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  • John Diamond-Nigh

Triple A–#Asheville, #art and #avant-garde


As Asheville tilts more and more towards the mournful depravities of #tourism, mainstream arts can take on the hues of tour stop, of carnivalesque chic and of easy salability. But islands remain. When newcomers ask what to see, I have a shortlist.


#Contemporaneo, I think, is one such original and adventurous #gallery, largely uninflected by the #craft mythologies of this part of the world that can be a little smothering. City-savvy, geometric, abstract, #moderne, it’s a highly sophisticated art that carries a provocative farther-south vibe pretty much unknown in this small city. Hail to anything so exhilarating and fresh! Believe me, it takes real guts. Yes, they carry my work, so let that be known. I’m biased. I think the world of both men who run it. The gallery is one of two places in town pioneer-spirited enough to carry my #book of erotic short stories.


#Tracy Morgan Gallery is an elegant blend of the monastic austerity and world-high standards of a New York gallery combined with an accurate eye for artists hereabouts. A recent show of #Penland artist #Rachel Meginnes would look at home in any good gallery in the world. Given such aesthetic élan, the gallery lifts this town a lot–surely at times a thankless ascendency, but thanks. Ever wonder how traumatically shocking it would be to encounter, in a Chelsea gallery, someone who was friendly behind the counter? Well–as are the gentlemen at Contemporaneo–Tracy is a very warm and genial host. It’s a grace to talk to them all.


Among the thousands of #potters here, one should not be missed–#Akira Satake. I love anything #Zen-founded and Akira beautifully updates–in a thoroughly American context–an earth-fire-and-ritual holiness dropping to us from far-off, cedar-scented places and pasts.


Finally, I am always happy to accompany any visitor to the #Black Mountain College Museum and Gallery. Black Mountain College was an astonishing anomaly rooted in these mountains, one that fostered in ways analogous to the Armory Show in New York, the raw, contentious birth of American modernism. So it’s a big deal. I’ve seen several quietly astute shows, and heard some good poetry and memorable concerts there. Ray Johnson, Robert Motherwell. Where the gallery falters, I feel, is in its missionary efforts to translate the legacy of that original green-hills avant-garde into the present.


Applause for the objective. But to suppose, first of all, that the #contemporary avant-garde, if such even exists, should bear some sort of signature resemblance to the outré #improvisations of #John Cage and #Robert Rauschenburg, is to fall into the same literalism of religious evangelicals. The psychology of #Carl Jung suggests that revolutions arising from a deep-soul, world-hungry imperative can’t be replicated, perhaps not even echoed, later on. We see that now in pop music. We’ll see it soon in the weary clichés of the internet.


I actually think that Contemporaneo does a more interesting job of showing us the true, bristling legacies of the avant-garde in its gorgeous revelations of Latin American art than the earnest shows at BMC Museum and Gallery where so much of what you see you feel you’ve seen a long time ago, when it actually was juicy, offensive and vital. Pairing the old and the new, as they often do, is seldom a salubrious union.


Maybe I’m knocking the gallery too hard; maybe I should tip my hat for just trying to ask what #experimentation means #now. And I do. I care about it passionately. But I think the heritage of the avant-garde belongs now to a much wider, more surprising web of manifestations. Believe it or not, it actually takes some conservative, uptown turns.


More places, more artists at another time. These four alone, however, would make for a golden afternoon. Ending with chocolate somewhere.

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