10 of the Best Exhibitions in Tennessee This Spring

by Paul Joseph  |  Published March 8, 2022

Culture vultures visiting Tennessee this spring are in for a treat, with the state’s museums playing host to a diverse roster of exhibitions.

(Photo: Stax Museum of American Soul Music / Courtesy Michael Abramson)

Tennessee’s capital, Nashville, is the beating heart of the state’s rich country-music scene, and there are several museums that celebrate this long-standing heritage. But beyond music, there are also a wide variety of museums and other cultural venues spanning art, history, science and more. If you’re visiting Tennessee this spring and would like to visit an exhibition during your stay, we’ve picked out 10 taking place from March to May that you might want to check out.

LOVE IN THE CLUB: Photographs by Michael Abramson

Carefully coiffed cross-dressers and bell-bottomed dancers bumping the nights away in the smoky clubs of Chicago’s South Side in the mid-1970s. It was a far-out party scene that brimmed over with style and free expression to the sounds of blues, disco, funk, and soul. A photographer from New Jersey, Michael Abramson, became so infatuated with this slice of underground life that he took more than 5,000 unobtrusive black-and-white images photographs for his thesis while attending Chicago’s IIT Institute of Design. Now, 30 of these legendary photos will be on display at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music Main in a gallery set up to resemble a combination of Chicago’s legendary nightspots and Memphis’ own R&B palace hot in that era, Club Paradise.

Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis / Through 4 September 2022 


(Photo: Per Suntum, Ring of Bloom, 1994/2021. Gold. Artwork courtesy of the Helen Williams Drutt Family Collection. Courtesy Virginia Price)

Selected as the third national stop for a traveling exhibition of contemporary jewellery, this exhibition showcases over 100 pieces created by artists from around the world. Its aim is to celebrate the wide-ranging creativity of established masters and emerging makers whose techniques range from traditional to contemporary. Unconventional and timeless all at once, this colourful collection emphasises the relevance of jewellery across cultures while also serving as a historic archive of contemporary jewelry. Highlights include works by Helen Drutt, a renowned educator, gallery owner and advocate of contemporary craft, along with a selection of rings from the Metal Museum’s Permanent Collection.

Metal Museum, Memphis / 27 March – 12 June 2022

Tinkering Garage

(Photo: Adventure Science Center)

One of Tennessee’s most acclaimed learning institutions, the Adventure Science Center is home to a huge variety of hands-on science exhibits designed for the entire family to enjoy. Among those to have appeared in recent years has been Tinkering Garage, which returns for another stint at the centre this spring. In this hands-on, family-friendly workshop, visitors can bring their creative vision to life with REAL tools and REAL materials and explore concepts of engineering, physics, and construction as they build their next masterpieces. Whether it’s a birdhouse or racecar, butterfly or guitar, the exhibit promises a time of discovery and creativity for all ages and creative predilections.

Adventure Science Center, Nashville / May-August 2022

Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful

Providing a fresh perspective on the life and career of African-American artist Alma W. Thomas, this major retrospective traces her journey from semirural Georgia to Washington, DC, to becoming the first Black woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York when she was eighty in 1972. Focusing on Thomas’s wide-ranging creativity and persistent search for beauty, on view will be a number of her abstract paintings – the titles and forms of which express her interest in flora and fauna, music, space travel, and spirituality – along with lesser-known and rarely seen artworks and archival material including letters, photographs, costume designs, marionettes, sculptures, and furnishings formerly in Thomas’s home.

Frist Art Museum, Nashville / Through 5 June 2022

STARS: 2021-2022 Statewide Elementary Exhibition

(Photo: Tennessee State Museum)

On view in the Education Suite on the First Level of the prestigious Tennessee State Museum, this exhibition showcases artwork created by kindergarten through fifth-grade students from across Tennessee. The works on display have all been selected by a panel of expert judges who evaluated the works for alignment to visual art standards, technique, personal expression, and organisation. These works represent the first-, second-, and third-place submissions in each grade level and include an overall “Best of Show” award.

