Since its inception in 1991, the Untitled artist collective has seen many incarnations: punk kids with anarchic values and a shared disregard for commercialism; unknown artists on the verge of widespread critical acclaim; and a lot of cringe-worthy art submitted by anyone with $25 dollars to apply.
But that's the best part about Untitled. For those unfamiliar with its model, the all-volunteer group hangs one-night-only installations in unconventional venues — everywhere from abandoned warehouses to hair salons — and they accept work from anybody who pays. For Saturday's show, which is being billed as Untitled's last, the collective has waived its fee and is instead hanging work from anyone who wants to participate. The turnout will probably inform what the group's next steps will be — if they take any at all.
From the perspective of Zeitgeist Gallery director Lain York, who joined the group in 1992, Untitled has chosen an unlikely time to disband — right in the middle of an artist-led renaissance that the group helped set the groundwork for — but he's still holding out hope that this won't be the last "last Untitled show."
"I've seen Untitled disband/come apart/go on hiatus as many times as there are metaphors," York tells the Scene in a recent email. "They are inherent to the group, and I believe it's totally healthy. Too bad it's happening at a super-vital moment.
"It will come back together as soon as a new or re-formed group decides to do something similar, and discovers this organization with a 20-plus-year history and a not-for-profit status ready to go. There is no shortage of artists to plug in, and the need will always be there."
At a lunch meeting with York, we discussed the likelihood of Untitled resuming operations. "Driving down Dickerson Pike just now," he said, "I saw all these abandoned spaces. That's what Untitled is built for. I've hung shows in spaces where you have to break down a door with a sledgehammer, and then you're scraping up pigeon shit," he says with a grin that belies a sense of pride in such ground-level art activities.
The last time Untitled regrouped was in 2002, and since then it's held exhibitions fairly consistently — four to five shows a year, as well as weekly meetings. Artist Samantha Callahan has been a leading figure in Untitled's small but inclusive group since she joined in 2004, and she echoes York's sentiment that Nashville hasn't seen the last of Untitled.
"There's a lot happening in Nashville," Callahan says, "and we have a hard time finding new venues that are willing to host our shows and work with our schedules." That might be the single most difficult thing about arranging Untitled events, Callahan says. They've been forced to cancel shows or reschedule them at the last minute because they weren't able to secure a location.
Still, Callahan is understandably disappointed about the organization's closure. She's been involved during a watershed decade for Nashville's art scene, and besides, it's given her a chance to develop an audience.
"I wouldn't be doing anything art-related — except for sitting in my house making art and not showing anybody — unless I had found Untitled," she says.
But Callahan is quick to explain that the reason behind the group's disbanding is essentially very simple: "There isn't enough fresh blood right now, and people are really burned out.
"It really has to go away for some time in order for it to be able to come back if it needs to," she continues. "And it should only come back if it really needs to, if people really really want it and need it.
"And right now, people don't."