Fall Preview: Museums

The city’s museums are going all out for the DNC—and Charlotteans get to reap the benefits
Courtesy of the artist; Magnan Metz Gallery, New York
“Cock Fight,” by Sofia Maldonado from "Against the Grain" at the Mint Museum; made with found skateboards, paint, and marker. The exhibit debuts in Charlotte.

When PBS and public radio host Tavis Smiley came to Charlotte to celebrate the opening of America I AM: The African American Imprint, he wasn’t shy about expressing what a big deal he thinks it is for Charlotte to have, as he says, “made the cut.” The enormous exhibition of artifacts and information about how African Americans shaped the United States has been a blockbuster, drawing more than 100,000 visitors when it was exhibited in Atlanta. The show’s final stop in the Southeast opened in Charlotte in June, taking over the entire Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture. The factor that likely clinched the deal: this month’s Democratic National Convention.

But the Gantt isn’t the only local museum poised to take advantage of the city’s brief, frenzied time in the limelight. At the Mint Museum, three exhibitions have clear connections to politics and democracy, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection (through Sept. 23) and Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial (through Sept. 30), featuring the Southern artist’s paintings and sculpture, which often explore social and political themes. The museum will also reimagine Vote for Art (through Nov. 1), a program first created to celebrate the 2008 presidential election, in which six specially chosen works of art are placed on display and voted on by guests. Mimicking the presidential election process, the three pieces that receive the most votes will be acquired by the museum. A third exhibition, Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft, and Design (through Jan. 27, 2013), is another rare “get” for the museum and the city. Created by the Museum of Arts and Design, it premieres here before heading back to New York to be exhibited at its home museum.

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art has its own show-stopper exhibition with Giacometti: Memory and Presence (through Feb. 8, 2012), which celebrates the relationship between the Bechtlers and Alberto Giacometti, one of the greatest figures of twentieth-century modernism. “This is a powerfully unique moment in the history of the city when the attention of the world will be directed toward us, and we are eager to participate in the community’s larger celebration of its cultural assets,” says John Boyer, president and CEO of the Bechtler.

The factor that likely clinched the deal: this month’s Democratic National Convention.

At the opposite end of Tryon Street, in honor of the DNC, the McColl Center for Visual Art will host five contemporary artists: Amze Emmons, Imminent Disaster, Greg Haberny, Chris Stain, and Ben Wolf. Each will present his or her perspective of the world in America Now (through Nov. 3). Throughout the one-month residency program, guests can watch the artists at work.

And although its Sept. 29 opening date means it won’t be ready in time for the DNC, Levine Museum of the New South will host Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photographs in America (through Dec. 31), an exhibit that examines one of the most horrific chapters in American history. The graphic exhibit hopes to illuminate the lives of those who were executed by lynch mobs between 1882 and 1968, many of them in the South.

With these shows, Charlotteans gain access to exhibitions they’d normally have to wait months or years to see—if at all. But they also offer the city’s museums new credibility on which to build an audience and reputation for future exhibitions that can be more difficult (read: competitive) to secure.

“I get the sense that everybody is rooting for everybody else,” says Brad Thomas, curator of contemporary art for the Mint. “So it’s so gratifying to see everybody stepping up the game.”

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