by Joe Nolan
May’s First Saturday event was packed with great shows. Downtown and in Wedgewood-Houston gallery-goers shared excited hints and tips about don’t-miss gallery displays. One of the best and most resonant exhibitions I saw was the new two-person show at Zeitgeist.
John Donovan’s New Personal Best and Jessica Wohl’s Letting Go get separate billing on the gallery’s wall, but one of the masterstrokes of this display is the way the two bodies of work are interspersed throughout the gallery. The pieces don’t create a conversation so much as they just bring out the best in each other.
Donovan’s New Personal Best seems to be just that: a show of personal new works from one of Zeitgeist’s best artists. This Ridiculous Fight, 2011, was the culmination of Donovan’s exploration of pre-Columbian and Chinese ceramic figures, action figures, and the tensions between play war and actual conflict. While many of his old tropes remain—Hello Kitty heads, cartoon stylization, anthropological titles—his work has become more strictly formal, dealing in color and form more directly and relieving itself of the burden of cultural commenting. It’s a welcome trend if only because this gorgeous, sensual, and sometimes-silly display wins with its vibrant colors and its thoughtful shapes alone.
One of the reasons Donovan’s work in Best feels so buoyantly beautiful is the fact that it’s sharing the gallery’s front rooms with Wohl. Her chromatic, collaged-fabric wall sculptures are a great complement to Donovan’s now-much-more-colorful pieces. And Donovan’s animal masks and busts of wrestlers, soldiers, and shamans carry just the right balance of goof and gravitas to emphasize the object-ness of Wohl’s assemblages, which address domesticity and suburban culture.
A good curator would never program clashing shows in the same gallery, but Donovan and Wohl and the Zeitgeist creative team of Janice Zeitlin and Lain York have really pulled off something special here. Most Nashville galleries leave their shows up for only one month, but it’s exhibitions like this one that make me very grateful that Zeitgeist leaves their multiple-viewing-worthy shows up for two months at a time.
See Jessica Wohl’s Letting Go and John Donovan’s New Personal Best at Zeitgeist through June 27. For more information visit www.zeitgeist-art.com.