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A Landmark Repurposed celebrates the historic building that the Frist Art Museum is privileged to occupy—Nashville’s former main post office.

Expanded Painting in the 1960s and 1970s

Ghosts and Fragments

Fault Lines: Contemporary Abstraction by Artists from South Asia

Art of Care

Marisa Merz

Now, She: Two Sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard


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A Landmark Repurposed celebrates the historic building that the Frist Art Museum is privileged to occupy—Nashville’s former main post office.
Jan 8, 2021–Jan 9, 2022
Conte Community Arts Gallery

Commemorating the Frist’s 20th anniversary, this reimagined exhibition with updated design and expanded narrative highlights the building’s role as a civic institution, from its creation as the city’s main post office in 1934 to its reopening as an art museum on April 8, 2001. Through archival images, architectural drawings, “Then and Now” photographs, news clippings, and original planning documents, guests will learn about the building’s distinctive architectural styles, as well as how historical events affected the construction and function of the post office. The exhibition will also address how buildings can be repurposed, making connections with American Art Deco: Designing for the People, which will be on view in the Ingram Gallery from October 8, 2021, through January 2, 2022.

Constructed in 1933–34 under the direction of local firm Marr & Holman, the building was financed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Construction. Following guidelines from the Office of the Supervising Architect, the building displays the two most distinctive architectural styles of the period: “starved” or “stripped” classicism and art deco.

During the Depression, architects working for the federal government were expected to express in their buildings the values of permanence, stability, and order—values that a classical style had traditionally embodied—but in forms streamlined to suggest progress and simplified to lower production costs. Inside, cast aluminum doors and grillwork, as well as colored marble and stones on the floors and walls, follow the more decorative trend commonly known as art deco, which had developed in commercial interiors during the 1920s.

The building has long been central to the life of the city. During its construction, unemployed workers gathered by the hundreds at the building site, seeking jobs. World War II soldiers sent last letters to loved ones before boarding trains next door at Union Station on their way to the European front. Every April, long lines of last-minute tax filers formed, with postal workers sometimes accepting the returns in the street.

In 1984, the post office building was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places. Two years later, however, a new main postal distribution center was constructed on Royal Parkway, near Nashville International Airport, and much of the old building was no longer needed. After years of deliberation and with community demand, a solution for the building’s future was determined. Through a unique public-private partnership between Metro Nashville government and Dr. Thomas Frist, Jr., the building would be transformed into a visual arts center.

Tuck-Hinton Architects of Nashville guided the preservation of the post office building’s architectural details and spirit. The original pine floors were taken up, refinished, and reinstalled, and the huge high-ceilinged sorting rooms in the center of the original facility were naturally suited to their new role as spacious exhibition galleries. The former skylight in the center of the building, previously covered in the 1950s, had its function resurrected in the new design, accompanied by clerestory windows that now light the atrium and the grand staircases.

The building began its second life as the Frist Center for the Visual Arts on April 8, 2001, with the mission to present and originate high quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. Since opening, the Frist has hosted artists and artworks from collections around the world and invited Nashville’s community members and visitors to share in its vision of inspiring people through art to look at the world in new ways. On April 2, 2018, the name was formally changed to the Frist Art Museum to convey more clearly what visitors can expect when entering the building.

Organized by the Frist Art Museum

Exhibition Catalogue
A twentieth-anniversary edition of the exhibition catalogue, now titled A Landmark Repurposed: From Post Office to Art Museum, will be published this spring. To be notified when it becomes available, please contact giftshop@FristArtMuseum.org.

The volume will feature a preface by Billy Frist, chair and president of the Frist Art Museum board of trustees, and an epilogue by Susan H. Edwards, Frist Art Museum executive director and CEO.

The contents from the original book include historian Christine Kreyling’s essay about our landmark building and its position within Nashville’s architectural history. This revised edition was designed and produced by renowned art book publisher Lucia | Marquand.

