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Frist Center for the Visual Arts opens Fairy Tales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts presents Fairy Tales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination, an exhibition of photographs, paintings, videos, sculptures and installations by contemporary artists who invent humanlike, animal or hybrid creatures to symbolize life’s mysteries, desires and fears, on view Feb. 24 through May 28, 2012.

Patricia Piccinini, The Long Awaited, 2008. Silicone, fiberglass, human hair, leather, plywood, and fabric, 59 7/8 x 31 1/2 x 36 1/4 in. Collection of Penny Clive. Courtesy of the artist. Photo Graham Baring

The invented creatures and imaginary worlds featured in the exhibition have been inspired by oral and written sources as diverse as Aesop’s Fables, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, science fiction and the products of genetic experimentation in actual science. The artists selected for the exhibition redirect the emotional associations implicit in their sources–pleasure, fear, wonder, curiosity and longing–to works of seductive fantasy and uneasy intrigue.

Organized by Frist Center Chief Curator Mark Scala, the exhibition will travel to Canada in 2012 to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba and Glenbow Art Museum, Calgary.

“I have long been intrigued by artists and filmmakers for whom geneticists’ capacity to design new life forms has inspired fictional narratives of biological, spiritual and social transfiguration,” says Scala. “Paradoxically, in imagining futuristic fables and hybrid creatures, these artists have often borrowed from the ancient language of myth, folklore and legend, in which the human and animal are mixed together to symbolize life’s contradictions. Connecting past and future, the artists in the exhibition explore the hidden meanings behind composite creatures as they are transformed from fantasy to reality.”

The first section of the exhibition, The Fairy Tale, focuses on artists whose works adapt, interpret or critique traditional fairy tales and nursery rhymes. While questioning the socializing
functions of fairy tales that perpetuate outmoded cultural stereotypes, these works also explore folklore as archetypal expressions of subliminal fears and desires. Taking a cue from Sigmund Freud’s view of the fairy tale as a vehicle for projecting an animistic view of humanity’s relationship with nature, the exhibition will consider the ways such tales extend the tradition of creating anthropomorphic beings as metaphors for the natural, rather than the social, side of humanity. In this section are works by Meghan Boody, Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz, Paula Rego, Tom Sachs, Allison Schulnik, Kiki Smith and Amy Stein.

In Monsters, the second section in the exhibition, artists explore the depiction of the monster as a sign of the threatening “other” or of the uncontrollable forces of the psyche. The diversity of their imagery reflects the multiple associations of the word “monster,” which comes from the Latin verb monere, “to warn.” In cultures around the world, monsters have been conceived as inhuman or part-human brutes that threaten those who violate the psychological or social boundaries they were invented to protect. The monster often takes the form of the chimera, a hybrid creature that signifies the violation of natural boundaries, as in the story of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. Artists featured in Monsters include David Altmejd, Ashley Bickerton, the Chapman Brothers, Marcel Dzama, Andre Ethier, Mark Hosford, Cindy Sherman and Yinka Shonibare.

The Genetic Imagination is the final section in the exhibition. Moving from superstition and fantasy to potential reality, the artists featured in The Genetic Imagination depict new chimeras—evocations of the hybrid human/animals of old—while reflecting actual scientific developments toward the redefinition of life, especially in the field of genetic engineering. Echoing a split that occurs in much science fiction literature and movies, some artists raise cautions about the unforeseeable consequences of such experiments. They anticipate the introduction of powerful new mutations, monsters and other potential horrors that may redefine or threaten human life. For others, the creative potential of these developments is exhilarating and promises to take the interaction between art and science to a heretofore unimaginable liberation from biology.

The works of Suzanne Anker, Aziz + Cucher, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Motohiko Odani, Patricia Piccinini, Janaina Tschäpe, Charlie White and Saya Woolfalk are included in The Genetic Imagination.

Additional information is available by calling (615) 244-3340 or by visiting

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