Masonic Contemporary art show at Memphis Scottish Rite
Attending an art show is typically a brightly-lit, sophisticated event with wine, cheese, and erudite chatter, but Masonic Contemporary is a haunting, entrancing, and multi-dimensional experience –perfect for the month of October. I went on the opening night with a friend, knowing we would see wonderful art then very soon wondering if we would actually see a ghost.
Entering the Memphis Scottish Rite building in the medical district on Union Avenue, I was at first completely taken by the historic space. The foyer was muted with thick dust. Graying photographs of long-dead men peered ominously from the towering walls, their passing time measured by an antique grandfather clock stained as dark as the heavy trim. A symbolic mural hovered high-above entrants on the vaulted ceiling.
Jason Miller, the curator, greeted my friend and me there, handing us a guide to the show. It covered three floors for us to wander. Coming in as stragglers in the last hour, the huge building was almost empty.
The first art piece in the show was in the foyer, a vibrant blast of color on top of the time-softened, traditional space. It was an oil on canvas by Richard Knowles. The juxtaposition of bold, contemporary art in an antique space continued, with his works and others, around the dining hall, at the end of the foyer.
The pieces certainly stood out on walls, pale yellow either by age or design. It was odd skirting around coffee-stained, linen-covered tables, fully set with pastel china, to look at contemporary art. Just as it almost felt like the show might be in the old building because no other gallery space was available, we turned the corner outside of the dining hall to the stairwell, and that’s where it got creepy.
Blood-red, backgrounding a gouache and pastel piece by Larry Edwards, matched
crimson carpet covering the stairs. The equally morbid and entrancing subject, a person –either dead or resting –in a claw-foot bathtub with flowers, introduced evermore eeriness to the show, which continued upstairs. The stairwell itself was a beautiful fixture. Its wood-carved banister looped through four stories, which you could look through either up or down and see a spiral like a snail shell.
The stairs swirled us onto the second floor, into quiet intersections of mysterious hallways. Juan Rojo’s neon pieces jumped out like ghouls. His hot pink oil paint electrified the shadows, lighting up his scared, imprisoned, or submissive female subjects. Perfectly placed pieces, such as the surrealist stills of Robert Moler or the hyper-pigmented photographs of John Mireles, on cracking walls in dim corridors continued to create a multi-dimensional experience.