Syriac: Preserving an Endangered World Culture

(February 1 to March 2, 2018)

In the West Atrium of Cohen Memorial Hall

For nearly two thousand years, Christians across the Middle East and Asia have shared a common heritage through Syriac language and culture. Many of these communities face the threat of extinction today. In response, this exhibit showcases the enduring presence of Syriac culture around the globe. The exhibit features historical reproductions as well as items from the family collection of Rev. Dr. P.K. Geevarghese, priest of the first Indian Orthodox parish in Tennessee.

The exhibit is curated by Charlotte Lew (Divinity Library), Stephanie Fulbright (MTS’17), Julia Liden (MTS’18), and Prof. David Michelson (Divinity & Classics and Mediterranean Studies), with assistance from the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery. It is on display from February 1 through March 2, 2018 in Cohen Memorial Hall. Admission is free and open to the public. Sponsorship has been provided by Vanderbilt Divinity School, The Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery, and the Program in Classics and Mediterranean Studies, Vanderbilt University. For further information and online images of the exhibit, visit the exhibit website.

A reception and gallery talk will take place on Saturday, February 24 from 2-4 p.m. Please RSVP here by February 19.

America Creative: Portraits by Everett Raymond Kinstler

(March 23 – July 14, 2018)

Opening reception March 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. in Cohen Memorial Hall. Lecture and demonstration by the artist on March 24, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in Sarratt Cinema. Tickets are free of charge but must be reserved in advance through the Sarratt Box Office.

This event is sold out. It is possible that additional tickets will become available on March 13. If you would like to be notified if/when more tickets are available, please email 

Everett Raymond Kinstler, now 91 years old, is America’s foremost portrait painter. In his career, he has rendered portraits of more than 2,000 individuals—leaders in almost every professional field, including eight United States presidents. America Creative explores how the eye of an artist sees kindred souls whose life’s work is also in the arts, whether visual, musical, performing, or literary. Kinstler’s vibrant, impressionist style imbues an otherwise static medium with the energy and vitality of his sitters, enlivening their personalities for us today and telling the stories of their lives.

Spanning the years from 1952 through 2015, these portraits cover the long career of a successful artist who has truly honed his craft. They also capture a generation of creative leaders in this country. Thanks to loans from the artist and from several institutions, including the National Portrait Gallery and the National Academy Museum, the exhibition features portraits of visual artists such as Norman Rockwell and Alexander Calder, actors such as Katharine Hepburn and Christopher Plummer, musicians and entertainers including Tony Bennett and Marian Anderson, and authors such as Tom Wolfe and Dr. Seuss.

It comes as no surprise that Kinstler is an excellent storyteller with his paintbrush as well as his voice, and the gallery is delighted to host the artist for a demonstration and lecture during the opening weekend, on March 24, 2018, at 3 p.m.

America Creative: Portraits by Everett Raymond Kinstler is the third in a three-part series on portraiture organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery. The exhibition is curated by Joseph S. Mella, director, and Margaret F. M. Walker, assistant curator, with special thanks to the artist, Peggy Kinstler, and Michael Shane Neal.

The exhibition is made possible by Mr. and Mrs. Charles L. Brock, Robbie and Hank Davis, Mr. and Mrs. J. Michael Duncan, John and Margarita Hennessy, Mr. and Mrs. B. Frederick Horne, Mr. Michael J. Horvitz, Virginia Cretella Mars, Holly Metzger, Michael Shane Neal, Ms. Trish Savides, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Steiner, Neika Stephens, the Terra Foundation for American Art on behalf of board member Greg Williamson, Westtown Publishing, and Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Williams III.

Additional support has been provided by five anonymous donors, Ms. Betty C. Bellamy, Tony Bennett, Ms. Babette Bloch and Mr. Marc Mellon, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur E. Byrnes, The Honorable Todd J. Campbell and Margaret N. Akers, Mrs. Charles Chumley, Mary Harding L. Cist, Linda Kartoz-Doochin and Michael Doochin, Dr. and Mrs. Roy C. Ezell, Dr. and Mrs. Richard D. Fewell, Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey R. Fisher, Katherine Kinstler Fuertes, Mr. and Mrs. Gary R. Haynes, Ms. Barbara Hobson, Tom and Gail Molen, Patrick and Susan Conway Oliphant, The Honorable George C. Paine and Mrs. Ophelia T. Paine, Joelle and Brant Phillips, Mr. and Mrs. Gustavus A. Puryear IV, Mr. and Mrs. S. Douglas Smith, Kathleen and Mickey Sparkman, and Dana Kinstler Standefer.

