by Cat Acree
Stifle your groans, because the “thinking outside the box” puns are inevitable with the new summer exhibition at David Lusk Gallery, Mash-Up: Artists Do Cardboard. And not just in terms of a selection of artists working with unexpected materials, but also in how art is shown in Nashville.
If you stop to notice—which we rarely do—cardboard is everywhere. It’s ubiquitous as concrete, inherently sustainable, and 95 percent of all products in the US are shipped in corrugated boxes. Historically, the Chinese are credited with creating the first cardboard in the 1600s. It’s strong, light, inexpensive, and has inspired open-minded artists beginning in the late twentieth century, as with architect Frank Gehry’s Easy Edges series of tables and chairs.
Curated by the Frist’s Senior Graphic Designer and artist Kristina Colucci, Mash-Up is a symbiosis of eighteen artists, ranging from painters to makers, some of whom have worked with cardboard and many who have not. They come from various colleges and universities—from Fisk to Watkins, the University of Memphis and TSU—some represented by galleries, including Zeitgeist, David Lusk, Rymer, and Tinney, and others non-represented.
Colucci’s excitement for the show is palpable, not to mention infectious. “I’ve always wanted to do a cardboard show and get away from this gallery-centric or territorial, big-idea kind of stuff and just let artists have fun,” she says. “I think we get a little bogged down in the art world, with exclusivity and representation and so on. This . . . is opening my heart to the possibilities.”
The challenge posed to each of these artists was entirely open-ended. David Lusk insisted on an “anything goes” mentality, telling Colucci it could be “completely free. Big or small. We can put things in the middle of the room. We can hang things from the ceiling.”
There’s just one rule: Cardboard must be the starting point, but works of art can be one percent cardboard, inspired by the color of cardboard, anything. The result has been a flurry of excitement from every direction, and because the material is so cheap, artists can feel free to try several ideas and toss the failures.
As just a small preview, painter Beth Foley, who is represented by David Lusk Gallery, presents a cutout diorama of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Alicia Henry from Zeitgeist and Fisk has created a mask of layered cardboard. TSU’s Brandon Donohue describes his piece as a cityscape that occupies both floor and wall space, and “Lain York said something about Darth Vader and a skateboard.” Colucci, who has worked with cardboard for many years, will juxtapose throwaway cardboard material with beautiful metallic materials like gold leaf.
“It’s everywhere. It’s free. It’s beautiful. It’s recyclable. It’s clean,” says Colucci. But because it’s so present, it’s also easily ignored, so for cardboard to serve as art provides a fresh awareness that could have the power to infiltrate our lives.
“We want to show people that artists can change the value of things that we throw out, that are discarded, that are ignored. Put it in an artist’s hands, and it becomes incredibly valuable.”
Mash-Up: Artists Do Cardboard is open June 2–28. The opening reception is Saturday, June 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.davidluskgallery.com.