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Visual Arts Fall Preview 

High tide on Charlotte's art shores

Art endures. Art allows escape. Art is a sensible drug of choice.

The Charlotte art world naps each summer; in September, the city wakes to a new tide of exhibits, lectures and films. The tide rises higher each year.

Charlotte is giving us more reasons each season to explore the visual art landscape. Need a reason to explore?

Turn the TV off! The paintings wait patiently on gallery and museum walls for you, for those fleeting few moments with you. Without you, they're not even there. And unlike the performing arts, you get to see the work divorced from the physical presence of the artist. No distracting personality issues. All you got is the work.

In front of art, you can't dissolve and disappear, you're forced to coalesce and materialize. Visual art is the antidote for TV. There are no prompts for applause, no laugh track, no come-hither TV teaser. Paintings, prints and sculptures insist you face your own honest reaction. It's all you and it. You're forced to manufacture your own opinions.

"This sucks."

"My collie could do that."

"What is that?"

"Who does he think he's kidding?"

Those are well worn initial responses to an intricate, sometimes irksome, world. But those initial responses become tiresome, and are difficult to sustain without the lockstep support of fellow scoffers. Without the elbow jabs from your smirking cohort, without the hamburger and cold beer attitude, without the thick-skinned attitude, you might think:

"What is that?"

"Why does it look like it's moving when it's not?"

"Where does that light come from?"

"Why am I dizzy?"

With time, with patience, and without corroborating dissent, the art is harder to dismiss. Caution: When it's just you and the work, unanticipated, unpredictable and revelatory reactions may occur.

"Why did she make the buildings dissolve?"

"How would I have to be feeling to want to paint that?"

"Where did he find that world?"

"What was she thinking?"

"I like being dizzy."

Welcome to the fickle, fragile and pleasantly maddening world of art. Bless her blueblood, button-up heart, Charlotte has much to rattle us with this year:

Surface Matters at Bank of America Plaza has been up since winter and will close on November 15, and serves as an excellent primer, or perhaps deserved shock therapy, for anyone planning to venture into Charlotte's upcoming art season. Curated by Joie Lassiter for Trizek Properties, this concentrated collection of luminous and difficult paintings and sculpture is exceptional, but no longer an anomaly for Charlotte.

Lassiter is one full moon behind the rising tide of challenging visual art beginning to saturate Charlotte's bygone Saharan cultural climate. Other climate influences include perennial tide changer Hodges Taylor Gallery, the salty mix at The McColl Center of Visual Art and, perhaps -- just maybe -- our newest neighborhood loony, Dig Dug's Pop Art Emporium.

The coos, titters and ooh-aahs of the Charlotte art crowd will crescendo this season with the local premiere of Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Pictures, opening at the Mint Museum October 15 and running through January 9, 2005. With his revelation of the secret Helga egg tempera and watercolor diaries, Wyeth's deserved national renown blossomed worldwide. The man's talent for turning color and line on bumpy paper into a spiritual moment is baffling. If these paintings are only portraits, then Moby Dick was just a big whale.

McColl Center for Visual Art aptly describes itself as a "cauldron" for art. Charlotte citizens are invited to stick fingers in the burbling pot. Exhibits showcase resident artists -- local, national and international -- throughout the year. Likeness: Portraits of Artists by other Artists, the cauldron's first show of the season, opens September 3. Although the title may reinforce the tired (and oft times true) notion of the artist as narcissist, I look forward to seeing nationally known and unknown, famous and infamous artists flatter, flaunt and flatten each another. This show's promise of portraiture impishly implies something comforting and familiar, but expect neither.

Maja Godlewska is a gift from Poland to the USA. Her gift to Charlotte is staying here. Her paintings are classically inspired and sensuous; melancholy odes to longing, loss and untenable, immutable hope. They are unapologetically romantic and easy to look at. I suspect her paintings depict a hint of what we sacrifice, what passes us by, while we are consumed with the mania for collecting things. Sounds downright un-American, but there it is. Her show opens at Joie Lassiter Gallery September 10.

Dig Dug's Pop Art Emporium appears to be the latest gallery to take a stab at making art available to the Charlotte proletariat, or at least to have a good time in the effort. Owner Lee Grutman recently opened his doors at 917 Pecan Avenue. Grutman believes that "Art is supposed to be fun, entertaining and enjoyable. There's something in the store for everyone and something everyone can afford." Dig Dug's will offer original art and reproductions, with new artists featured every month. September's show features hand-painted pop art purses by Brian Taylor. The name alone -- Dig Dug's -- should bring in Everyman at least once.

Hodges Taylor Gallery has a reliable obsession with quality. They are consistently the best venue for regional art in Charlotte, and they remain my best bet for a random satisfied walk-in. The gallery brings a piece of Penland School of Crafts down off their mountain perch in Gather "Round the Table, in celebration of the school's 75 years of merging minds, hands and materials. All the work, functional and not, is made to be admired and is sized for those homey pedestals we call tables. The show opens September 10 and runs through October 30.

Later at Hodges Taylor, November 5 through December 31, is painter Maud Gatewood with works representing 50 years of wrestling with paint on canvas. I'm curious to see the changes this artist documented on her way to becoming one of North Carolina's best painters.

White folks, black folks, red folks and country folks. All God's Southern children are represented at the Levine Museum of the New South this fall. In three exhibits the museum explores our vaunted and unjustly ridiculed Southerness. Living Traditions: Folk Arts of the American South (September 10-January 9, 2005) exhibits carved walking sticks, corn shuck baskets and a stumper jumper boat from regions spanning the Mississippi Delta, Alabama's black belt and the Appalachian mountains. We're Still Here: Native Americans in the Southwest (also September 10-January 9) captures Cherokees, Creeks, Catawbas and other Southern Native Americans in photographs and text by Charlotte cultural luminaries Carolyn DeMerritt and Frye Gaillard. And Rural Voices and Visions: Local Communities Speak Out About Their Landscapes (November 2-April 30, 2005) gives voice to the opinions and documents the lives of the denizens of the Catawba River Basin of the Southern Piedmont. Home cooking at Levine's.

In addition to seeking out these shows, visit the neighborhoods in Charlotte which host the growing clusters of art galleries and studios. Step out in tandem, physically and intellectual -- that qualifies as a thrill inside these city limits. NoDa, the South End, South Boulevard around the Pink Building, Central Avenue in Elizabeth, and downtown all wait your arrival.

Charlotte's Center City and the SouthEnd district host gallery crawls on the first Friday evening of each month. NoDa's gallery crawl takes place on the first and third Friday of the month.

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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