Tennessee State Museum, Nashville / Through 22 May 2022

The Beginning of the End: John Dillinger’s Final Jail Break

From a broken childhood and bank robberies to murder and prison escapes, John Dillinger’s sheer audacity continues to intrigue the media and the public today. Perhaps this enduring fascination lies with the unknown. Despite numerous accounts and historical research, much remains uncertain: how did he pull everything off? How did he escape from jail three times? How did he evade the FBI for so long? And why did he do it all? Opening on the anniversary of one of the most infamous prison escapes in American history, this exhibition will highlight Dillinger’s final break from Lake County jail in Indiana on 3 March 1934 to his death on 22 July 1934 outside of the Biography Theatre in Chicago, Illinois.

Alcatraz East, Pigeon Forge / Through 3 March 2023

Wingless Wonders: Propeller-Driven Vehicles That Never Took Off

At the dawn of aviation, following the success of the Wright brothers’ lift off from the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, dozens of other dreamers were working on their own flying machines. Shortly after that first flight in December 1903, aviators all over the world were adopting the Wrights’ basic ideas to develop and improve upon. With better designs and new approaches, aircraft quickly took to the skies. It may come as a surprise that during this same period, these innovations of the air were also used on the ground for flightless vehicles. This exhibition delves into the fascinating history of propeller-driven vehicles, spanning the early 1900s to the late 1970s, placing visitors at the exciting and turbulent dawn of aviation and allowing them to marvel at these innovative hybrid means of transport.

Lane Motor Museum, Nashville / Through 4 April 2022

Global Asias: Contemporary Asian and Asian American Art

(Photo: Aaron Wessling Photography)

Drawn from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his family foundation, this exhibition examines the cosmopolitan, playful, and subtly subversive characteristics of contemporary Asian and Asian American art. Divided into three thematic sections, it highlights the work of 15 artists of Asian heritage who draw on a rich array of motifs, techniques, and cultural motivations to construct diverse “Asias” in a modern global context. The themed sections comprise “Exuberant Forms” featuring work with the potential to reshape conventional views of abstract art; “Moving Stories”, bringing together powerful prints and mixed-media works that reflect on the experiences of migration; and “Asias Reinvented”, highlighting two- and three-dimensional works that transform styles and techniques of traditional Asian arts in alignment with the vibes of the contemporary and the cosmopolitan.

Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville / Through 24 April 2022

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

(Photo: Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage)

The home of Andrew Jackson, The Hermitage, is located minutes from downtown Nashville, Tennessee and is considered to be one of the best preserved early U.S. presidential homes. Here, you are invited to discover how America’s history was shaped in Nashville’s backyard. The home of the 7th president invites you to walk through the story and history of Jackson as you learn more about an era, a people and a leader who helped shape a young nation’s future. Take in the Greek Revival-style mansion where Jackson and his family lived. Stroll through the garden and grounds fit for a First Lady. Visitors to The Hermitage will get an in-person glimpse into the man and a property that speaks to life in the 19th century.

4580 Rachels Lane, Hermitage / Permanent

Borders: Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir

(Photo: Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, Borders, 2009-11; Cast iron and cast aluminium, Courtesy of the artist)

The work of Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir returns to the tranquil environs of Dixon Gallery & Gardens this year, with more than twenty sculptures from her Borders series. The Dixon first presented the artist’s Horizons series in 2009 to great success. Now, Thorarinsdottir’s remarkable figural works will animate the venue ag once again through Borders. The sculptures are presented in pairs, one cast-iron and one aluminium, either standing or seated and often placed as if they are in a silent conversation. Thorarinsdottir’s figures are at once familiar and otherworldly, and their quiet aura invites viewers to contemplate the ways in which all humans are connected, despite our outward differences.

Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis / Through 23 April 2022