One of the things I like best about Asheville is the art scene. I am, after all, a student of the arts, and when I’m not washing my beret collection or drinking coffee, I do like to glean some inspiration from my fellow créatifs. Usually this takes me into the River Arts District, but this past week I figured I’d check out some galleries in downtown. And I got to say: they got it going on.
You’ll find this article arranged for a walking tour. You can start at the first gallery , work your way north on Biltmore Avenue, head west on Patton, pass through the very best galleries in downtown, and wind up in Asheville’s culinary heartland just in time for dinner. It's all by design.
I don’t think I could start out with a stronger exemplar of Asheville’s artistic prowess than Blue Spiral. Their average-sized storefront belies a massive interior, spanning three stories jam-packed with paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and on the bottom floor, textiles most unorthodox.
You could get lost in there. I have gotten lost in there. Took three days for the curators to find me but I survived by munching on their stores of fabric art like I was some kind of oversized moth.
Digressions aside, Blue Spiral wins big points from me for variety, scope, and all-in-all grandiosity. It’s a place to spend at least an hour or two. You’ll want to explore every nook and cranny.
Location: This gallery in downtown Asheville lies at the beginning of my tour-route, south of Pack Square on Biltmore Avenue. Double D’s Coffee and Deserts lies just down-and-across the street, while the Pack Square Garage to the north provides reliable parking.
Technically a museum, which may or may not exclude the designation of “gallery.” The polemics do not interest me here because when it comes to galleries in downtown Asheville, if there’s art on the walls, I’m covering it.
Whereas the other galleries in this list cover their rent through sales, the museum—of course—charges admission. Fifteen dollar general admission, ten dollars with a student discount. Now what this monetary strategy wins you is a collection of exhibitions curated with an eye not just salability, but social, historic, and aesthetic significance. That’s a long way of saying that the Asheville Art Museum is a good place to learn a thing or two.
As of my recent visit, their three stories of artwork saw European oils standing side by side with Star-wars vases and assemblage sculpture. For visitors here, I suggest you expect the unexpected. I also suggest you visit their rooftop café for light fare, desserts, and local craft brews.
Location: Overlooking Pack Square, within jaunting-distance of French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Itto Ramen.
Horse and Hero has long been one of my favorite galleries in downtown. It may not be as massive as the previous two entries, but that can be an advantage. Their collection of prints, stickers, and postcards are the perfect size for a suitcase and the perfect price for a gift or keepsake from your Asheville adventure. Larger original artworks are for sale on their floor and website, if you should be especially taken with a certain artist.
Aesthetically speaking, Horse and Hero describes itself as a purveyor of the “neo-Appalachian.” That is, works with roots in local arts and crafts. It’s a terrific turn of phrase, and I think it’s the perfect way of describing my hometown’s signature flare.
Location: Patton Avenue, close to Farm Burger.
According to their website, Kress is “not a gallery,” but a retailer. However, you know my rules by now. This historic art-deco building houses a menagerie of stalls each devoted to a particular local artist. As such, you will find works ranging from the fine disciplines of lepidoptery to glassblowing with everything in between.
My first impression of Kress is that would be an excellent place to go shopping for home-décor. Pick up some dishware, ornamental orbs, and some photo-prints of the local sights and you’re good to go. At the same token, there’s sufficient quirk on display that I think you’d have good luck gift-shopping for the young and hip. I may not be the perfect spokesman for that particular demographic, but I did see a painting or two I personally would like to possess.
Location: Patton Avenue, with Asheville Music Hall just down the street.
To round off your tour of galleries in downtown Asheville, what better way than to visit a gallery with “Asheville” on the sign? This thirty-one-member artist’s cooperative showcases an impressive number of paintings given their modest size.
From what I’ve seen, many of the artists draw their inspiration from local scenery. It’s a nice change of pace from some of the more abstract and theoretical influences you will have seen on your Asheville art tour. After all, the outdoors are a significant portion of Asheville’s allure. It's fitting to see the subject enshrined in a gallery.
Location: Nestled right next door to Red Ginger Dim Sum, conveniently within walking distance of Jerusalem Garden Café, Blue Dream Curry, and a panoply of other delightful dinner destinations.
Blue Spiral 1
38 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Asheville Art Museum
2 S Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801
Horse + Hero
14 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
19 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Asheville Gallery of Art
82 Patton Ave #2803, Asheville, NC 28801