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Legion Brewing Brings Art Into the Taproom 

Picture that

Water towers in Wilson, N.C. Photo by Nancy O. Albert.

Water towers in Wilson, N.C. Photo by Nancy O. Albert.

An art curator walks into a bar.

This isn't the start of a dad joke, it's how the exhibition Through the Retrospective Lens, which showcases the work of three Charlotte-based female photographers, found a home at Legion Brewing Company in Plaza Midwood. The show, which starts June 21st, is the first in a series of monthly art exhibits planned for the popular taproom on Commonwealth Avenue. All three photographers - Nancy O. Albert, Monique Praechtl and Kris Solow - will be on hand for opening night to answer questions and mingle with art lovers, fellow photography buffs and the merely curious.

And it all happened because Megan Lynch set foot in the bar.

A recent transplant from California, the Elizabeth neighborhood resident didn't know anybody at Legion, but she liked the brewery's vibe and its high profile in the community. Legion is a lively place, says Lynch.

"They seem well-connected with their neighbors," Lynch says, adding that she likes that Legion partners with various organizations throughout Charlotte. "That intrigued me," she says.

"I asked (Legion) if they had ever thought of showing artwork there," she says, "or having some sort of rotating exhibition throughout the year."

"(Lynch) had hosted and booked arts shows before," says Legion's marketing Manager Brittany Smith. "We knew lots of local artists, so there was a great connection between us and Lynch."

"Honestly, right now we have a lot of empty wall space," Smith says. "We've had art here in house for fundraisers, and we realized the place looks so much better with (art on the walls)."

click to enlarge Megan Lynch. (Photo by Ari Guys)
  • Megan Lynch. (Photo by Ari Guys)

But there's far more at stake here than taproom aesthetics. Lynch is interested in nothing less than changing the way artists show their work, how people view and consume art and how artists interact with their community.

"I have always been interested in curating art shows and exhibitions in non-traditional spaces," Lynch says.

After earning a Masters in Art Business from Sotheby's Institute of Art in Los Angeles, the 30-year-old Asheville native worked as a fine arts consultant for National Geographic. In that capacity Lynch opened a gallery in Laguna Beach, California, where she sold fine arts prints derived from the work of NatGeo photojournalists.

From there, she started creating and hosting shows in offbeat spaces like warehouses, artists' studios and breweries. Lynch's approach exposed artists to a broader public than they would otherwise had reached, she believes; the kind of arts consumer who might not ever set foot in a gallery.

"It's bringing art to the people," Lynch says.

For her inaugural North Carolina show, Through the Retrospective Lens, Lynch focuses on three female photographers, all residents of Charlotte — Albert, Praechtl and Solow.

"Their artwork is raw, and it's interesting how they capture the past," she says. "It made me think of the word retrospective, and 'lens' is the prism through which we glimpse their visions."

"Silver Tubes" by Kris Solow.
  • "Silver Tubes" by Kris Solow.

Nancy O. Albert is one of the first people Lynch met when she moved to Charlotte. A documentary photographer for over 30 years, Albert specializes in recording endangered structures and disappearing environments. She currently has a grant through the Arts and Science Council to photograph a series of tobacco barns throughout North Carolina. Some of Albert's barn photos will be in the show, alongside images with a more urban milieu and feel.

"Monique Praechtl is friends with Legion's staff," Lynch says. "That's how I connected with her."

In Praechtl's work, personal experiences converge with memories and images inspired by contemporary art. Landscapes figure prominently in her photos, in what Lynch describes as an abstract view of nature.

"This show is a good chance to get her work seen by more people."

Solow was staff photographer for the city of Charlotte for several years, taking portraits of mayors, councilmen and city workers.

"I had access to the [CMPD] Snoopy helicopter to take aerial shots of city facilities and cherry pickers to take photos of large groups of people," Solow says. Where before she had focused on branding a corporate identity, her current work takes a more personal and artistic approach.

"She's moved into a more abstract direction," Lynch says," making photographs without people in them."

"I enjoy honing in on close up details of an object to show an aspect that would not necessarily be seen or noticed," Solow adds.

If the inaugural exhibit connects with its intended audience, Lynch will expand to venues beyond Plaza Midwood.

She's interested in curating a rotating exhibition, which will give artists a chance to show their artwork in different locations throughout Charlotte. In the meantime she will personally curate the shows at Legion – and each month the exhibit will be different. Though Lynch drew on her photography background for the current exhibit, future shows will not be confined to photography.

"Image 4" by Monique Praechtl.
  • "Image 4" by Monique Praechtl.

"It going to be all visual 2D art," she says, "photography, paintings, mixed media - anything we can hang on the wall."

The Charlotte art world is experiencing a pivot, Lynch says, where galleries are finding it harder to stay open, and shows are switching to the non-traditional venues. As Lynch sees it, taking art to less conventional spaces is not a choice. It's a necessity.

The online art platform has blown up, she says, especially over the past five years. While public art spaces like the McColl Center and the Mint Museum are still thriving, that explosion has been detrimental to traditional private galleries.

"Unfortunately a lot of these gallery owners are having to close their doors and think of alternative ways to show art, or get art into the community, outside of their brick and mortar spaces."

"Bringing art into non-traditional spaces is an avenue which I have turned to, rather than opening up a gallery myself. I'm trying to tailor the trend and reach people."

It's easy to lament the demise of brick and mortar galleries, since they serve as a focus for the city's art community, Lynch says. But galleries can also be saddled with a snooty reputation.

"Quite frankly a lot of people don't feel comfortable going into a gallery because they feel they might not be welcome if they just want to come in and look at the art."

People may have a notion that galleries are just for buyers, Lynch maintains. It's a perception that keeps people who simply want to broaden their horizons out of traditional spaces.

"Brewery shows like Legion's give them a separate avenue away from that milieu, to view and experience artwork."

The way the lure of the brewery affects the city's art business may be the latest example of the "chicken or the egg" debate. Did non-traditional art spaces spring up to fill the void left by a contracting private gallery sector? Or did the combination art-and-taprooms propel the demise of the galleries? For Lynch, the debate is moot. The situation is what it is.

"Here in Charlotte there are 40-some breweries that have come up in the past five years," Lynch says. "The appetite for breweries is not going away." Breweries are popular because they offer the public social and entertainment options.

"(Breweries') pull is that they get people out in public. People are coming out not just to try different beers, they're also responding to the community aspect of going out and trying new things, seeing new sights and meeting new people." Lynch believes that embracing this new arts marketing paradigm is a no brainer.

"I want to help (artists) have another place to display and discuss their art. That's what a curator does."

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