Tag Archives: art

Art and its presence

Undercurrent of culture

Last night I attended a fantastic production of “Art”, the play by Yasmina Reza, at the Phoenix Building downtown. Produced by A Bryan Photo in their studio loft space (above), the show features 3 fine actors from Los Angeles (tickets may still be available for tonight and Saturday here).

This sort of “underground” art helps make downtowns vibrant and exciting, and is just the sort of artistic energy we hoped would emerge when we developed the Phoenix 7 years ago, with 74 mixed-income units catering heavily to artists. Convinced that this type of loft development could succeed in Birmingham, we’ve seen a truly unique vibe evolve here. We’d love to see more.

Who says a fire stair can't be fun

Above is another example of the artsy vibe at the Phoenix–this is one of the fire stairs which is currently a “work in progress”, with various artists from around the building able to add their impromptu expressions to the otherwise utilitarian space. This building project–and the unique energy it’s given to downtown–could not have happened without many financing components, including Federal Historic Tax Credits. Currently, Operation New Birmingham is hoping that the Alabama Legislature will pass a law creating State Historic Tax Credits, a complementary tool that many states already use to help get historic buildings (and their higher costs) renovated. Alabama’s major cities need this law to pass: it will help us all put together more projects, like the Phoenix, that turn vacant historic buildings into revenue producing, tax-paying, vibrancy-building partners in revitalization of downtowns and surrounding historic neighborhoods.

Yes it is--and art expresses the feeling

Let’s get that law passed. And let’s continue to find ways to promote art, and artists, as key elements of improving our urban neighborhoods.

 

Art and the City

We like the logo

At Design Review this morning, KPS Group presented a design for a new outdoor seating balcony for the Birmingham Museum of Art‘s restaurant, Oscar’s. While it’s exciting that this newly branded restaurant is opening up to the outdoors (facing the landscaped walk between the museum and Boutwell Auditorium), it is less exciting that–for various reasons–the Museum has not been able to move forward with expansion, either onto the adjacent Boutwell site or otherwise. Our amazing collection, considered one of the finest in the country and perhaps the best in the southeast, deserves better.

Imagine Boutwell–or perhaps the Alabama Power Steam Plant facing the Railroad Park–becoming our own version of the Geffen Contemporary in downtown Los Angeles (below), really putting Birmingham on the map for contemporary art. The soaring space, flexible layout, and “un-museum” feel would be exhilarating. Not to mention the ability to spawn other development nearby, all while increasing our tourist base and allowing more of our collection to be shown.

Murakami needs high ceilings

Or, think of the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, where an old factory building was transformed into a cutting edge exhibition, performance, and gallery space, with artists-in-residence brought in from around the world. We looked at this for a model at our Phoenix Building development, but we’re still searching for a way to bring this sort of vibe to Birmingham. The picture below proves that yes, appreciation of contemporary art can begin at a very young age.

Training the eye

Our Museum is City-owned and open to the public at no cost–a rarity in this country. Despite the economic woes of both the private and public sector right now, here’s hoping that in the near future we’ll have a cutting-edge expansion of this institution that’s so essential to the City’s culture.

It can be done here too

[thanks to Matt Niemi for the Mattress Factory kid; beastandbean for the Murakami exhibit at Geffen; and Mattress Factory for the exterior shot]

Art of the Urbane

So THAT'S what we can do with the broken meters

Directly east of Space One Eleven Gallery, a new contemporary art gallery has opened downtown. It’s called Beta Pictoris and it’s the brainchild of Guido Maus (you can view the gallery website here). The shot above shows the storefront on the 2400 block of Second Avenue North.

Guido moved to Birmingham 5-1/2 years ago from New York City (he is Belgian). He ran furniture galleries in Tribeca before his wife, an expert in antique furniture restoration, was lured to Birmingham to help the Museum of Art with their collection. After a furniture venture here, Guido decided to follow one of his dreams and open up a fine art gallery, showing both local and national artists. His first show exhibited both Birmingham and New York artists, and according to Guido, “visitors couldn’t tell the difference.” He is interested in upending this notion of “local” vs. “national” art, to establish dialogs through visual art.

Dressed to kill

This interest in dialog is why his current show is so spot on. Entitled “Dazzling”, it exhibits photography by local artist Sonja Rieger (the example here is “Kitti Smoking” and the image is courtesy Sonja Rieger and beta pictoris gallery). Sonja photographed drag queens while they were gathered at a large, African-American drag event in Birmingham’s west side. Close to 500 people turned out for the opening night of this show, and, according to Guido, provocative discussion was everywhere.

“Art should provoke discussion, not just look pleasing.”–Guido Maus

Guido feels there is a vibrant art scene in Birmingham, but no vibrant art market. This is why so many galleries are forced to sell art that “looks pretty” and is acceptable to interior decorators–and that’s fine; there’s a place for that. But Guido feels there’s also room to support other artists who are stretching the boundaries beyond what is just pretty, towards what is provocative.

I have long felt that urban areas must have artists and art in order to be truly vibrant. This city could do a much better job of offering incentives for artists to relocate here, for galleries to open and flourish, for public art programs. In the meantime, kudos to Guido for sticking with the Magic City and choosing to take a risk that a provocative, intellectual approach to art can work here. His small gallery is just a start; he’d like to open a much larger space suitable for large exhibitions, artists-in-residence, etc. Mark your calendars for his next opening Friday May 28!

Passionate about the power of art

Finally, a brief note about the pic at the top of the post: Space One Eleven, the neighboring gallery, has put together a great piece of urban “public” art, utilizing street trees, storefront windows, and yes, broken parking meters. I’m only half-joking when I suggest we may have finally found a solution to repairing the vast number of broken meters across this city!