America Creative: Portraits by Everett Raymond Kinstler

(March 22 – May 25, 2018)

Everett Raymond Kinstler, now 91 years old, is America’s leading 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 as well as 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 Dave Brubeck, 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 (details forthcoming).

America Creative: Portraits by Everett Raymond Kinstler is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Joseph S. Mella, director, and Margaret Walker, assistant curator, with special thanks to the artist, Peggy Kinstler, Michael Shane Neal, and the Terra Foundation for American Art on behalf of board member Greg Williamson.

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. Drawing on the combined visual resources of the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Looking Back (Looking Forward): The Black Mountain Experience will present a selection of archival photographs taken at Black Mountain College of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and 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. 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. In addition to Fuller and Cage, other artists to be featured from Vanderbilt’s collection include Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, and Kenneth Snelson.

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 Collective and New Dialect Dance Company 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 Stewart, 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.

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)

Opening reception Friday, September 15 from 5 to 7 p.m. in Cohen Memorial Hall

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.