Liliana Porter: Man with Axe and Other Stories at Frist Art Museum, February 5 – May 2, 2021

“The Frist Art Museum presents Liliana Porter: Man with Axe and Other Stories, a large-scale installation that is shown with additional works by the Argentina-born artist. Porter (b. 1941) is renowned for arranging discarded everyday objects to create theatrical vignettes that are philosophically provocative and slyly humorous.

The centerpiece of the exhibition, Man with Axe and Other Stories (2017), on loan from the Pérez Art Museum in Miami, offers a bird’s-eye view of a civilization being reduced to rubble. The sprawling work features a small plastic figure of an axe-wielding man who appears to have demolished an array of items, from dollhouse furniture to vases, clocks, and a full-size piano. ‘The tableau illustrates that, like time itself, a tiny thing—a virus, a dangerous ideology, or a lone person—can bring down a kingdom or a world,’ writes Frist Art Museum chief curator Mark Scala. ‘Rich with melancholy and humor and despair and hope, the installation shows the man with the axe as a sociopathic embodiment of time itself, forever frozen in a single moment, forever unfolding in a pattern of violence and renewal.’ 

The installation should read as scary and apocalyptic, but Porter does not wish to cause undue anxiety or limit the viewer to a pessimistic opinion of the human dilemma. Instead, she embraces multiple responses. ‘To one person it can seem fun, to another tragic, to another pretty, another a horror. And I think they’re all true,’ says Porter. Always fascinated with paradox, Porter says about Man with Axe that ‘even though it is destruction, it’s not sinister. . . . It’s like a luminous destruction, we could say. I like that contradiction’.” —  Frist Art Museum

Liliana Porter. Man with Axe and Other Stories, 2017. Figurines, objects, and wooden base. Dimensions variable. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, museum purchase with funds provided by Jorge M. Pérez, 2017.
Liliana Porter. Man with Axe and Other Stories, 2017. Figurines, objects, and wooden base. Dimensions variable. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, museum purchase with funds provided by Jorge M. Pérez, 2017.
Liliana Porter. Man with Axe and Other Stories, 2017. Figurines, objects, and wooden base. Dimensions variable. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, museum purchase with funds provided by Jorge M. Pérez, 2017.
Liliana Porter. Untitled at Sea with Gardener, 2016. Acrylic and assemblage on canvas, 36 x 80 x 3 1/2 in. (91.4 x 203.2 x 8.9 cm). Collection of David Packard and M. Bernadette Castor.
Liliana Porter. To Do It: Red Sand III, 2020. Colored sand and figurine on white wooden base, 36 x 40 x 40 in. (91.4 x 101.6 x 101.6 cm) approximately. Courtesy of the artist.
Liliana Porter. To Fix It: Man with Blue Overall, 2020. Broken table clock and figurine, 5 1/2 x 5 x 4 in. (14 x 12.7 x 10.2 cm). Courtesy of the artist.

Exhibition was organized by the Frist Art Museum.

Images courtesy Frist Art Museum, Nashville, Tennessee.