Eyeing the edible art

Okay, Connie—you got my attention [“Drifting Toward Diabetic Coma,” Feb. 4]. Why rehash something that Robert Godfrey prophesized in 1987? Did you think that a craft town like Asheville would ever be anything else?

Oh, Grande Dame of the Asheville Art Scene, may I remind you that circa 1997, a space was opened to showcase contemporary art in Asheville because there was no place in downtown that took on the challenge. I am assuming you remember, Connie. It was called Semi Public, A Space for Contemporary Art. You actually showed your work there—as did the “mature and professional artists” Robert Godfrey and Kevin Hogan. Why did this space open, you ask? There was no other venue for contemporary art then, and there still isn’t—with the exception of Semi Public.

I would like to jog your selective memory for a moment. You might recall that Semi Public showcased contemporary artists such as Russell Biles, whose work has been shown in major museum collections all over the world. There was no mention of Billy Malone’s work. He recently had his first one-man show in Manhattan. He sold out before opening night. His work was shown in the Whitney in their Recent Acquisitions show and selected for their permanent collection. And the list of professional, mature artists goes on: Bob Ray, Ron Meisner, Ed Gunn, Rita Barnes, Larry Caveney, René Azenaro, Tony Bradley, Anne Ropp (whom you used to represent), Catherine Murray, Porge Buck, Lewis Buck, Bob Godfrey, Kevin Hogan and numerous others.

I know you have attempted to have a critical dialogue here in Asheville, but there has never been anyone to stand up and say that most of the work shown in Asheville is not worth seeing. Ken Hanke is more critical about movies than your articles [about art] have been, and the same goes for Bob Godfrey when he used to report on area shows. Were you afraid you would hurt someone’s feelings, or would your editors just not let you say what you really felt? This lack of critical writing fosters the creation of pabulum for the masses. That is exactly what we [have] in this craft town. To quote Porge Buck: “Why bother showing in Asheville?”

We continue to show work at Semi Public on a semi-regular basis (as we choose), and you’ve continued to report on the work shown, as recently as 2008. Our goal was, and still is, to show artists with an exhibition history and to focus on the best contemporary art we can find—or that finds us—and to put money into the pockets of artists. As for professionalism and overcommodification, I’ve fought against this concept since I was a young misfit and malcontent. To speak of artists as professional is to lump them in the same basket as architects, shoemakers and decorators, all who merely provide a professional service or product. Artists are above this vague label. It seems to me that when we speak of the art object as a commodity, something bought or sold, we assume this is the primary motivation of every artist out there trying to make a career out of art. To quote Bob Ray, “Art ain’t a thing, it’s a way.” I believe this is true though I’ve sold a lot of my work and that of other artists without choosing art as a career or profession—rather, a way to navigate through life.

Good luck with your cup cakes. Hell, I say: “Let them eat cake—not some of it, but all of it.” This new Asheville wouldn’t know contemporary art if it was spoon-fed to them.

— Gary Byrd

About Webmaster
Mountain Xpress Webmaster Follow me @MXWebTeam

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

31 thoughts on “Eyeing the edible art

  1. AshevilleObserver

    The letter write quotes artist Porge Buck: “Why bother showing in Asheville?” That raises several questions. As an artist, why live in Asheville, if you don’t believe the environment here is receptive to your art? If the artists of stature, presumably those mentioned by the letter writer, don’t show, or don’t want to be shown, in Asheville, how will the level of understanding/appreciation for their art be raised? Does this issue have a connection to the recent decision by the Arts Council to no longer show “non-commercial” (whatever that means) artists? What role, if any, should the Asheville Art Museum take in educating the public by showing local artists who, presumably, are of the level of accomplishment described by Mr. Byrd? He writes, “there has never been anyone to stand up and say that most of the work shown in Asheville is not worth seeing. Ken Hanke is more critical about movies than your articles [about art] have been . . .” The only “serious” newspaper now in Asheville is clearly Mountain Express. Does it have an obligation to have art/music/theatre critics of the discernment and outspokenness of their film critic?

