Ok, so I attended the 35th annual Holiday Home Tour in uptown, Charlotte. Although some folks, such as my wife, take delight in this type of activity, I find it, somehow, unsettling going through the homes of strangers; I went for the artwork. As an artist, I like to see if people are investing in art, what kind of art, and how they display it. What follows are my thoughts regarding the experience.
The tour is a project of the non-profit organization, Friends of Fourth Ward, and ostensibly generates some money for other projects in that historic neighborhood. Fourth Ward is filled with Victorian style homes that date back to the 1800’s. Due to its romantic character, it’s always been one of my favorite Charlotte neighborhoods. It’s nestled at the foot of the Charlotte cityscape and at night the city lights seem to rain down on the place like stars. Walking through the neighborhood, we passed colorful, Queen Anne style residences with wrap-around porches, gables, towers and balconies. Some homes feature slate shingle roofs. Some homes are on the National Historic Register. This year’s tour also included some Uptown residences in brand new towers.
I didn’t look at the neighborhood demographics; I didn’t study the medium incomes or anything like that. Prior to the tour, I simply inferred that the community was affluent. I assumed that the homeowners were educated, that they had a minimum level of wealth and that they would be consumers of art. I was right, at least about the art consumer part. (It is likely that I am right about the incomes as well; I’m guessing that some of the kitchen renovations were six figure affairs.) All the homes had art collections, but there appeared to be two different patterns regarding the role of art in the homes. In some homes, art played a central role in the environment, whereas in others, artwork had a more supporting character.
I don’t know if it is incidental or something else, but it seemed that the more modern dwellings had more powerful pieces of artwork, pieces that dominated the space. In many of the older homes, the space was dominated by furnishings. I observed that even when a homeowner of a historic property had a taste for contemporary art, the artwork was overshadowed by bookshelves, chandeliers, pianos, and clusters of furniture. Indeed, the emphasis in the older homes was on the furniture and the architectural details. In these places the volunteer tour guides rattled off facts about the chimneys, balustrades, and tile work or they talked about the furnishings: how old they were, where they were from. Rarely, however, did they mention the art, which filled the leftover space on the walls. In these homes I observed small pieces of art, mostly traditional oils and watercolors. They were nice, but they did not compete with the rest of the domicile. Some of the homes seemed a bit newer. Perhaps they had been modified to accommodate the modern taste for open spaces. Then again, some houses may not be original to their lots. Regardless, here in these more modern interiors, the furniture acquiesced while art commanded. I saw an entire wall dedicated to a single original work, which was appropriately lit. Some rooms were even organized around works of art rather than flat screens. As I toured the more modern residences, there appeared to be more emphasis placed on the works of art. This phenomenon seemed to peak at the Trademark Condominiums, but I guess that’s not fair since that is the home of B. Miller, an impressive artist. The Miller residence was a highlight for me because the artist’s studio was located there. Surrounded by glass walls on two sides, I envied all the natural light. The Miller’s place was like a gallery. Not only did she display her paintings and sculptures, but she also had works from other artists including a collection of Chihuly sculptural glass. Another unit, in this luxury condo, had a large display of Romare Beardens and a Wilmington, NC, artist named Claude Howell. In this unit the “stuff” was minimal and the art was the center piece of the room. In general, I observed appetites for contemporary art, and particularly abstract expressionism. I witnessed some fiber art. I saw some sculpture, but not much. The portrait art was sparse, and I did not see one nude- not even in the bathrooms. Overall, I’d have to say the majority of artwork was quality. If it didn’t ask much of me as a viewer, then at least it made me feel good. (I’m not, of course, including Bearden’s work in that final statement, but then again, he’s rather fashionable now.) I concluded the 35th annual Holiday Home Tour with a stop at the Charlotte City Club, which is, they say, the Southeast's premier private dining club. It’s not like I have a membership or anything like that. It’s just that, for some odd reason, the club is on the home tour. Regardless, it was quite nice to drop in, taste some of the club wines, lounge in some handsome dining rooms, and reflect on the interiors of the Fourth Ward homes.