Every night for the month of April, art aficionados and Charlottesville locals Joseph Avery and Eleanor Muse have a new exhibit in their living room.
“Hans-Ulrich Obrist is a curator, a big guy in the art world, and I remember we read an article where he said the first show he’d ever done was in his kitchen,” said Avery in a recent interview. “He had people come into his apartment and led them into the kitchen, where they’d open up a cabinet that held the work.”
This domestic-turned-aesthetic approach to curatorship inspired Avery, a lawyer, and Muse, a UVA student, to try their hands at a residential-based exhibit. Throughout the month, they’ve welcomed visitors into their private home, hoping to underscore the communal and social aspects of what they’re calling the 30/30 Vision Art Festival.
“We didn’t have a big space, but we were thinking that local artists sort of need a place to show their work,” Avery said. “It seems like there’s a dearth of places in Charlottesville where people can share their ideas, their self-expression and engage with the community.” And, he added, “I liked the concept myself mainly because I wanted to see what everyone was doing.”
After a month of recruiting through Piedmont Council for the Arts, UVA Studio Arts majors and the odd Craigslist ad, Avery and Muse coordinated nearly 30 individual artists, the majority of whom live in or are connected to Charlottesville, to install a new exhibit for each 7pm opening. (They’re still looking for a few more artists, working in any medium or field, including theater and the performing arts.)
“The first night we wanted something race-related, something that would comment on social issues after the Martese Johnson incident,” Avery said. “Our opening exhibit was by a Mexican artist who hung a book called The Collapse of Criminal Justice on a clothesline strung across the room. He also hung photos on the walls of incidents of police brutality, including one of Eric Garner and one of Michael Brown as a way of discussing how we are exposed to these actual incidents, and how or if they affect us.”
The pointed intensity of 30/30 Vision exhibits change as quickly as their creators. “Tomorrow we have Meghan Bryant coming in, and she does animal-type drawings on scratch boards,” Avery said. “On Friday we’ll have a performance artist who is going to do four different characters while painting. And on April 24th, we’ll have Rachel Singel, who’s done a lot of intaglio and prints and has a series of beautiful bindings for books, give a small lecture and share some of her techniques.”
He went on to describe the work of fine artist and University of Mississippi professor Lou Haney, a recent transplant to Charlottes-
ville. Her work combines collage with acrylic painting, a system that literally layers interchangeable sheets of plastic over paintings of whimsical subjects like cake, against backdrops of color-filled canvas. “We went to her studio in Belmont, and it just fits with the exhibit,” Avery said. “She’s just experimenting with everything.”
His palpable delight reveals the driving force behind 30/30 Vision’s diversity: the curiosity of its curators. Their exploratory interest in art creates an environment almost like a book club, if the club leaders were avid readers who inadvertently became writers themselves.
“We do a decent amount of traveling to D.C. and New York to keep up with what’s happening at the galleries,” Avery said. “When I’m viewing art, I can read it passively and get a few things out of it, or I can slow down and actively read it. If you really engage and try to untangle what the artist is saying, it’s like reading an essay.”
The pair kept a notebook in which they wrote down ideas for paintings, though they didn’t make art at the time. “We’d see something at a show, have a thought, and write it down,” Avery said. “But a few years back we said, ‘Let’s start executing.’ We thought it would take a year to get through all our ideas, but now we’ve got a bigger notebook and we’re only a tenth of the way through it.”
Now, he said, they paint, primarily with oils, and sometimes sculpt, typically in support of their painting. “The process is similar again to writing as opposed to reading,” he said. “It’s working through or maybe just working off of these ideas.”
“When you’re making art, you’re constantly making decisions, choosing what you bring in and leave out,” Muse said. “As you do it you start to learn what other artists have done and see the decisions they have made.”
Those convolutions of discovery and exploration are the reason they invite strangers into their living room and found themselves drawn to art in the first place.
“I don’t know how it started really,” Muse said of painting. “I’d come away with an idea and it just seemed like an interesting way to express it. It was a way to engage with an idea that I hadn’t tried before.”
To see the artists in the 30/30 Vision Art Festival, visit 700 Grove Avenue at 7pm any evening in April. To submit your own art for inclusion, inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.