If LoveWorks is any indicator of future exhibitions at the newly resurrected Semi Public Gallery, contemporary art lovers have some quality shows to look forward to. In a city that devotes most of its gallery walls to the usual Asheville stalwarts, Semi Public presents a slightly different vision, showcasing local artists alongside reputable artists from national and international arenas.
LoveWorks is a presentation of small works by 14 artists — three of them from Austria, one from California and one from Greenville. The rest live in the Asheville area. There are abstracts, narratives, crafty pieces and conceptual pieces. In spite of the disparity of art forms, it all comes together under the category of contemporary art. Or, as owner Gary Byrd describes it, “art of its time.”
A series of rococo-inspired photomontage digital prints by Terry Taylor buoyantly depict ceramic figurines intertwined with flowers and graphic stylizations. A red X and the word “caution” marks one Victorian clad woman, while a couple in love is being booted by a red stiletto heel. It’s not like this kind of thing has never been done before, but Taylor’s aesthetic viewpoint is distinct and well-edited. What could have easily turned into a torrent of visual noise remains a resolute body of work.
Elsewhere in the gallery, “Dead-Beat,” an installation of work by Austrian artist Juliane Leitner, centers around a small monitor that loops a video of people mulling about, eyes averted, carelessly throwing ceramic hearts amongst themselves. At times they fumble and the hearts crash to the floor, splattering blood. The characters continue to walk in circles, dissociated from the events in which they are engaged.
A series of small abstract graphite drawings by Bob Ray are so tenderly rendered, they beckon the viewer to step in for a closer view. The same can be said of the miniature book, “Alphabet of Desire” by Heidi Zednik and ornate paper cut drawings by Rita Barnes.
Paintings by Larry Caveney are more immediately visceral. Caveney, who lives in San Diego, actually grew up in Asheville. He is known for his conceptual projects that “create exchanges.” In one, he dons a Superman disguise and valiantly helps people cross a street. A different Caveney performance involves two women engaged in an arm- wrestling match at an art opening. Stills from his videoed performances are incorporated into crudely made paintings that capture the primitive aspect of human nature.
“Art should challenge the viewer,” says Byrd who expresses exasperation regarding the current decorative art trends in Asheville that value craftsmanship over concept. Byrd’s own paintings are loosely rendered applications of paint that generally involve sedentary figures within dark rooms. “For me it’s about getting the emotion and not belabouring the technique,” says Byrd adding, “If you think technique is meaning, you may think I’m very simple.”
The building that Semi Public Gallery occupies could be considered an evolving art piece in its own right. Walls have been torn down and rebuilt, but the original pressed-tin ceiling and sturdy wooden floor remain intact. For many years the space served as a neighborhood grocery store before closing down in the mid ‘80s. Locals still stop in and share stories about the grocery, like a fellow who grew up down the street and attended Claxton Elementary as a child. “He told me he used to get his ass-whooped for playing pinball games in the grocery store after school,” laughs Byrd.
Semi Public Gallery is located at 305 Hillside St. 215-8171. Open Thursday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.
LoveWorks will be on display until March 19. For a virtual tour of LoveWorks visit http://semipublicgallery.com/loveworks-gallery-tour/
Photos by Ursula Gullow.