By Dasha Morgan
It’s happening! The Asheville Art Museum is opening its doors to the public on Thursday, November 14th at 1:30 pm. This is an important day in the City of Asheville’s history. Executive Director Pamela Myers and her board have invited the community to 2 South Pack Place in downtown Asheville for the long awaited ribbon cutting. No more hard hats are needed as you walk near Pack Place, no more scaffolding or noisy construction work tying up traffic. Yes, It has been a long, arduous road for all but the goal has been reached. Thanks to the Museum’s successful capital campaign Asheville now has an architectural landmark in downtown Asheville to house American art of the 20th and 21st century. For the first time in the Museum’s history, it has the capacity to host major traveling exhibitions from nationally recognized museums.
Visitors to the area will be able to spend hours exploring American art of the 20th and 21st century with a focus on Appalachia. Many generous donors have stepped up to the plate to make this day possible. A tremendous effort was put forth by all involved to achieve the goal for a $24+ million dollar upgrade and renovation. The 54,000 square foot landmark building has increased the museum’s gallery space by seventy percent and has a stunning new front facade, entrance and plaza. So be there, at 1:30 pm on Thursday, November 14, to participate with Asheville mayor and other city officials to see, learn about and visit the new Asheville Art Museum. The museum is open to the public free of charge that day until 6:00 pm.
Inaugural Exhibitions to View
Appalachia Now! An Interdisciplinary Survey of Contemporary Art in Southern Appalachia will be an inaugural exhibition of the newly renovated Museum. Appalachia Now! Curator Jason Andrew is coming in from New York for the grand opening. The exhibition provides a regional snapshot of the art of our time—a collective survey of contemporary Southern Appalachian culture. It celebrates contemporary artists living and working in Southern Appalachia, focusing on Asheville as a nucleus of creativity within the broader area of its adjacent states of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The selected artists represent all media, including painting, sculpture, new media, dance, and film. Fifty artists have been selected through recommendations from regional museums, curators, and art organizations and through an open submission process to be in this exhibition. There will be a wide assortment of items to see—baskets, pottery, paintings, sculpture—which can possibly be seen as a contemporary story of Appalachia.
Another inaugural exhibition is Intersections in American Art, the major reinstallation and reinterpretation of the Museum’s Collection in a much-enlarged gallery space. This exhibit will be located in the stunning SECU Collection Hall on Level 3. Both the exhibitions and the catalogue will focus on key aspects and strengths of the Museum’s holdings and will provide a narrative framework within which visitors can interact with and experience works of art. The project will be organized to convey the multifaceted historical and contemporary stories of art and culture in WNC and Southern Appalachia, set within the broader context of American aesthetic development. The project will tell the story of our area and explore our sense of place and its relationship to and national impact on the art world. The thematic and contextual focuses of Intersections in American Art will be informed by artistic principals exemplified by the now renowned Black Mountain College. A grant from the Henry Luce Foundation allowed a diverse group to help reinterpret the Collection with ideas derived from Black Mountain College (1933-1957). Several of the most important artists of the 20th century taught or studied at Black Mountain College (such as John Cage and Buckminster Fuller) and its legacy carries on in the work they produced later in their careers as well as of those they influenced.
For Lighter Fare: A Rooftop Cafe and Gift Shop
A new building attraction will be the rooftop cafe, which is open to all members. Tony Franco and Matthew Macon of Food Experience have partnered with the Museum to open a rooftop cafe, called Perspective Café. It’s a place to take in gorgeous mountain views, rest between exhibitions, and, of course, enjoy delicious food to enhance your visit to the museum—be it just a cup of coffee, a cup of soup or a full meal. Open during Museum hours from 11-6 pm Wednesday through Sunday (and until 9 pm on Thursdays), Museum Members and ticket holders can access the café for brunch, lunch, dinner, or a cocktail.
Overall Renovation and Expansion
Local general contractor Beverly-Grant and local architecture firm ARCA Design worked with New York-based architectural firm Ennead Architects. The New York firm is known for public buildings like the Clinton Presidential Library, in Little Rock, Ark., the Standard hotel straddling Manhattan’s High Line, and the Newseum, in Washington, D.C. Current projects include the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City, the Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University, museum renovations in New York, New Haven, Conn. and Asheville, N.C.
The Asheville Art Museum project consisted of three main components:
- The historic preservation of the Museum’s current North Wing (formerly the 1926 Pack Library) to house the new John & Robyn Horn Education Center and Frances Mulhall Achilles Art Library. The Pack Library renovation turned out to be more complicated and difficult than originally conceived, which delayed the opening date. Tearing down the old Pack Place entrance building and sorting demolition waste to divert as much as possible from the landfill took longer than expected.
- Renovation and new construction of the East Wing including two special exhibition halls (Appleby Foundation Hall and Explore Asheville Hall) and place for more Collection storage.
- Entirely new construction of the West Wing with a stunning glass façade. One eye-catching architectural element provides expansive views via a large window facing north on the building’s upper floor, where the permanent collection will reside. It has a lofty vantage point, while those in the plaza below may catch a glimpse of exhibits through the glass. Indeed one can see why it is called an “oculus.”
This long awaited expansion increases the Art Museum’s physical space and dramatically increases its role as a community center, educational resource, economic engine for WNC, and cultural concierge for the region’s residents and visitors.
There are a number of categories of membership. All members will receive 12 months of free general admission to the Asheville Art Museum, access to the rooftop sculpture terrace and café, and a subscription to the Museum’s e-newsletter. Prices range from $25 for a student with a valid ID to $65 for an individual, $100 for a family membership and children living in the household, plus many other additional categories of membership offerings. For further information, go to https://www.ashevilleart.org/membership/. The black tie Grand Opening celebration on Saturday night, November 9th, is already sold out. As Executive Director Pamela Myers says, “The new Asheville Art Museum is a warm and welcoming space on a personal level. It’s a space designed for people to come together and be inspired in an art-filled, open environment with all the amenities to make them feel comfortable.”