#57 of 86 Asheville Things To Do

Momentum Gallery

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Momentum Contemporary Art Gallery: Two Locations in the Heart of Asheville
Staff Score:
5.0 / 5
The Bottom Line:

There's a good reason that art lovers flock to Momentum Gallery in downtown Asheville. The gallery focuses on the work of emerging and mid-career artists, offering visitors access to museum-quality art.

- The SmokyMountains.com Local Expert Team

For many of us, art appreciation seems like something other people take part in. It’s easy to imagine that what we see on television and in movies is true, and the only people who really belong in art museums are artists and the rich people who support them.

This misguided belief is one of the things Momentum Gallery is so good at dispelling. The atmosphere in each of their two 4,000-square feet locations (located approximately one block from each other) is laid back, friendly, and not at all snooty. Owners Jordan and Shifra Ahlers seems to understand that we are all drawn to art, albeit different types, and that everyone can benefit from free access. The Ahlers’ do not charge an entry fee, and all pieces of art are for sale.

Even if you believe that the kind of contemporary and modern art on display at Momentum is not your cup of tea, we encourage you to give it a try. It’s not in order to convert you, but to give you an opportunity to experience art that is raw and honest.

We found ourselves in awe of many pieces, which came as bit of a surprise. Each held its own secrets, told its own story.

Here are two of those “stories” that touched us:

Wendy Maruyama’s EO 9066 Series
If art represents real life, then it also represents history. From the gallery’s Give Me Wood exhibition, Maruyama worked with wood to tell the story of tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry who were forced into internment camps in 1942. It was two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese and Americans were caught up in World War II hysteria. President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, giving broad powers to the military to ban any citizen of Japanese heritage from living or working within 50-60 miles (ca. 97 km) of the coastal area from Washington state to California, and into Arizona.

Both as an artist and member of a family affected by the order, Maruyama dedicated herself to investigating how EO 9066 effected Japanese Americans, how they were changed at the hands of fellow Americans. Her powerful work is both simple and complex. One piece consists of a box that looks like a coffin and holds a small Japanese doll dressed in a kimono. Another shows a guard tower built of wood. The emotion that emanated from her work was impossible to ignore.

Mariella Bisson’s Oil and Mixed Media on Linen
Bisson is one of the more established artists whose work we fell in love with. At first glance, her paintings look like landscapes, and like most landscape paintings, evoked a feeling of peace and tranquility. What was interesting about them though is the way we slowly began to notice that the landscapes weere made up of geometric shapes and abstract versions of reality.

Bisson does not work from a photograph. She believes that painting what she sees in real time offers a greater sense of reality. And it was the rawness of her work that we were drawn to. That, and the fact that her colors tell their own story. They are hauntingly muted, making us wonder if that is how she captures them in her mind’s eye.

Just when we’d convinced ourselves that modern art was not something we could understand, we ran across Bisson and had to rethink the belief.

The primary thing we learned at Momentum Contemporary Art Gallery is that modern art is not simply a dot on a canvas or a splatter of red paint, but is expressed through mediums of all kinds, including ceramics, textiles, glass, wood, and anything else an artist can get her hands on. A passionate artist will express herself, no matter what she has to use to do so.

Insider Tips:
– If you plan on spending the entire day downtown, consider using the parking deck at the lower end of Grove Arcade (between Battery Park Ave. and Wall Street). It’s central to much of the downtown area, and if you walk out the back entrance you will find great restaurant options.