When art puts on its party clothes

The weather may be cool tonight for the first gallery crawl of the season, but the scene will be hot.

With 10 galleries opening shows, the wine will flow, the crowds will gather, the art will be discussed and – most of all – people will be checking out other people.

The crawl happens the first Friday of the month, generally from 6 to 9 p.m. in NoDa, uptown and South End. Herewith is a gallery guide on how it all came about, what to expect, what to do and what's happening tonight.

A bit of history: The gallery crawl started in the mid-'80s along uptown's North Tryon Street. The area, then considered dodgy, had old buildings, low rents and so several art galleries. The galleries coordinated openings, hoping to draw a crowd. It worked, creating an institution that's endured for more than 20 years. Development has changed North Tryon. The old buildings are gone and so are most of the galleries. Crawl action has passed largely to South End and NoDa.

How to do it: Start at South End along South Tryon Street and South Boulevard just below uptown. The area has the most galleries, although they're spread out, making walking to all of them a bit much. Next, drive uptown for a stop at the Hodges Taylor Gallery on North Tryon, not a participant in every crawl but open for this one. (Two Midtown galleries are on the way.) Hit NoDa, the arts district on North Davidson Street around 36th Street, last. The party goes on later in NoDa, with bars and restaurants and galleries all within walking distance. NoDa also crawls on the second Friday of the month.

How to behave: Don't be intimidated. Relax. You don't have to be an expert – and, besides, looking at art isn't homework. Truth be told, the crowded crawl is not the best time to see art. But you can push past bodies and move closer. If you see something you like, make a mental note to come back during regular hours. If you need to impress, here's a general purpose “art comment” both learned and opaque: “This artist certainly fills the picture plane with lots of energy.”

How to look at art: Be open. Most of all be curious. Use your eyes. Start by looking at the subject of the work. Move on to the technique. See if the technique supports the subject. (Example: Does the maker of a realistic painting show any skill with the figure? Or is a deliberate lack of skill part of the artist's strategy?) Read wall labels, biographic material or the artist's statement. Consult the price list.

If you meet an artist: Say “Hello.” Artists often attend openings, one of the pleasures of the crawl. Making art is a solitary activity, and while not all artists are gregarious, many relish a chance to be with people and hear their reactions. It's fine to say, “I like your work” (if you mean it). Questions such as “Why did you do this?” and “What is this about?” are OK and a good way to begin.

Bargaining: That's OK, but not with the artist. The gallery paid for the show – rent, wine, invitations, perhaps framing – and hopes to make a profit with its cut, typically 50 percent. It's bad form to haggle with the artist or to try and make a separate deal. But you can talk price with the gallery owner, although crawl night is not the best time. Don't expect a big discount, but most owners will entertain an offer, or talk about terms such as paying in installments. Ask about other work by the artists; for instance, a painter may have less expensive works on paper.

What's noteworthy: A show on political art at the Charlotte Art League could be good. It's a subject not often addressed in Charlotte. Eric Anderson's wall constructions are always interesting. They're at the Joie Lassiter Gallery. And Tom Nakashima's work addressing the environment (at Hodges Taylor) looks worth your time.

Here's the full list:

South End

Elder Gallery, 1427 South Blvd. – “David Skinner, The Land of the Blue Ridge,” landscape paintings. Through Sept. 30.

Joie Lassiter Gallery, 1440 S. Tryon St., Suite 104 – “Wall Constructions,” by Eric Anderson, “Drawings and Collages,” by Andrew Moore and “New Paintings,” by Joel Urruty. Through Oct. 1.

Charlotte Art League, 1517 Camden Road – “Political Revolution,” area artists on that theme. Through Sept.26.

Gemini Studio, 1514-B Camden Road – “LB SQUARED,” works on paper by Linda Brown and Laura Barnhart.

Hidell Brooks Gallery, 1910 South Blvd., Suite 130 – “Tony Hernandez: New Encaustic Paintings,” figures in the landscape. Through Oct. 31.


RedSky Gallery, 1244 East Blvd. – “My Charlotte,” local artists (not a new show). Through Thursday.

Providence Gallery, 601-A Providence Road – More or Less,” landscapes and figurative paintings by Michelle Harvey Collins. Through Sept. 30.

Hodges Taylor Gallery, 401 N. Tryon St. – “Tom Nakashima: Recent Works.” Also “Lynn Saville: Photography.” Through Oct. 31.

Farvan Gallery, 119 E. 7th St. – “Introducing Cindy Austin,” landscapes, portraits and still-lifes by the Chapel Hill artist. Through Nov. 29.


Hart Witzen Gallery, 136 E. 36th St. – “nine.five.oheight,” visuals and performance. (7-11 p.m.)

Center of the Earth Gallery, 3204 N. Davidson St. – “Open Passages: Scott Upton,” mixed media paintings. Through Oct. 31.

Green Rice Gallery, 451 E. 36th St. – “Jason Basden, Storytime,” 3D sculptures, also featuring Tom Fleming and Bracken Johnson. Through Sept. 30.