Looking Back (Looking Forward): The Black Mountain Experience

(January 11 – March 2, 2018)

An opening reception will be held on Thursday, January 11 from 5 to 7 pm in Cohen Memorial Hall.

From its inception, Black Mountain College was an incubator for experimentation, placing the importance of an integrated liberal arts education at its center. This innovative school, founded in 1933 in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, valued equally the visual arts and the so-called applied arts, along with poetry, music, and dance. Looking Back (Looking Forward): The Black Mountain Experience will draw on the combined visual resources of the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.  The exhibition will feature a selection of vintage photographs taken at Black Mountain College of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and R. Buckminster Fuller, all central figures in mid-twentieth-century avant-garde music, dance, and culture, along with works of art by them and others associated with the groundbreaking school, including Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, and Kenneth Snelson. Additionally, one of the few surviving films from the era, a silent movie of the dancer Katherine Litz performing her work Thoughts Out of Season (ca. 1952), will continually be screened in the gallery.

Looking Back (Looking Forward): The Black Mountain Experience is being presented in conjunction with the course The Experimental Arts of Black Mountain, taught by John Warren, Department of Art, and is supported, in part, by the Department of Art. Additional support is provided by the Dr. and Mrs. E. William Ewers Gift for Fine Arts Fund.

Special Program


On Thursday, February 1, at 6 p.m., in Cohen Memorial Hall, room 203, Ruth Erickson, Mannion Family Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and co-curator with Helen Molesworth for the major exhibition Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957, will be the keynote speaker for the symposium, Chance Operations: Experiments in Art and Education at Black Mountain College (1933–1956), to be held January 31–February 2, 2018. The symposium is sponsored by the Department of Art, the Department of Theatre, the Cinema and Media Arts program, The Ingram Commons, and StudioVU: The Department of Art Lecture Series.


At a reception following the talk, Intermission Arts and New Dialect will perform Third Voice, a research lab and performance program incorporating newly composed music, video installation, and dance. The collaboration offers an opportunity for emerging composers and choreographers to connect and develop new works, very much in the spirit of the work done at Black Mountain College. Collaborators include New Dialect choreographers Rebecca Steinberg, James Barrett, Curtis Thomas, Spencer Grady, and David Flores, and Intermission composers George Miller, Christopher Bell, Nathaniel Banks (and Arlie), Spencer Channell, and Matt Kinney and Kay Kennedy. All pieces will be performed for the site-specific event at Cohen that evening.

FAMOUS! (and not-so-famous): Polaroids by Andy Warhol

(January 11 – March 2, 2018)

Opening reception Thursday, January 11 from 5 to 7 pm in Cohen Memorial Hall

From 1970 to 1987, Andy Warhol took scores of Polaroid and black-and-white photographs, the vast majority of which were never seen by the public. These images often served as the basis for his commissioned portraits, silk-screen paintings, drawings, and prints. Some began as magazine assignments (many for his editors at Interview), album covers for musical artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, and Debbie Harry, or advertising campaigns including those for Absolut Vodka. In 2007, to commemorate its twentieth anniversary, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts launched the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program. Designed to give a broad public greater access to Warhol’s photographs, the program donated more than 28,500 of Warhol’s original Polaroids and gelatin silver prints to college and university museums and galleries across the country. Each institution received a curated selection of more than one hundred Polaroids and fifty black-and-white prints.

This January, the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery will present the largest selection of Warhol’s Polaroids exhibited to date from the gallery’s collection of 104 works. A number of black and white photographs that reveal the more private side of Warhol’s life and his circle of friends will be included in the exhibition. In order to help illustrate Warhol’s working methods, a large-scale screenprint, also donated by the Andy Warhol Foundation, and models of Polaroid cameras like the ones that he used, will be on view

As the exhibition’s title suggests, the wide range of subjects including famous people—legends such as Dolly Parton, O. J. Simpson, Bianca Jagger (Mick Jagger’s first wife and a well-known human rights advocate] and Georgia O’Keeffe—and less famous people reveals that anyone who was prepared to pay cash for a private commission could be immortalized by Warhol, many of them attempting to elevate their own status by association with the artist himself. More than simply a record of the sitter, photography was a central tool for Warhol to create identity, with the medium often linked to celebrity in such a way that it became part of the process in validating fame.

The second in a three part series on portraiture, FAMOUS! (and not-so-famous): Polaroids by Andy Warhol is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Joseph S. Mella, director, with support provided by the Dr. and Mrs. E. William Ewers Gift for Fine Arts.