  2. Alice

    WEll, i think that the mountian express shouldn’t even bother talking about art because the only things that it’s about are money, gossip, and reportage. I think that Mr.Byrd has a point, and if you have already showed in Asheville, why bother showing again?
    Also, there are many other “serious” newspapers in Asheville, mabye if you took some time to look around, you would notice!

  3. Not Alice

    Alice, the first step in knocking a newspaper is spelling it correctly.

  4. AshevilleObserver

    Not sure about money and gossip, but hope Mountain Express is about reportage:
    1. the act or technique of reporting news.
    2. reported news collectively: reportage on the war.
    3. a written account of an act, event, history, etc., based on direct observation or on thorough research and documentation.

  5. ALICE

    the spelling dosen’t even matter! seriously, if you are going to comment on something as trivial as the spelling, then you have way too much time on your hands. so what if i can’t spell it right? it’s called a typo: people make them all the time!

  6. Alice

    Yes, I completely agree with you, Connie. WE should stick to the topic instead of pointing out spelling mistakes!

  7. YellowDog

    It’s all a big game of construction, some with a brush, some with a shovel, some choose a pen. – Jackson Pollock

  8. Piffy!

    Yes, or taking the time to respond to someone who points out typos.

    Or pointing out that someone pointed out typos.

    and so on.

  9. robin

    Does the length of someone’s resume or the fact that they’ve been shown at a museum really determine the level of their talent? Van Gogh’s paintings were barely seen by anyone during his lifetime. There are artists who are very good business people, and make it a mission to promote themselves, Andy Warhol, for example. And there are many extremely gifted artists who don’t have a knack for business or a long resume, whose paintings will only be seen by the few.

  10. Piffy!

    More whiny artists trying to claim they are more relevant than reality seems to show.

  11. Gabriel Shaffer

    A local collector forwarded this article to me a few days ago, all i have to say is,
    quack quack quack, blah blah blah.
    I would really like to have the opportunity to sit with the authoritative Mr Byrd and discuss this at further length.
    To say that Asheville is void of contemporary art is not only a direct insult to the artists, collectors and galleries in Asheville, but also an ignorant blanket statement, that shows how little he is aware of whats happening.
    I agree that the Mountain Xpress needs to continue to diversify and improve who covers the Asheville art scene, but i also believe that there are some very competent folks in the arts and entertainment department, that have a good sense of this.
    Regarding the egotistically short sighted statement “Why show in Asheville?” , because its your home court. Any artist that feels this way, should be run out of town.
    Its not always about the money, Its about an individuals vision and how it connects with others, if that vision and connection is strong enough, then the money isnt an issue, it comes and goes like breathing. I have shown many times in many venues locally over the past 5 years i have lived here, expecting every time i wouldnt sell a thing, because most folks cant afford art here, but it never mattered at all, because i love the place i live and believe its my responsibility to contribute.
    I have also shown many times in many cities nationally and internationally, over 75 shows in the past 4 1/2 years , in NYC,Chicago, Miami, LA, Atlanta, Santa Fe,Boston, London, Paris and Florence Italy and have sold over 500 works to mostly contemporary art collectors. In all of these places i have encountered real art authorities that have all expressed much respect for Asheville creatively, not to mention the heritage of Black Mountain college, the most experimental and important art school in Americas history.
    Part of me wants to punch Mr Byrd in the mouth and the other part of me wants to shake his hand, for stirring things up. I admire people that are willing to say what they feel even if it makes others angry, but im really a bit puzzled by him here. Its one thing to criticize a writer, but to try and take on a whole town, thats plain stupid, clearly hes got old beef with Ms Bostic. maybe she didnt like his art or his “semi pubic”(oops misspell) gallery space,
    Regardless, its comforting to know he is looking down on us all from his self appointed throne. Come to my solo show at the Blue Spiral in January 2010, Mr Byrd and tell me my work isn’t contemporary or relevant,ill take you around the corner to eagle street and set you straight in a way youll understand clearly.

