Art Museum Expands in Asheville, N.C.

Venue reopens after extensive must-see renovation

BY TIMOTHY MEINCH — Fall 2019

ongtime art editor of Time magazine (1945–1960) Alexander Eliot once called a tiny experimental liberal arts school outside Asheville, N.C., “one of the most engaging, risky, and romantic seed enterprises in the history of higher education.” Despite Black Mountain College’s closure in 1957 after 24 short years, its creative ambition — led by artists such as Josef Albers — distilled into the waters of Western North Carolina. Through a patchwork of studios and galleries, Asheville has evolved into an oasis of this legacy, and this fall “the Paris of the South” finally claims the premier art museum it deserves.

The Asheville Art Museum reopens this fall after a $24-plus million stem-to-stern renovation and expansion more than a decade in the making. Across from Pack Square Park in the center of downtown Asheville, look for the 2-ton glass orb by sculptor Henry Richardson. Beyond it, tall glass walls, zinc panels, and three stories of gallery space (plus a rooftop café and sculpture terrace) showcase a selection of works from the collection’s nearly 5,000 objects.

In the glass-curtained atrium, thousands of steel pins depict Asheville’s historic French Broad River climbing up the wall (a work by Maya Lin). Overhead, the new SECU Collection Hall leads visitors through works from the mid-1800s through today. Natural light pours through a tunnel of zinc blocks overlooking Pack Square (a money shot for the Instagram feed).

“The museum is a symbol of so much,” says Jordan Ahlers, owner of Momentum Gallery, two blocks down the street. “It galvanizes the art legacy of this region.”

The debut exhibit, “Appalachia Now!” features 50 contemporary artists living and working in Southern Appalachia, reminiscent of the grassroots artists who launched the humble Asheville Art Museum in 1948. Fittingly, the museum will also hold one of the largest collections from and influenced by Black Mountain College. But to see the largest collection, just stroll across the plaza to the new and improved home of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center that opened last fall. 828-253-3227; ashevilleart.org

WHERE TO STAY: Adjacent to the Asheville Art Museum, the long-awaited transformation of the city’s tallest building was scheduled at press time to be completed in late summer. The 19-floor Arras building revamped office space into a hotel, restaurants, and condos.

Kimpton Hotel Arras opens its doors in September with 128 rooms, two restaurants, and a private dining space. “We’re making everything in-house,” says restaurant owner Peter Pollay. Expect elevated pasta, hearth-fired pizzas, and exceptional ambience on ground level. The guest rooms above promise mountain motifs, local decor, and one of downtown’s best views of the Blue Ridge horizon out the windows. From $186. 833-221-9044; hotelarras.com

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