In the last few years, Charlotte has watched its roster of art galleries dwindle. But a new gallery in Uptown may herald a reversal of this depressing trend.
Genome, which debuted on July 9, is owned by John Josef, an Internet developer and entrepreneur who moved here from Orlando in April. Josef's business is portable, so when he decided it was time to leave Orlando, he set his sights on the Carolinas. He not only found that Charlotte offered a friendly, welcoming environment, but he was struck by the plenitude of artists and relative lack of exhibition space. Josef saw an opportunity to fulfill his longtime dream of owning a gallery, which was clinched when he secured a two-story space in Uptown's high-traffic Brevard Court.
Josef is very approachable, but he's nevertheless a bit cagey about his plans. He doesn't claim to have an explicit curatorial vision, although the gallery's color-drenched inaugural show, Out of Context, included, among other things, the sort of pop/surrealist/underground work you might associate with Juxtapoz magazine.
Genome's emphasis is on emerging artists, so I guess some unresolved work comes with the territory. However, there was still plenty to admire in Out of Context, which featured paintings by Cleonique Hilsaca, Henry Schreiber, Joseph Hatch, Kelly Keith, Robert Page, Scott Partridge, and Shaun Wightman. I was particularly drawn to the work of Schreiber (no relation — really, I just met the guy), another recent arrival whose marmot-filled portraits and history paintings combine classical technique and absurdist humor.
Until the end of the year, Genome will feature eclectic group shows. Now showing through Sept. 22 is Chicken, a 30-plus artist show which opened on Aug. 20, followed by Beautiful Creepers (opening Oct. 1), which will culminate in a Halloween party. But in 2012, as Genome moves more toward installations and solo exhibitions, Josef's vision should become more apparent.
Josef is striving for an edgy but comfortable environment, as well as a space that will enliven this particular corner of Uptown and bring something slightly different to the neighborhood. He hopes the gallery will be self-sustaining, but if not, his business can carry it. "I have a lease until 2013, so I'm not going anywhere."
If Genome seems to have come out of nowhere, that's because things indeed moved fast. Josef found the space on Craigslist; the ad lacked photos, which was probably fortunate, since when he went to look at it, he found a members-only smoothie shop painted in screaming greens, oranges and yellows. He occupied the space in late April and immediately started tearing out the food prep area, repainting the garish walls and installing lighting. When he finally realized the gallery was ready — or ready enough — he moved quickly to get it open.
The July 9 opening reception was supposed to run until 9 p.m., but just around closing, masses descended on the gallery, so it remained open for another two hours. Josef was shocked by the turnout, especially since the hurried opening prevented him from doing much advertising.
Usually, people who open galleries with no experience give me a big case of the wait-and-sees. But Genome feels different. And while we really do have to wait and see what Josef will do with Genome, his great space, apparent savvy and newcomer's enthusiasm give me hope.
"I want to stir things up a little bit," he says. "I wouldn't mind doing something a little different that I hope people will like." Maybe this modest self-assessment is a sign of the new Charlotte. Instead of chest-thumping and grandiose claims, it's a relief to hear someone simply announce that he's glad to be here and ready to get to work.
(Genome Gallery is located at 120 Brevard Court. Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and by appointment. Details: 704-332-4322 or www.ohgenome.com.)