Special Program

Picture Me! 

January 25 from 4 to 7 p.m.

Students: Take a Polaroid, just like Andy Warhol, and become a part of the exhibition itself!



Text adapted, in part, from “Andy Warhol’s Photographic Legacy,” in The Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program, Vol. III of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Twenty-Year Report, 1987–2007 (New York: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., 2007), 4–5.  View this volume as a pdf.


(September 11 – December 7, 2017)

The photographic portrait, with its roots in early nineteenth-century France, has continually challenged how we view ourselves. The actual practice has become increasingly fluid over time and almost as difficult to grasp as the nature of identity itself. These portraits, in their early form, insisted on their realism, a mirror within the context of traditional painting. As Susan Sontag observed in her seminal collection of essays on photography, “photographs furnish evidence.”*

The contemporary photographic portrait, as explored in this exhibition, is diverse, yet tends to incorporate a common thread: the desire to say something about us as people. Some artists approach the medium as a means to tell a larger story, as seen in two portraits by Shirin Neshat that she made in response to the Arab Spring and, specifically, to the harsh reality of displacement. Other artists featured, such as Andres Serrano, use the photographic portrait as a strategy to explore American identity. Still others, such as the photojournalist Donna Ferrato, use photography as an agent for social change, in this instance, her crusade against domestic violence. In Kiki Smith’s Las Animas, the artist mines the relationship between the representations of her body while alluding to what lies beneath.

Portraits, in all their diversity, serve the needs not only of the sitter and artist, but also the viewer. We look for clues in them to who we are as humans and the possibilities of what we could become—often trying out multiple identities, especially when on the cusp of adulthood. The reliance on photography in our own lives increasingly presents questions about representation and identity that artists continue to navigate in surprising ways.

The first in a three-part series on portraiture, Who Are We? Identity and the Contemporary Photographic Portrait is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Joseph S. Mella, director, with support provided by The Ingram Commons and Leslie Cecil and Creighton Michael, M.A.’76.

* Susan Sontag, “In Plato’s Cave,” On Photography, 1972 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978), 5.


(June 15 – August 26, 2017)

In a historical sense, the Grand Tour was a seventeenth- to eighteenth-century phenomenon in which the young, usually male and aristocratic, members of English and Northern European families visited great cities and societies of the European continent. It was an educational trip, meant largely for cultural exposure and refinement. Art was central to this travel in a number of ways, from visiting masterpieces of painting and architecture, to commissioning portraits, buying art to bring home, and engaging an artist for the journey who would paint the sublime beauty of each destination. This exhibition explores a time from approximately 1880 to 1960 when American artists endeavored to follow in the footsteps of this tradition and trek to Europe for a variety of reasons: study and opportunities to exhibit, illustration on commission, war, and leisure. At the center of their journeys was also the goal of education, for themselves through the process of travel and study and for others through the skills, cultural enlightenment, and artwork they would bring home. The works included in the exhibition represent a range of media, from printmaking to painting, and the work documents the architecture, scenery, and people of Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, England, and France as the artists saw them.


American Artists and the Legacy of the Grand Tour, 1880–1960 is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Margaret F. M. Walker, assistant curator, with support provided by the Fine Arts Gallery Gift Fund and the Sullivan Art Collection Fund.



(April 28 – September 17, 2017)

Morris Davidson’s career as a painter spanned the decades in which American artists experimented with a wide variety of artistic expression, from social realism to abstraction. Davidson followed these trends in his own work as he studied art in Baltimore, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, with painters in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and eventually in Paris. In an oral history conducted with Davidson by the Archives of American Art in 1971, the artist described the decisive impact that cubism and other modernist movements had on his thinking and painting. Along with many other mid-century artists, Davidson, in the course of his career, moved away from the depiction of identifiable landscapes or cityscapes and toward a greater degree of abstraction. The mature works of this post-war period will be highlighted in the exhibition and catalogue. Thanks to a loan from a private collection that spans the entirety of Davidson’s career, this exhibition presents a body of evidence that has allowed the student curators to be the first to reconstruct Davidson’s development as a painter, demonstrating that his move from a social-realist idiom in his early work to abstraction by mid-century was informed by his contact with some of the foremost painters of his day.


American Modernism at Mid-Century: The Work of Morris Davidson is the fourth in a series of annual partnerships between the Fine Arts Gallery and the Department of History of Art. The exhibition is curated by Aiden Layer ’19, Nancy Lin ’18, Ryan Logie ’17, Cecilia March ’18, Kittredge Shamamian ’17, Elliot Taillon ’17, and Nina Vaswani ’18, who were students in the Exhibiting Historical Art class, taught this year by Professor Kevin Murphy, Andrew W. Mellon Chair in the Humanities and chair of the Department of History of Art.


