Frist Art Museum / 919 Broadway May 26, 2023 - August 13, 2023

John Baldessari, Thomas Hart Benton, Lonnie Holley, Dorothea Lange, Annie Leibovitz

Storied Strings: The Guitar in American Art is the first exhibition to explore the instrument’s symbolism in American art, from the early 19th century to the present day. Featuring 125 works of art, as well as 35 musical instruments, the exhibition will demonstrate that guitars figure prominently in the visual stories Americans tell about themselves. Works by artists such as John Baldessari, Thomas Hart Benton, Lonnie Holley, Dorothea Lange, and Annie Leibovitz and seminal instruments by Fender, Gibson, and C. F. Martin & Company show how guitars have served as symbols of American history, cultural attitudes, identities, and aspirations. For the presentation at the Frist, notable instruments and other artworks drawn from Middle Tennessee collections will be on view, reflecting Nashville’s internationally renowned status as “Music City” and a mecca for outstanding guitarists and socially impactful music.

The works in Storied Strings are divided into nine sections: Aestheticizing a Motif; Cold Hard Cash; Hispanicization; Parlor Games; Personification; Picturing Performance; Political Guitars; Guitars and African American Art; Re-Gendered Instruments. The exhibition also features smaller thematically arranged niche spaces, including The Blues; Women in Country Music; the Visual Culture of Early Rock and Roll; Hawaii-ana; and Cowboy Guitars. Linking these disparate themes is the premise that the guitar, as a visual motif, has long enabled artists and their human subjects to address themes and tell stories that otherwise would go unexamined. The accompanying 300-page catalogue positions the guitar within a nexus of art, music, literature, and cultural histories.

Organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Image: William H. Johnson (American, 1901–1970). Blind Musician, ca. 1940, Oil on plywood, 36 3/8 x 28 ¼ inches, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.670