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