Support has been provided by the vice provost for academic and strategic affairs, the College of Arts and Science, the Department of History of Art, the Andrew W. Mellon Chair in the Humanities, the Ewers Gift for Fine Art, and the Rosenfeld-Davidson Family Archive.



(March 16 – May 27, 2017)

The Dada Effect: An Anti-Aesthetic and its Influence


Dada was an international multimedia artistic and literary movement founded in Zurich in 1916 to reimagine and, in fact, tear down prevailing forms of art that had dominated the Western tradition. As early as 1915, while proto-dadaists such as Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray worked in New York forming their anti-establishment philosophy of art, Zurich Dada was beginning to develop independently in the shadow of the First World War. Following in its aggressively anti-nationalistic, anti-war and anti-bourgeois position, independent Dadaist groups launched in Paris, Berlin, Cologne and other metropolitan centers.

The Dada Effect shows how Dadaist aesthetics and ideology directly influenced modern art and literature through the twentieth century in many subsequent movements, including Surrealism, ‘Pataphysique, and Neo-Dada. Thanks to the impressive collection of rare books and journals contained within the Pascal Pia Collection held at Vanderbilt’s W. T. Bandy Center for Baudelaire and Modern French Studies, the literary aspect of these movements will be on full display with first editions of works by Tristan Tzara, André Breton, and Jean Cocteau, among many others. Art from the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery Collection and several outside loans highlight the connections between various branches of “the arts” (visual, literary, musical, plastic, performance). Works by artists whose imaginations were captured by the notion of anti-art for many decades, including Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Cage, will play an integral role. The exhibition is also intensely pedagogical, with contributions from students in the Department of Theatre and the Blair School of Music.

Special Programs

Moveable Dada (This is Not Your Dada’s Dada!)
An evening of Art, New Music, and Conversation

March 23 at 7:00pm in the gallery

This program is an exciting collaboration between the Fine Arts Gallery and the Blair School of Music, with the performance of four original student compositions. All are inspired by works of art either in the exhibition or relating to the spirit of Dada. Recordings of these pieces are available through the exhibition audio guide.

Dada hitchhikes a ride to America! 

April 4 at 5:30 p.m. in Cohen 203

Professor Robert Barsky will discuss the Beat Generation’s affinity for all things Dada, and he will offer examples from the poetry, the songs, and the general comportment of Allen Ginsberg to show how being “beat” would often overlap with the Dada approach to art and to life.


The Dada Effect: An Anti-Aesthetic and Its Influence is curated by Daniel C. Ridge, assistant director of the W. T. Bandy Center for Baudelaire and Modern French Studies, and organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery, with support provided by the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy, Leslie Cecil and Creighton Michael (MA’76), the Department of French and Italian, the Department of Theatre, the Jean and Alexander Heard Library, and the Ewers Gift for Fine Art.



(January 19 – March 3, 2017)

This exhibition is presented in honor of Marilyn Murphy, who will retire in 2017 after 37 years of teaching in the Department of Art at Vanderbilt University. Marilyn Murphy—Realism Subverted will feature paintings and drawings in which reality is turned upside down in dreamlike scenes with gravity-defying objects and figures diligently focused on a task. These figures’ earnest stances belie what is always, in fact, a very strange object of study. Murphy finds inspiration for her subjects in the popular culture of the 1940s and 1950s, presenting them with an attention to light and shadow that creates a sense of mystery and often incorporating dramatic effects from forces of nature—a sign of her youth in the Great Plains. She writes, “while occasionally my art has a political element, many of the pieces in this series comment upon the act of seeing, the creative process, or some aspect of human experience.”

Murphy’s artwork has been shown in more than 380 exhibitions nationally and abroad, and her pieces are in several public and private collections, including the Kemper Collection, the Boston Museum School, the Siena Art Institute in Siena, Italy, and the Oklahoma Museum of Art. The Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, mounted a mid-career survey of her work in 2004, and she participated in a two-person exhibition at the Huntsville Museum of Art with Bob Trotman. She is represented by Cumberland Gallery in Nashville, Adler and Co. in San Francisco, Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago, and Blue Spiral Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina.

Marilyn Murphy—Realism Subverted is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and is supported, in part, by the Department of Art, with additional support provided by the College of Arts and Science and the Ewers Gift for Fine Art.