ASHEVILLE N.C.— There’s something immutable about Blue Spiral 1, the Biltmore Avenue art gallery opened by John Cram in 1990. With three floors and 15,000 square feet of exhibition space, the gallery is a kind of unofficial flagship to Asheville’s downtown art district. But, says Michael Manes, who accepted the role of gallery director in May, Blue Spiral 1 is undergoing a bit of an image overhaul.
“I’ve always felt the work that we represent, the artists we represent and the gallery itself, is contemporary,” says Manes. “When you walk into the gallery, it’s timeless. … We’re continuing to do more contemporary work and introduce newer artists in the gallery.” That introduction, he says, is something Blue Spiral 1 wants its artists to be proud of. The image of most businesses — such as logo and press materials — is updated every few years. Blue Spiral 1 hasn’t reconfigured its public persona in its 27-year tenure — until now.
Don’t expect, say, day-glo painted walls or the likes of Kazuo Shiraga creating sculpture by crawling through a pile of mud. The change will be more subtle but can be witnessed at Blue Spiral 1’s Ink + Imagery print invitational, opening Thursday, Oct. 26.
The show, “a survey of Southern artists who use varying methods of printmaking on paper, fabric, glass and ceramics,” according to the gallery’s website, includes work by Jamaal Barber, Mary Claire Becker, Laurie Corral, Nicole Dikon, April Flanders, Clay Harmon, Elysia Mann, Kristen Martincic, Adrienne Miller, Althea Murphy-Price, Eric Pardue, Hannah Skoonberg, Art Werger, Jessica White and Hayden Wilson.
There are familiar formats such as linoleum block prints and silk screens, but also laser-cut plexiglass, shadow boxes, colored etchings, weavings and photogravure, among other mediums. “We’re selecting the artists based on the diversity we’re looking for,” says Manes. “It’s an exciting time: We can show off the best of the best.”
He continues, “You might think you’ve seen [printmaking] before, but this is showing it in a different light.”
The featured artists are a mix of established creatives and newer makers — a switch from Blue Spiral 1’s previous initiative of introducing up-and-coming artists only in its annual January exhibition. The mix of new-to-the-gallery artists with those from Blue Spiral 1’s stable gives the newcomers a built-in audience, says Manes, “and also gives our artists an opportunity to … bring in a different demographic to their clientele.”
In June, Blue Spiral 1 collaborated with the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design on Forging Futures, an exhibition of 24 studio craft artists. Ten percent of sales — more than $10,000 — from that show were donated to the CCCD, and works by participating artists were placed in major collections. Pieces by George Peterson, Tom Shields and Hoss Haley will be shown at the Huntsville Museum of Art in Alabama, and Dustin Farnsworth was selected to be featured at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Both Blue Spiral 1 and the CCCD had record attendance for opening, says Manes, and he hopes to embark on future collaborations with that organization. The gallery also just closed Faces of Black Mountain College (1933-1957), an exhibit of portraits by painter and former Ashevillean Noah Saterstrom, presented in conjunction with the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center’s ReVIEWING 9 conference.
The gallery’s own programming, too, has been bringing in larger audiences. Artist talks and demonstrations necessitated the purchase of additional chairs. For popular panel discussions, Blue Spiral 1 sometimes coordinates with the Fine Arts Theatre next door for use of a screening room. “This year, to date, has been one of the best years we’ve had,” says Manes. “We’re in a good trajectory, so we’re going to use this growth.”
A revamped website is in the works, as are podcasts and an artist studio visit video series, all aimed at “bringing the gallery outside of the walls,” Manes says. Also, of the six-person staff, three are new. The team includes assistant director Candace Reilly, consultant and media specialist Evan Lewis, consultant and database specialist Joy Moser, preparator and shipping coordinator Jon Sours and marketing and communications coordinator Ali Whitman.
Adding to that fresh energy is a robust intern program, drawing from UNC Asheville, Warren Wilson College and Western Carolina University. Those students, along with learning all aspects of gallery management (from sales and maintenance to making 3-D models of the exhibition space to be used in planning future shows), have the opportunity to curate a show of their own, culling artists from Blue Spiral 1’s stable and outside sources from the region.
But even as ideas and approaches change, one thing remains the same: “We are extremely fortunate to have the space we have,” Manes says. “I want to use our space to its full capacity, having interesting shows, shows within shows … and have artists really want to be here at the gallery.”
WHAT: Ink + Imagery: Print Invitational
WHERE: Blue Spiral 1, 38 Biltmore Ave., bluespiral1.com
WHEN: Opening reception Thursday, Oct. 26, 5-8 p.m. On view through Friday, Dec. 22