She gives voice to the absent and makes connections across time and between the viewer and the artist.”
Exhibition Advisory Committee
In the summer of 2020, the Frist formed an advisory group of local community members, academics, artists, theologians, and writers in preparation for the presentation of Cut to the Quick. This group met periodically over the past year, and their feedback helped shape the exhibition’s interpretation and public programming. Their advice was essential in formulating a sensitive and empathetic installation design. On the advisory group’s recommendation, a video at the exhibition entrance will give guests a brief introduction to Kara Walker in addition to the works on view. Areas for confidential or public responses will provide respite throughout the exhibition, and a room for quiet reflection will be available.
Destiny Birdsong, author
Gail Carr-Williams, board member, Frist Art Museum
K. T. Ewing, assistant professor of history, Tennessee State University
Heather Finch, assistant professor of English, Belmont University
Stacey Floyd-Thomas, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair in Ethics and Society and associate professor of ethics and society, Vanderbilt Divinity School
Rachel Freeman, executive director, Sexual Assault Center
Vivien Green Fryd, professor emerita, Department of History of Art and Architecture, Vanderbilt University
Cherisna Jean-Marie, director of Racial Justice Ministries, Scarritt Bennett Center
Brigette Jones, curator of social history, Tennessee State Museum
Odessa Kelly, executive director, Stand Up Nashville
Catherine Molineux, associate professor of history, Vanderbilt University
Caroline Randall Williams, author
LaTanya Rogers, associate professor of literature, Fisk University
Jamaal Sheats, board member, Frist Art Museum; director and curator of galleries and assistant professor of art, Fisk University
Tasneem Tewogbola, associate director, Nashville Public Library Special Collections and Civil Rights Center
Sharon Travis, prevention coordinator, Sexual Assault Center
Rebecca K. VanDiver, assistant professor of African American art, Vanderbilt University
About the Jordan D. Schnitzer and the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation
Unless otherwise noted, all works in the exhibition were acquired by Jordan D. Schnitzer, one of the premier collectors of works on paper in the United States. The foundation, established in 1997 as a nonprofit organization to manage the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his family, provides supplemental funding for education and outreach in conjunction with related exhibitions, and publishes scholarly texts. Since its inception, the foundation has organized more than 110 exhibitions, lending art at over 150 museums.
Saturday, July 24 Performance inspired by Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick
2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Choreographed and danced by Jade Treadwell
Frist Art Museum Auditorium
Free; first come, first seated. Space is limited.
Join us for the premiere of a new dance inspired by the exhibition, choreographed by Jade Treadwell. This work will explore the complex themes addressed in Walker’s work through rhythmic tap and contemporary modern dance movement.
Jade Treadwell is a dance artist based in Murfreesboro, TN. She is a professor of dance at Middle Tennessee State University. She has performed with Staib Dance and ClancyWorks, as well as freelancing throughout Atlanta, the DC area, and Florida, and working with artists such as Dan Wagoner, Tim Glenn, Gerri Houlihan, Susan Marshall, Alex Ketley, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar of Urban Bush Women. Her research at MTSU is on movement screens and injury protocol, and as a choreographer, she is inspired by historically informed storytelling of African American culture, music, community, and spirituality, and elevating the significance of women in these spaces.
Saturday, August 21 Sensory Dreams, Sated: A tasting inspired by Kara Walker
3:00–5:00 p.m. presented by Chef Keshia of Sip N Bite
Frist Art Museum Auditorium
$50 members; $60 not-yet-members (gallery admission, parking validation, and tasting included). Space is limited.
Join Chef Keshia M. Hay of Sip N Bite for an edible interpretation of the works of Kara Walker. This program will begin with a visit to the exhibition, followed by a three-course tasting with beverage pairings by Perfectly Cordial.
Co-curated by Susan H. Edwards and Ciona Rouse
Silver Supporter: The Sandra Schatten Foundation
The Frist Art Museum is supported in part by The Frist Foundation, the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Connect with us @FristArtMuseum #TheFrist #FristWalker
About the Frist Art Museum
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Frist Art Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art exhibition center dedicated to presenting and originating high-quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. Located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, TN, the Frist Art Museum offers the finest visual art from local, regional, national, and international sources in exhibitions that inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways. Information on accessibility can be found at FristArtMuseum.org/accessibility. Museum admission is free for visitors ages 18 and younger and for members, and $15 for adults for timed tickets. For current hours and additional information, visit FristArtMuseum.org or call 615.244.3340.