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A Swell Time 

Who says alcohol and art don't mix?

It always helps to have a guide when you're visiting an art museum. I went to the members' reception for the new Mint Museum exhibit, Revelation: A Fresh Look at Contemporary Collections last Thursday evening, and brought a friend along with me who knows a little sumpin'-sumpin' about art history.

As we were making our way through the gallery, my friend, fond of book learnin', pointed out two huge paintings of Queen Charlotte and her husband, King George III. After explaining that Queen Charlotte's Smarty Jones-esque visage wasn't due to the artist's penchant for surrealism, he told me that King George supposedly picked the homely Charlotte so as to keep her "true" to him.

All of which is a lead-in to this question: will the haughty city of Charlotte turn out to see a first-class exhibit of modern art, some of which is "ugly" and thought-provoking, in the same numbers that they do for the quaint pastorals that so often pass for art in various galleries? Or will we continue to parade ourselves around like a swan when to all the world we look like an ugly duckling?

Told to wear "whatever was comfortable" for the event -- being a member of the press does have some perks -- I showed up wearing a blue striped shirt, blue jeans, and blue shoes (I figured if anyone gave me any shit, I'd just tell them I was an "artist," and they would summarily apologize, back up, and offer me a commission).

I don't typically mix too well with the bowties-and-Botox crowd, so I headed to the open bar (media perk #2) to relax the ol' social muscles a bit. Grabbing a blue martini, I headed back to the hors d'oeuvres table to mingle, where I promptly spilled some on my shirt. "Good thing it's blue," I thought, loading my plate up with food. I then heard a man to my left actually say, "West Point is too liberal," and spilled my drink yet again. As luck would have it, all over the blue table covering! Deciding at this point to, you know, go see the damn art, I headed to the gallery, but not before denying my drink a Peter-like third time, this time all over a woman's white shawl. I handed her a napkin and apologized, but not before wondering if I could have gotten away with a jeans-aided "performance art!" defense.

If you go see a new exhibit anytime this summer, make it this one. Featuring super-limited edition prints from folks like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg alongside original pieces from A-listers like Donald Sultan and Chuck Close, the show also manages to fold in works from regional and up-and-coming artists (Joe Walter, Bob Trotman), with only a couple of efforts that might be considered clumsy (is it me, or is the paint-and-paste collage dead as an artform?).

It's not all paintings, either -- the show also features a healthy array of sculpture, installation-type pieces, and craft-centered work.

As I left, I walked back out through the gallery, right past ol' Queenie and her man. It could have been the drinks, but I think I detected a smile on her face as I passed.

Talk about culture shock. I left the Mint Exhibit early to head home and change clothes -- what matches with beer? -- so I could go check out the mega-buzz band The Darkness, who were playing at Grady Cole Center. First things first. Man, that Justin Hawkins of The Darkness has a very high voice. The kind of voice that makes Mariah Carey sound like Tom Waits.

To boot, I've never seen so many amplifiers in one place. The whole freaking Marshall Amplification warehouse would probably be envious. Result? Rock the way it used to be done (stupid, ear-bleedingly loud, and slightly sexist).

In other words, wonderful. Take every metal cliche you've ever heard, throw it in a blender, and you have The Darkness. Unlike the equally cheeky Spinal Tap, Hawkins and company actually manage the rare feat of being completely sensitive to the music they send up -- a metal band for people afraid to say they like metal.

Which isn't to say there weren't moments of brilliant comic relief. At one point, Hawkins threw the mic into the crowd for a chorus. It was then tossed back to the stage, where it hit him square in the kneecap. Hawkins slowed the song to a near halt, explaining politely at length that while he was trying to shrug the injury off, what he really wanted to do was yell "fuck!" at the top of his lungs. Which he had been doing all night, of course. Thankfully, the raised-on-rock Hawkins knows that serving music is one thing, but serving the fans always comes first.

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