Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Art To Go

By Dominic Jesse

MAY 18, 1998:  The Marshall Arts Gallery used to be a garage, which makes its upcoming show a lot easier to handle. This Friday, the building’s large doors will open once more – to let patrons drive right through to look at, and buy, the art they want.

It’s the gallery’s First Annual “Drive-Through” Exhibition, where interested parties can look at the contemporary works just as easily as they could pull up to the menu board of a McDonald’s or Taco Bell.

“We’re a society that likes quick information and quick service,” says Allison Smith, gallery director. With that in mind, the exhibit was designed to be as “McArt” as possible.

Outside the gallery, in true tailgate fashion, Smith plans to sell potato chips and beverages from the back of a truck. Little hand-painted pieces, laminated and hanging from strings of plastic beads, will be sold cheaply for drivers to hang on their rear-view mirrors. And when the “consumers” pull into the garage/gallery, bright orange traffic cones stand ready to guide them past art hung low on the wall.

The walls of the gallery hold all types of contemporary art from more than 30 contributing Memphis-area artists, such as Cory George, Diane Hoffman, Erin Riches, and Robert Markel. Each piece is numbered, and those who want to buy a piece can return to the building, approach the table (or “order area”) and say something to the effect of: “I want a number two,” the number representing the artist.

Cathy Gillaspey, director of Delta Axis, which is co-sponsoring the show, describes the artwork as “post-modern,” an “eclectic of anything-goes,” drawing its elements from the symbols, icons, and metaphors of the past.

“It’s a very sophisticated and intellectual kind of art,” says Gillaspey. “It stimulates people to think.”

Among the pieces for sale are hand-woven straw wall decorations, surreal paintings of disembodied body parts and living room furniture, portraits painted on all sides and corners of wooden blocks, and a box of tiny sculptures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary on Popsicle sticks, demonstrating how our culture can take the most revered objects, be they art or religion, and mass-produce them.

With a few exceptions, all the art on the wall will be for sale for less than $100.

While the exhibit pokes fun at a society hell-bent on instant gratification and more, more, more, Smith is careful to draw a distinct line between the art in her gallery and, say, a Big Mac with fries.

“We are laughing at [the drive-through concept] – it is very funny – but we’re not laughing at the art,” Smith says.

To this end, Smith retained some of the aspects of a “traditional” art show. Drive-through customers have to wait until the end of the exhibition to pick up their purchases, and not all the art is up for sale.

And for those who don’t feel like taking their cars through the gallery, a delivery driver of sorts, christened “Drive-by Art,” has been roaming the Memphis area since May 8th in a Ryder truck loaded with more expensive works of art. So far, this “artmobile” has visited Beale Street, the Summer Four Drive-in, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and the Delta Queen.

“I wanted art to, eventually, be accessible to people,” Smith explains, adding that the academic jargon often associated with contemporary art tends to drive many people away. (Smith should know; she teaches art at both the University of Memphis and Memphis College of Art.) Smith wants to take art to the people, even if it means driving around Memphis with art propped up in a moving truck, knowing if the temperature hits 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the encaustic (wax) paintings might melt off the canvas.

Gillaspey originally planned to bring “Drive-by Art” to Graceland and the Memphis Pink Palace Museum as well, though those ideas were squelched when she couldn’t get permission. She did, however, manage to score some of the funding for the show from Ryder Truck Rental.


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