Last Sunday, The Tennessean did a feature on Zeitgeist’s 25th anniversary, which takes place this summer. Read the full article by Melinda Baker with images here: https://www.tennessean.com/story/life/arts/2019/07/18/nashville-art-gallery-zeitgeist-celebrates-25-years-xanadu/1753478001/
What makes an art gallery great? The answer may be as subjective as art itself. The best ones, however, seem to share three traits: they represent great artists; enrich the cultural, intellectual and aesthetic life of their communities; and always reflect the spirit of the times.
An exemplar in Nashville is undoubtedly Zeitgeist Gallery. With its roster of stellar artists, consistently must-see exhibitions of fresh, innovative contemporary artwork and an ongoing commitment to cultivating the Nashville art community, Zeitgeist has been integral to the city’s dynamic cultural ecosystem for a quarter-century.
“Xanadu,” on view at Zeitgeist through Aug. 31, is a group exhibition that celebrates the gallery’s 25th anniversary and invites viewers to reflect on its legacy and ideas of artistic utopia. The exhibition presents an array of work by 19 of the gallery’s outstanding represented artists: Caroline Allison, Gieves Anderson, Ky Anderson, Jeremiah Ariaz, Alex Blau, Patrick DeGuira, John Donovan, Richard Feaster, Vivienne Flesher, Brady Haston, Alicia Henry, Megan Lightell, Vesna Pavlović, Greg Pond, Ward Shumaker, Karen Seapker, Lars Strandh, Vadis Turner and Lain York. Some of the artists here are relatively new additions to Zeitgeist – Turner and Flesher, for example – while others, including Haston and Feaster, have been with the gallery for decades.
Janice and Manuel Zeitlin opened Zeitgeist in 1994 in Cummins Station with a vision to create a space for Nashville’s creative community that brings together art, design and architecture.
“We were inspired by the Bauhaus model and were excited to create a space for creatives that combines the artistic and the practical and that has social purpose,” says Zeitgeist owner Janice Zeitlin. “At first, our closest neighbors were the Nashville Scene, a strip club and a gun store. Downstairs were working artist spaces. Eventually, other galleries and design-related businesses opened and the area began to evolve. Art openings would attract upwards of 1,000 people to Cummins Station.”
Zeitgeist, which doubles as an architectural design firm and gallery, later occupied a space in Hillsboro Village for 15 years before moving to the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood in 2013. Gallery director Lain York joined in 1996, and the Zeitlins’ daughter, Anna Zeitlin, has served as gallery manager since 2012.
“Lain has always added so much to the gallery, bringing the artist perspective and setting a high bar for every exhibition,” says Janice Zeitlin. “The shows that Lain and Anna have curated in recent years have been especially fresh and exciting.”
For York, the goal has always been to nurture growth while inviting risk. “We trust the artists to point the way,” he adds. “Nashville has always been a hub for focused, creative professionals, and Janice and Manuel provided a consistent space for us to pursue a holistic approach – to emphasize academic, museum programming while working with independent artist-run initiatives and commercial galleries, and to foster collaboration with other entities in the local creative community. I would like to think we helped raise the profile for more challenging artwork here.”
City's growth brings challenges
Of course, running a contemporary art gallery is no easy feat, especially in a city where neighborhoods and real estate values seem to transform overnight.
“One of the biggest challenges Nashville faces is how to sustain the creative community with affordable spaces for artists to work and live,” says Zeitlin.
“Artists here have a terrific impact on the economy, but so little of that comes back to them,” says York. “Artists are a hallmark of healthy neighborhoods, but if they don't find traction, they move to other cities, causing the ebb/flow cycle of creative capital to start all over again.”
Still, Nashville’s growth is helping the city embrace more diverse, progressive ideas about art and how it can benefit the city socially, culturally and economically.
“So many creative professionals come to Nashville from all over the world simply because someone told them they had to see what was happening here,” says York. “Our city has the potential to become a cultural industry juggernaut.”
And Zeitgeist, with its ongoing dream to build its version of an artistic Xanadu in Nashville, will surely continue to play a vital role in how Nashville’s creative community evolves.
“Zeitgeist has always been about showing art and artists that challenge the viewer to think about their place in the world and how they can make it a better place,” says Zeitlin. “It’s fun to look back now and see how many working artists got their first shows at the gallery. And it is always exciting to hear young artists tell us how they were influenced by Zeitgeist.”
Thanks to The Tennessean for the touching words as we celebrate a quarter century! See Xanadu at Zeitgeist through August 31.