My Nails, Their Canvas

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We’ve all been to the salon—admit it, guys, if only for a haircut—but surely not like the one in October at the Visual Arts Center.

In 17th- and 18th-century France, a salon was a social gathering to exchange ideas about art and literature. Today, of course, it means a place where you get your nails done. Three UT MFA students decided to combine the two, et voila: “Salon de Your Pleasure,” a performance-art-meets-visual-art experience.

Anne Rogers, Bryan Martello, and Annie Miller say this quirky idea for a group show came to them when they realized that most gallery talks aren’t very engaging.

“We’re interested in having one-on-one conversations with people who make appointments,” Martello says, before he takes his first manicure appointment of not only the day, but his life. “It’s hopefully a more intimate conversation than one you might have in a larger setting.”

Miller, also a manicurist neophyte, performs the heroic task of cleaning, shaping, and polishing my oft-neglected nails. As she pushes back my ragged cuticles with what looks like a pointed chopstick, I am able to participate in the type of intimate exchange that the students intended. I learn that, while the three students work in different mediums—Miller is a painter, Martello a photographer, and Rogers a sculptor—the show works because they share a similar sense of humor and a subject: the human body.

“They are pretty explicit,” Miller says, pointing to one of her abstract paintings as she paints my nails a tasteful metallic blue, “dealing with sex—either just before or after that—but there’s enough ambiguity where you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at.”

It could be that I’m a dilettante in the world of visual art, but I certainly wouldn’t have gotten that merely walking into a gallery and staring dumbly at the wall. My experience doesn’t appear to be a fluke. To my left, Rogers is explaining the genesis of the show and her work while carefully administering a pedicure. To my right, Martello is chatting up a fellow MFA student, alternating between shop-talk and nail-salon-talk.

The salon, according to VAC director Jade Walker, MFA ’05, is an example of why the VAC created the Center Space Project when the building was remodeled in 2010. Students select the shows, showcase their own work, and, in effect, educate themselves in gallery curation.

“The Center Space provided a playground of sorts for these three current studio graduate students to experience new work in a clean space and sample dialogues between the works,” Walker says after the event. “Their use of the Visual Arts Center for this type of discovery is the mission of the space.”

While the apprentice nail artists’ manicure skills may not have been “up to par with what people were expecting,” as Martello admits, the individual care to each attendee was a gateway to intellectual conversation, the artists’ goal.

“The Q&A’s in a lecture can get kind of stuffy,” Martello says. “The salon opened people up a bit, where they were able to talk more freely and candidly about the work.”

My beautiful blue nails were just the icing on the cake.

Photo by Anna Donlan.

 

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