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Can a Pop-Up Art Show Shake up Charlotte's Scene? 

A 'Smart' Alternative

click to enlarge "Installation," by Owl.
  • "Installation," by Owl.

One sure-fire way to raise hackles in an art community is to critique it without any sugarcoating.

"I felt the art scene was lacking in Charlotte," Logan Bennett says. "There's a lot of money here, but not much organic culture." The culture we do get, Bennett says, is "what the wealthy — the powers-that-be — like. So they broadcast it out to the public."

How can a real estate broker and self-described patron of the arts rectify things? "We're throwing a pop-up show," Bennett says.

As he sees it, the antidote to corporate art and pristine galleries is an approachable, immersive exhibit, and Bennett has teamed with artist Stewart Millsaps to present a string of events they're calling the Smart Series.

The inaugural exhibit, Zenith Nadir, opens in a former tool-and-dye warehouse in South End on April 7 for one night only. The show features works by an all-local lineup including Millsaps, Addison Wahler, Arko 83, Arthur Brouthers, Eric Pickersgill, John W. Love Jr., Osiris Rain, Owl, Paul Veto, Robert Childers and Sharon Dowell. This bold, eclectic mix of established artists and up-and-comers is reflected in the show's title, Bennett says. "Zenith Nadir is the highest and lowest point that a celestial body will reach," he explains. "It represents the highs and lows of life, art and everything in between."

click to enlarge "Folk Tales for the Dirty Queen," by Robert Childers.
  • "Folk Tales for the Dirty Queen," by Robert Childers.

Bennett and Millsaps are hanging out at the Art Factory, a repurposed industrial building in north Charlotte, where Millsaps has his studio space. Some of his works — spiraling, twisting murals fashioned from sintra, a plastic used for sign-making — hang from the ceiling. Millsaps comes from a Davidson-based artistic family; his mother is renowned painter Elizabeth Bradford. He says the idea for Zenith Nadir came about through an extended conversation he's had with Bennett, who learned about the exhibit venue through one of his clients. Millsaps' contacts with the Charlotte art scene secured the battery of artists contributing the show.

The South End warehouse space is key to the exhibit's impact, according to Millsaps. "We want this to be an immersive, inclusive experience," Millsaps says. "It's an expansive space, thousands of square feet, and all the artists were able to come together and fill it."

The warehouse space is just a stone's throw from Lenny Boy Brewing Company, which is a sponsor for the exhibit. The show also marks the celebration of Lenny Boy's sixth anniversary, and Lenny Boy kombucha and beer will be on hand at the event.

Millsaps is aware that art in a retrofitted industrial building is not exactly novel in Charlotte, but he feels the show's organization — and its line-up — make it unique. He praises the accomplished artists at Goodyear at Camp North End but feels the presentation there is like an arts explosion. For Zenith Nadir, he wants a choreographed experience where everything falls into place.

"This show is curated. It's the kind of artwork you'd expect to see in a museum," Millsaps says. "It's expanding your mind by pushing boundaries, but rather than being in a gallery, it's in the warehouse."

click to enlarge "Shape," by Stewart Millsaps
  • "Shape," by Stewart Millsaps

Millsaps also finds the pop-up aspect satisfying conceptually. "I like the impermanence," he says. "It's going to be, and then it's not going to be — all within a 24-hour time frame."

The show's ephemeral quality is a selling point for Eric Pickersgill, one of the contributing artists. "I think that creates excitement for people to take advantage of the moment and experience the work while they can," Pickersgill says. "It's easy for people to put off seeing an exhibition knowing that it has a run for several weeks, but when it's a one-night operation, people have to work if they really want to see it."

Pickersgill's photography, along with the contributions of Guggenheim fellow John W. Love Jr., may be among the best-known works on display at Zenith Nadir. The series Pickersgill is showing, Removed, has been the subject of a TED Talk and has gained international attention since 2015. This is the first time it will be shown publicly in Charlotte. Pickersgill's images question our reliance on cell phones, depicting people holding their devices — except the devices have been removed from people's hands seconds before the shutter clicks.

"It's important to note that the devices are not photo-shopped from the photographs," Pickersgill explains. "I ask my subjects to perform as if they are holding their devices, and then I physically slide the phone from their hand."

click to enlarge "Ashley's Neighbors," by Eric Pickersgill. (Courtesy of Rick Wester Fine Art, NYC)
  • "Ashley's Neighbors," by Eric Pickersgill. (Courtesy of Rick Wester Fine Art, NYC)

In contrast to Pickersgill's contemporary examination of habits and mores, musician and visual artist Robert Childers' paintings are a sort of modern primitive take on the folk art of Grandma Moses. "I paint about Charlotte and the cuts and back roads all around it," says Childers, who found his inspiration growing up around people creating and appreciating great art, music and literature.

"My work is in the southern gothic tradition," Childers says. "It's about my love for the Lord and the nature of sin and death."

Charlotte-based artist Owl, a native of Bogota, Colombia, uses a different kind of canvas for her work — the human body. Her installations aim to bring the viewer closer to understanding different perspectives. "I'm stitching together depictions of the strength I see in women," she says. "I'm translating each woman's story, emotions and feelings into a composition that involves the artist, the model and the photographer in an intimate manner."

click to enlarge "Parallel," by Sharon Dowell.
  • "Parallel," by Sharon Dowell.

Sharon Dowell says intertwining themes — the energy of place, renewal, regeneration and redemption — course through the colorful acrylic paintings she's contributing to Zenith Nadir. The bold canvases depict the hustle and bustle of urban progress. "I can't help but feel overwhelmed that what drives this progress is often greed, money and power," Dowell saus. "[It's built] on the backs of those who were and are oppressed."

Short-lived as this one-day event may be, it promises to be a long day, Millsaps says. "To do it for more than one night would be like a full-time job," he says laughing.

The on-site schedule actually starts before the show begins, with a guided sound journey at 3:30 p.m. A group called Focused Alignment will perform on crystal-singing bowls tuned to each of the body's seven chakras. "It's a cross between a guided meditation and vibrational healing," Millsaps says. "It's raising the energy for art."

The show starts at 5 p.m., and families and children are encouraged to attend. The live acoustic music, Millsaps says, will contribute a celebratory feel. As the evening wears on, the energy will change, and the music and lighting will enhance a nightlife and gallery-crawl vibe.

All the planning and effort will be worth it, Millsaps says, if the show triggers an emotional response. "I want every curator, collector and anyone that gives a shit about art to be aware of what just happened," he says, "and be talking about it six months from now — when the next one happens."

Bennett also hopes viewers are impacted by the experience. "I don't even care how. I just want them to feel," he says. "The show is for everyone. It's taking us back to the essence of society and what society should be."

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