The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center officially reopens on Friday, Jan. 30, (following a monthlong closure and a complete gallery overhaul) with a reception for its newest exhibition, Poemumbles: 30 years of Susan Weil’s poems/images.
The opening marks the completion of the first in a series of major renovations and program initiatives made possible through a grant from the Windgate Charitable Foundation. The grant also enabled the 21-year-old nonprofit to create two paid internship positions and expand into a secondary gallery space at 67 Broadway. The new gallery, currently under construction, will open in June. It will house thematic retrospectives and exhibitions of BMC alumni work, both current and historical.
The museum’s existing gallery, at 56 Broadway since 2003, will showcase an ongoing, rotating exhibition of the organization’s permanent collection. It includes more than 800 works of art, plus letters, photographs and BMC ephemera. Additionally, the space will house the museum’s archives and a roughly 1,400-volume library. “It’s a huge step for us,” says program director Alice Sebrell. “It’s a much more coherent visual presentation.”
That cohesion is due to the gallery’s floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall renovation, which was planned and realized by Asheville artist and designer Randy Shull in league with the museum staff and board chair J. Richard Gruber. Previously, visitors entered into one large room. Exhibitions wrapped around the room in a large J-shape. A desk was sandwiched into the front right corner. Foldout tables housing books and BMC literature extended into the gallery where they met with a 10-foot-tall movable bookcase. Despite the sheer girth of that case, only a portion of the library was available — the rest was in storage.
With the simple rearrangement of a few walls and partitions, Shull has nearly doubled the museum’s usble wall space. Now, the entryway is small yet defined. The new reception desk is a smooth, linear work of art. Shull designed and built it with repurposed Southern yellow pine boards (formerly flooring in a Georgia window factory). The new entrance offers a proper orientation for museumgoers, Shull says, rather than plunging them right into an exhibition. “My intent was to organize BMCM into three continuous but distinct spaces, each serving a different function,” he says. “It’s about organizing the space to house its permanent collection [and] archives and making material accessible for study and research.”
It’s the addition of the library and research center that is the museum’s most important new feature. “Researchers have come from all over the world to see us,” Sebrell says. “We’ve had students, authors and curators from France, Germany, England and Canada as well as the U.S.” Now, with a user-friendly archive, the museum aims to become a national and international resource for BMC studies.
“Included in the grant are the funds to build an online archive,” says Erin Dickey, BMCM+AC’s development and outreach coordinator. “We’ll start that in the spring, and we hope to have the full collection accessible online within a year.”
While aspects of the redesign move forward technologically, the space recalls the past as well. Its minimalistic and linear motif echoes the works of BMC alums like Josef and Annie Albers. “My design is about peeling back and removing the old layers to the essentials and allowing the proportions, flow of the space and the details to coexist peacefully,” Shull says. “I feel the museum should follow in that legacy with principles rooted in the 21st century.”