Asheville Art Talk: Stand Gallery opens at the Phil Mechanic Studios

THREE OF A KIND: Phil Mechanic artists, from left, Catherine Baumhauer, Kris Lars and Brooke Rettig, will lead the way with a group show in the Stand Gallery.
THREE OF A KIND: Phil Mechanic artists, from left, Catherine Baumhauer, Kris Lars and Brooke Rettig, will lead the way with a group show in the Stand Gallery. Photo by Lynn August

Uncertainty has surrounded the Phil Mechanic Studios in the River Arts District since it was sold last year to James Lifshutz, a Texas real estate developer. Artists with studios in the space speak of a future unknown. Some speculate that Lifshutz plans to refurbish the building into condominiums. Others say the new owner has no interest in changing the Phil Mechanic’s current model, but acknowledge that increased rents remain a possibility. Lifshutz, who was unavailable for comment, has expressed in the past the potential for rental, as well as for-sale residential options (see Xpress‘ “State of the arts: Where are you going where have you been?,” Sept. 15, 2016).

Through this uncertainty, solidarity has formed among the artists, manifesting in the resurrection of the former Flood Gallery. Located two levels below the building’s entry on Roberts St., the space once served as a gathering place for artists and community members alike. Over the last year and half, however, it has sat relatively empty and underutilized.

Artists from the Phil Mechanic Studios intend to change this on Saturday, May 20, with the reopening of the gallery, renamed the Stand Gallery. The launch will include a group show, Following Abstraction into Form, featuring the works of three Phil Mechanic Studios artists: Brooke Rettig, Catherine Baumhauer and Kris Lars. Sales from the monthlong exhibit will benefit Planned Parenthood, with 10 percent of the overall proceeds going toward the nonprofit.

The gallery’s new name, which was voted on by all members of the building, leaves room for interpretation. “It may have come slightly from a political standpoint,” says Baumhauer. “When we went with this name, it was right after the election and I think it was on people’s minds. … When you’re making art, you’re expressing a voice, whether it’s political or not.”

Others, like Stephen Lange, a fellow artist and the building’s property manager, views it as a comment on the district. “There’s a lot of gentrification going on in the River Arts District,” he says. In Lange’s opinion, the Stand Gallery is a symbolic stance against higher rents and hobbyists.

Despite their different takes, both Lange and Baumhauer hope the reopening of the gallery will create buzz and bring new life to the space. “We have all these eclectic artists here,” says Baumhauer. “We want to spread the word that our work is powerful … and get back on the map a little bit.”

Lange is particularly proud of Stand Gallery’s debut show. “[The artists are] all relatively new to the building and I think they are incredibly talented people,” he says of Baumhauer, Rettig and Lars. “They have a diverse style, but I think there is a common thread in [the work].”

As its title suggests, Following Abstraction into Form will offer a range of styles. Baumhauer’s blend of the abstract and figurative will bridge the gap between Rettig’s more abstract paintings and Lars’ purely figurative pieces. “We thought the three of us worked well together because we sort of run the gamut,” Baumhauer says .

Baumhauer sees the inaugural event as the start of a new monthly series. “That’s the hope,” she says. “We want to create enough momentum behind [the opening] so we can continue to showcase different artists in the building and just use [the Stand Gallery] as a platform to get the word out that we’re here and happy to be so.”

WHAT: Following Abstraction into Form exhibition opening

WHERE: Stand Gallery, Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St. avl.mx/3pw

WHEN: Opening reception Saturday, May 20, 4-7 p.m. The exhibit will remain on view through Tuesday, June 20

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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