  12. Larry Caveney

    Wow Gabriel Shaffer! If are so internationally known, how did you need up in a space like Blue Spiral?

  13. Gabriel Shaffer

    Howdy Larry,
    I just watched a few of your you tube videos and looked at a few of your works online.Interesting perceptions and ideas. my issue here is with a lack of constructive dialogue about the artists and the art in Asheville. Im not going to sit quietly while there is an attempt to disrespect the artists that live and work here.
    Regarding my notoriety, give me a little more time my friend,im just getting warmed up and im not going to stop pushing forward, no matter what opinions or obstacles i encounter.
    Regarding the Spiral, i am happy and looking forward to hanging there, i think it is one of the most attractive and competent spaces in Asheville. I have no issue with hanging my art anywhere i see fit, no matter where that venue might be. I would be just as willing to hang my paintings in Chicken Alley as i will be in the upcoming SOFA show in NYC. All audiences are valid to me.
    If you are ever into discussing these issues further, feel free to contact me through my website and we can meet over a cup of coffee.

  14. Caveney

    How does a Caucasian looking gent like you end up making paintings that look aboriginal? You are bringing new meaning to appropriation? Nothing new with that; Elvis did it all the way to the bank.

  15. irmaly Brackin

    leave art to the artists….it will exist with or without the critics..usually an artist is driven by inner aspirations…i use to exhibit alot in ashville at.. broadway arts..the green door..art emmensia..i’ve always thought of the city as one of n.c.s’ hubs of both ..fine arts and crafts…art has always been more than an object..those of us calling ourselves artist..know art to be a way of living..maybe it’s time critics realize they have no job without us…maybe its time the artists become the critics of critics…it’s happening here..good or bad to you.. i’m going to describe the world how i see it..i will always be beyond judgement..an untouchable..but your free to judge.

  16. Piffy!

    “If are so internationally known, how did you need up in a space like Blue Spiral? ”

    I would imagine it is because it is a local Asheville Gallery. What’s your point?

  17. Sammy

    What is so great about contemporary art? Maybe there is a reason there isn’t much of it in Asheville. Just because something is new does not make it good.

  18. Chuck

    Good art, bad art… as measured by what? Relevance? Beauty? Value? That’s like cutting three different lengths of string and saying they’re all an inch long. What is art? Ask a million people and you’ll get a million answers. The re-arranging of ideas into a personal expression? The product of sheer creative will? Something for the dining room? Or just the result of boredom and a little glue? Art is art. Just enjoy.

    Now, what were we talking about?

  19. Piffy!


    “Contemporary” just means “current” or “modern”. Just about any art made today could be called “contemporary”. From what I understand, just about anything produced since the end of WW2 is considered “contemporary”.

    Are you suggesting there has been no “good” art made in 50 years at all?

  20. Gabriel Shaffer

    Just to be clear.
    “How does a Caucasian looking gent like you end up making paintings that look aboriginal? ”
    Well, see this involves you actually knowing something about my personal history. My grandmother on my mothers side was Cherokee.
    Regarding appropriation, thats a really long discussion i dont have time for.
    Sticks and stones may break my bones but etc.etc.etc.

  21. Caveney

    Now that I reflect on Asheville’s history and the notion of contemporary art; Connie Bostics space “Zone One” (once upon a time) had its share of contemporary artists and interesting visiting artists/lectures (Lucy Lippard). I met Kennth Noland and Leon Golub through Connie. Connie has also gone outside the realm of herself/space and make huge efforts/ contributions toward the Black Mountain museum. Connie went out on a limb and gave me my first serious one man show. Props to Connie! I don’t think we should internalize her frustrations concerning baking goods. In realty her frustrations are in part our own as well.

  22. Jennifer

    Punching someone in the face hardly seems the high road one would expect…

    and over an art critique? We’re not that back-woods are we?

    Just shake hands and get it over with. This is a pretty lively blog about the fundamentals of art here in Asheville. Congratulations Gary on getting the blood flowing again.