The Frist Art Museum gratefully acknowledges the generosity of our O’Keeffe Circle members in funding this exhibition:

Judy and Joe Barker
Patricia Frist Elcan and Charles A. Elcan
Jennifer and Billy Frist
Julie and Tommy Frist
Patricia C. Frist and Thomas F. Frist, Jr., MD
R. Milton and Denice Johnson
Neil Krugman and Lee Pratt
Sid and Linda Pilson
Delphine and Ken Roberts
Anne and Joe Russell
Mr. and Mrs. James C. Seabury III

Expanded Painting in the 1960s and 1970s
Through Fall 2021
Edna and Stanley Tuttleman Gallery 274, Main Building

Explore radical innovations in painting that testify to a pursuit of freedom and expression in the midst of a period marked by social and political unrest in the United States and abroad. From Alma Thomas’s mosaic-like painting of flowers to Sam Gilliam’s suspended, draped canvas, these works speak to an upending of barriers—be they artistic, ideological, racial, or rooted in gender stereotypes. By rethinking and systematically probing conventions associated with the painted canvas, these works ultimately speak to the desire for a deeper, more fundamental connection to nature, the body, movement, and light.

Ghosts and Fragments
Through Fall 2021
Gallery 270, Main Building

Free with museum admission

See how contemporary artists like Glenn Ligon and Nick Cave explore the nature of bodily presence, reconsidering the human body through its parts and its absence rather than by its corporeal, material weight. In this installation, disembodied artifacts—fragments of limbs, fractured objects, and haunting words—yield poetic, political, and subjective interpretations of the self, invisibility, and otherness.

Fault Lines: Contemporary Abstraction by Artists from South Asia
Through October 10, 2021

The power of a line: for the five female artists featured in this exhibition, it’s both an infinitely malleable form and a poetic metaphor for the borders and divisions that make up our world. Discover abstract paintings, sculptures, and works on paper that uniquely embrace and rethink the minimalist approach to explore questions about memory, home, and belonging.

Artists in the Exhibition

Tanya Goel (born 1985, New Delhi; active New Delhi)

Sheela Gowda (born 1957, Bhadravati; active Bangalore)

Prabhavathi Meppayil (born 1965, Najibabad; active Bangalore)

Art of Care
Through April 4, 2021
Korman Galleries 221–224: Main Building

Free with museum admission
Examine the ways artists over the last century have pictured and envisioned acts of caregiving as observers, practitioners, patients, and activists. The works in this exhibition present a broad range of approaches to medical care, from informal networks of mutual aid and community support to professional procedures and emergency interventions. Highlights include a drawing by Elizabeth Catlett, who portrays the demeanor and spirit of a nurse on duty in World War II, and photographs by W. Eugene Smith chronicling the challenging labor of Maude Callen, a nurse-midwife stationed in the rural South.

The works on view affirm that the field of medicine itself has long served as an arena in struggles for social justice and human rights, as people continue to fight over who receives care, who gives care, and how care itself is defined. At a time when the stakes of such struggles are higher than ever, the pictures gathered here speak to the many forms of care that health, healing, and human dignity require

Marisa Merz
Through July 11, 2021
Gallery 171, Main Building

A selection of sculptures and drawings celebrates the life and legacy of pioneering Italian artist Marisa Merz (1926–2019). Occupying a unique and pivotal position in postwar European art, Merz’s work combines keen attention to materials with a deeply personal symbolism.

This gallery features a number of the artist’s recurring visual motifs, such as the female head, the flowing fountain, and musical instruments whose sounds are heard only in the viewer’s mind. With their delicate and textured surfaces, Merz’s works beckon us into a cosmos all her own.

In memoriam

Now, She: Two Sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard
Through May, 2021
Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden

A pair of monumental works by one of the most influential sculptors working today

Explore two majestic works by renowned artist Ursula von Rydingsvard in the Museum’s Sculpture Garden. First constructed in cedar and then cast in bronze and urethane resin, these lyrical sculptures exemplify the artist’s complex approach to scale, material, and technique. Now, She coincides with a major exhibition devoted to the sculptor’s work at the Fabric Workshop and Museum.

About the Artist
Born in Deensen, Germany, Ursula von Rydingsvard has lived and worked in New York since the 1970s. Her work has been broadly exhibited internationally and is represented in the collections of major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Modern Art; the National Gallery of Art; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Walker Art Center; and the Storm King Art Center. To see more of the artist’s work, visit her website.

Alice Beamesderfer, the Pappas-Sarbanes Deputy Director for Collections and Programs

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