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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Main Hall, interior
Photo: WritersClearinghouse News Service
 Frist First
Nashville
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts embodies one of the best examples of architectural repurposing that I've ever witnessed. Thankfully, Americans in the last decade or so have come realize, after the annum horribli debacles of the '60s, '70s, and the even into the '80s, that architectural preservation is preferable to the wholesale destruction of the urban vernacular that was rampant in those decades. Witness the destruction of Centre City Philadelphia by Edward Bacon as Exhibit A.  I suspect, given the boom in recent highrises monsters in downtown Nashville, that this city also has undergone its share of urban gutting.

Fortunately that urban 'renewal,' as it may have occurred, did not extend to several city jewels, including Nashville's old downtown high school (now the city's main branch library), its main Victorian-styled railroad station (now a fancy hotel), and adjacent on Broadway, the old main U.S. Post Office (now the Frist).

The conversion of the post office, constructed in 1934 as an Art Deco gem, was completed in 2001, when the Frist occupied the premises. (The building is similar to Philadelphia's Art Deco post office branch on Market East. But more decorative and pristine). The conversion was undertaken with loving detail. It's a marvel.


No wonder. The enterprise was largely funded by The Frist Foundation, whose funders are the eponymous family that founded and got massively rich by the private hospital chain, the Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America. The fabulously wealthy Frist family, mostly conservative Republicans, still largely run the foundation. (Their generous endowment of the arts center is reminiscent of the kind of social manoeuvring by the rabidly right-wing Koch brothers at Lincoln Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City). In all, The Frist Foundation as awarded the Frist Center more than $50-million. That's right. Fifty-million dollars!

The result has been, thanks to what has every appearance of being an experienced, creative, and talented curatorial and business management team, a terrific museum. It's small, with no permanent collection. This was a bold move, not something that many small institutions -- many of which are also family endowed, but with family collections -- are willing to undertake.

The Subway by George Tooker (1950) in 'Real/Surreal'
The museum is currently showing a wonderful Whitney Museum of American Art-curated show called 'Real/Surreal.' Starting 26 September the museum will unveil 'Kandinsky: A Retrospective,' organized by the Centre Pompidou and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Yes, arts lovers, Nashville is also more than country music. The city boasts as a ballet company, a symphony orchestra -- and, thanks to the Frists, the Frist Center.
-- Richard Carreño

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