Frist Art Museum Presents International Roster of Contemporary Artists in “Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century”

. May 1, 2018

The Frist Art Museum presents Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century, a sweeping survey of paintings from around the world that invite contemplation of seemingly ungraspable forces shaping contemporary society, from the ideological to the technological. Organized by Frist Art Museum chief curator Mark Scala, the exhibition will be on view in the Museum’s Ingram Gallery from June 22 through September 16, 2018. It will be presented at the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia, from November 15, 2018, through April 28, 2019.

Artists in the exhibition, including Franz Ackermann, Ellen Gallagher, Wangechi Mutu, Matthew Ritchie, and 34 others, convey the destabilizing effects of phenomena such as globalism, mass migration, the resurgence of radical political agendas, and the rapidly expanding impact of communications and information technology. These powerful forces are dramatically altering social relations in unpredictable ways, provoking emotions from anxiety to excitement about life in the present and future.

Affirming painting’s unfailing relevance as an art form in the digital era, Chaos and Awe celebrates the visual freshness, complexity, and associative richness of this age-old medium. “Taking advantage of paint’s chameleon like properties, these works have a nuanced and alluring physical presence that is less attainable in virtual mediums,” said Scala. “Even the physical nature of paint itself, scooped from a can or squeezed from a tube, has metaphorical resonance—its formlessness is well suited to depicting amorphous conditions that are the central themes of this show.” Scala’s critically acclaimed 2009 exhibition Paint Made Flesh also examined how paint is an inherently effective medium for expressing the transitory nature of the human condition.

Organized in seven sections, Chaos and Awe begins with “No Place,” a meditation on complex technological systems that have enhanced the connectedness of people and cultures around the world, but also led to a heightened vulnerability in our social, political, and technical infrastructures. Paintings in “Shadows” and “Collisions” express unease, fear, and the fragmentation of identity in response to reemerging racism, nationalism, and conflicting belief systems. “Interzone” explores encounters between different cultures, less as sources of anxiety than as portrayals of the vibrant cross-fertilization that results from global migration. “Virtuality” relates to the impact of the digital age, in which the boundaries between reality and cyberspace have become increasingly tenuous. Paintings in “The Boundless” depict ephemeral phenomena such as atmosphere, fluid, and smoke as symbols of the uncontainable vastness of the human imagination. The exhibition concludes with “Everything,” which features works that convey a deep thirst for worldviews that can accommodate multiple understandings, welcoming rather than rejecting the dissolution of fixed ideas and borders.

The profound nature of the subject matter, paired with the masterly technique on display in the works, may overwhelm, disturb, or thrill the viewer—reactions that affirm the enduring ability of painting to communicate nascent and often unnamable ideas, emotions, and sensations. Scala hopes that the paintings will help shape viewers’ own perceptions of the forces swirling around them. “How we respond to the precarity of the world is the central question today, as it has been in other pivotal moments in history,” he said.

Artists in Chaos and Awe
Franz Ackermann
Ahmed Alsoudani
Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh
Korakrit Arunanondchai
Radcliffe Bailey
Ali Banisadr
Pedro Barbeito
Jeremy Blake
Matti Braun
Dean Byington
Hamlett Dobbins
Nogah Engler
Anoka Faruqee
Barnaby Furnas
Ellen Gallagher
Wayne Gonzales
Wade Guyton
Rokni Haerizadeh
Peter Halley
Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga
Rashid Johnson
Guillermo Kuitca
Heather Gwen Martin
Julie Mehretu
Jiha Moon
Wangechi Mutu
James Perrin
Neo Rauch
Matthew Ritchie
Rachel Rossin
Pat Steir
Barbara Takenaga
Dannielle Tegeder
Kazuki Umezawa
Charline von Heyl
Sarah Walker
Corinne Wasmuht
Sue Williams

Organized by the Frist Art Museum

Exhibition Catalogue
The Frist Art Museum has produced an exhibition catalogue, Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century, published by The MIT Press with seventy-six full-color illustrations. It provides various perspectives on painting as a medium that is well suited to describing perceptions of growing instability, contradictory information, and warring extremisms, as well as celebrating the sublime and how artists represent connections in the unseen universe. Edited by Mark W. Scala, with essays by Media Farzin, Simon Morley, and Matthew Ritchie, the book addresses readers who seek patterns of meaning in culture through the lens of perception and aesthetics.

Media Farzin is a writer, editor, and educator. Her writings have appeared in Bidoun, Artforum, Afterimage, and Art-Agenda online. She is a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts and the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York.

Simon Morley is an artist and professor at Dankook University in Korea. He is the author of Writing on the Wall: Word and Image in Modern Art and editor of The Sublime (MIT Press/Whitechapel Gallery).

Matthew Ritchie’s work is regularly exhibited worldwide and in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has written for Artforum, Flash Art, Art & Text, October, and the Contemporary Arts Journal. He lectures widely and is currently a mentor professor in the graduate visual arts program at Columbia University.

Sponsor Acknowledgment
Platinum Sponsor: HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA Healthcare/TriStar Health
Hospitality Sponsor: Union Station Hotel
Education and Outreach Sponsor: First Tennessee

This exhibition is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by an NEA Art Works Grant.

For additional information, call 615.244.3340 or visit

Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga (b. 1991, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; based in Kinshasa). Tambour II, 2015. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 59 1/8 x 59 1/8 in. Mott-Warsh Collection, 2016.899. © Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga

Category: Fine Art

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