The decals never came off the doors after the Fine Arts League of the Carolinas moved out of its Rankin Avenue location. But that’s OK. In a way, the new tenant is the old tenant. Asheville artist and Fine Arts League founder Ben Long is moving back in after years of vacancy. In the weeks to come he will reopen a new gallery space tentatively named Asheville Fine Art Studios and Gallery.
“The second week of May is what we’re shooting for,” Ada Dudenhoffer, Long’s assistant and business manager told Xpress. They’re just waiting on some final renovations.
Walls and partitions have been removed from the roughly 4,000-square-foot space. Track lighting has been updated and new paint covers the ductwork and trim. The once Carolina-blue walls are now steely shades of forest and sage green. It’s mostly come down to refinishing the hardwood floors, says Dudenhoffer. Their first exhibition should open just in time for the start for the summer tourism season.
Long and Dudenhoffer expect more foot traffic for their Rankin/Walnut corner. The school previously leased a space on Depot Street, near the Glen Rock Depot. But that had a fraction of the audience that a downtown location will bring, according to Long.
The Rankin spot also has north-facing windows that’ll fill the space with diffused natural light. Add to that the 14-foot-high ceilings, which could allow for salon-style hanging for exhibitions. The artists will be mostly local, but also include a few of Long’s national or international contemporaries. “It’ll be a rotating list depending on who’s available and who has work,” said Dudenhoffer.
Long and Dudenhoffer are also restricting the types of work they will show in the renewed and reincarnated gallery — more so than in years past. “We’ll show figurative and landscape artists that only draw from life,” Long says. Artists and works that use reference photos and printed imagery will be prohibited. In other words, they’re sticking with the traditions that predate modern technology, a pillar of the former school’s mission. “That will narrow things quite a bit,” he said.
The Fine Arts League of the Carolinas temporarily suspended their operations last September. Long founded the school in 2001. Until last year, it taught the technical, scientific and philosophical practices of the Old Master artists. The closure followed financial difficulty and a soured relationship with then-executive director Sheri Khan. Khan has since left the city.
It seemed like that suspension might mark the end of the League. And it has, for that particular incarnation. But Long and Dudenhoffer are working towards a revival of sorts. “We had a school that was very successful for over 10 years,” Long said. “And I don’t want to let that go.”
They’ve ruled out having both a gallery and a school in the Rankin location. There’s just not enough space for both, says long. One possible classroom locale would be Long’s downtown studio space, just above Aqua Cafe on College Street. Doing so would make the move back into the Rankin location seemingly more serendipitous. “That’s where the school first started,” he said. After leaving his private studio it moved to Rankin, then to Depot Street in 2010 before closing in 2012.
Semi-Public gets a little more public
If you were around Charlotte Street this past Saturday, you may have seen Art on the Move. It was an aptly titled pseudo-performance piece. Rather, a walk-turned-exhibitional precursor for Asheville artist and Semi-Public Gallery owner Gary Byrd’s opening reception at Metro Wines.
The “move” was out of necessity, he admits. “I didn’t want to rent a truck,” Byrd told Xpress, “and it’s really not that far away.” Byrd, with the help of friends, artists and a collector or two marched the large-scale oil paintings from his studio and gallery space on Hillside to Metro Wines on Charlotte.
He’s the shop’s first exhibiting artist, but also the new in-house gallerist. Metro Wines is partnering with Byrd and Semi-Public. The space will rotate artworks from the half-dozen artists affiliated with the gallery, including Byrd. Some shows will be solo, others group-oriented. And any work associated with the gallery will be shown as a “Semi-Public Project.” There’s the option to bring in other artists he says. In that case, their work will be shown on its own accord.
Semi-Public’s goal is to filter artists, patrons and collectors from one space to the other. Doing so, he says, will help bolster the fledgling Charlotte Street arts corridor giving artists another platform for exhibitions.
“We’ve been crap-free since 1996,” Byrd said. They’re aiming to keep it that way he says, but in a new, expanded footprint.