  23. Jennifer

    oh, and one more thing….

    “We all know that art is not the truth, art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
    ~Pablo Picasso

  24. Richard (Dick) Soar

    “The old habit, however, of associating a goal with every event… is so powerful that it requires an effort for a thinker not to fall into thinking of the very aimlessness of the world as intended. This notion- that the world intentionally avoids a goal… – must occur to all those who would like to force on the world the capacity for eternal novelty. “Nietzsche, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 19, (the Will to Power, book 4), p. 370.

  25. Gabriel Shaffer

    First, i would like to apologize for my first reply. i was pissed when i first read the article and subsequent opinion letter. It was wrong and defensive of me to insinuate violence. I was being a ghetto redneck.
    However, let there be no misunderstanding, i feel very strongly that any artist that is living and creating work in this present age is a contemporary artist. I also believe that any living artist that is creating work is a valid artist. i might not always agree with the aesthetic taste, i might think the art sucks or even not connect at all, that is my taste. But that does not mean it isnt relevant to someone somewhere, so therefor it is relevant.
    i also refuse to accept that Asheville is not a relevant and viable art community, worth showing in.
    I also want to address this insinuation towards the color of my skin that has occurred in two replies from both Bob Ray and Mr Caveney.Mr Caveney and i have begun a constructive dialogue of list.But, dont push it fellas, you might think youve got me figured out because im a pale skin, but thats something i find really offensive, even more than the initial argument of this discussion. So respect that much of me. if you need to learn more to feel satisfied im not some wigger from a suburb trying cop folk art elvis, then you should contact me personally through my website and we can get to know one another on a civil level better.
    Picasso was one of my first words my mom tried to teach me as a kid. I dont doubt that the maestro believed what he was saying. I dont know if i would have phrased it the same way though. i prefer
    “We all know that art is truth, art is the truth that makes us realize a lie.”
    and Mr Soar,
    Nice one mate.
    Good night Asheville.

  26. Bob Ray

    Mr.Shaffer,the line was not intended for you;I believe there is another topic here.

  27. Larry Caveney

    Cup cakes are in San Diego as well..well in the sense that artists only eat the ones that come from mother/dealers/museums insitutions.

    Here’s a blog I wrote on San Diego’s version of this forum:

    Being in San Diego I go to all the establish galleries and they are filled with work from alumni of UCSD and San Diego State. These colleges are farm schools for area galleries. I’m (speaking as an outsider) sure this is consistent throughout the art world. Those galleries ( art prize) that try to establish themselves use the same old tired model over and over. I think San Diego needs to get to the grass roots of self empowerment. The model that the art prize represents is a fusion of culture at best; that seems to be breeding more contempt than any constructive dialogue.

    Perhaps creating an Ad Hoc Art Workers base that would be central and posed for public foraction/activism. My experience with organizing happened in Asheville, North Carolina. Every now and then the Asheville Museum would hold a juried show for regional artist’s .I got into this show and was looking forward to the opening. Artists that had been accepted into the Asheville Museum juried show came from all points of North and South Carolina to find that the doors were lock and the opening had been rescheduled; without any notice to the participants. This was just one act of disrespect out of too many to mention here and needless to say this really pissed me off and my fellow local artists.

    In response we organized the Asheville Ad Hoc Art workers Union and protested outside of the museum. Our objective was to make the museum reveal their mission statement for local/regional artists; noting that state funding required local outreach program for cultivating local art. Even at that point I saw a connection with the museum and the local university. Local grad students were getting more focus than most local artists. The museum eventually gave the Ad Hoc Art Workers a forum to discuss these issues and the outcome was the opportunity to curate (pacify) one of there shows; which ended up being an invitational group show for regional artists. The museum paid all expenses for travel (visits of regional artists’ studios) and the U Haul to pick up the work.

    We could have never been able to get that kind of notice without a collective effort. We need that grass root collective here in SD, and it can happen in our garages, on the beach, in the streets, hotel rooms (I miss you Eric Wong) or any other tactical area.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.