Alabama’s 10 Must-Visit Contemporary Art Galleries and Museums
From award-winning alternative spaces in Birmingham to a sprawling center for the arts housed in an old textile mill in Huntsville, Alabama is home to a number of first-rate contemporary art galleries. Whether viewing the works of Alabama-based photographer Pinky Bass at Space One Eleven, or wandering the outdoor sculpture trail at the Mobile Museum of Art, here are ten galleries you should visit in Alabama.
Birmingham Museum of Art was established in 1951, and since 1959 has resided in the heart of cultural downtown Birmingham in a building designed by local architects Warren, Knight and Davis. Renovated and expanded by the late architect Edward Larrabee Barnes in 1993, the museum is home to a collection of 25,000 artworks and objects, which includes a contemporary collection spanning the art movements of the last 100 years, with sculpture by New York City-based Chakaia Booker, the abstract paintings of Frank Stella and Cindy Sherman’s conceptual portrait photography. The museum is also famous for its extensive collection of Wedgwood pottery – the biggest outside of Britain – and has its own outdoor sculpture garden. Added during the 1993 renovation, the garden was co-designed by sculptor Elyn Zimmerman and is currently exhibiting a new body of large scale aluminium sculptures by artist Craig Wedderspoon from neighboring Tuscaloosa.
Not your typical art gallery – that is how the owners of Naked Art would describe their space, which was established in 1998 and resides on a pretty Birmingham residential street. Naked Art focuses on non-traditional artworks with a functional purpose alongside their aesthetic appeal; particularly, pieces made from recycled materials. Naked Art exhibits all kinds of works – from paintings and mosaics to jewelry and ceramics – and has showcased the work of Birmingham-based artist John Lytle Wilson, who paints brightly colored cartoon animals and robots, while also teaching art at the University of Alabama; and Birmingham native Molly Hand who creates sculptures from wire. Naked Art was awarded the title of “Best Art Gallery” in the 2013 Best of Birmingham Awards, organized by Birmingham Magazine.
Founded in 1986, Space One Eleven is an artist-run contemporary art gallery established with a three-fold mission in mind: to provide opportunities for professional artists, to increase public engagement in the contemporary arts, and to provide arts education for young people in Birmingham to inspire the next generation of artists. The guiding ethos of Space One Eleven is to celebrate all cutting-edge and thought-provoking art, whether it’s created by a local artist, a nationally acclaimed creative or a young rising talent. Among the gallery’s recent exhibitions has been an exploration of printmaking, from traditional processes to digitally printed art, featuring works by Fairhope, Alabama-based photographer Pinky Bass and Derek Cracco, an artist and professor of printmaking at the University of Alabama who combines both traditional and digital methods in his art.
Beta Pictoris Maus Contemporary Art is a Birmingham-based gallery that represents a number of up-and-coming, established and internationally-renowned contemporary artists. The gallery has a preference for artworks that demonstrate artistic experimentation and are politically and issue-driven, with the aim of bringing a universal perspective on pertinent topics and innovative art to Birmingham. Beta Pictoris currently represents rising stars of the contemporary art world including Nigerian sculptor and performance artist Jelili Atiku, whose art comments on the various forces – war, climate change, poverty – that threaten both mankind and the planet’s existence, and Kentucky-based multidisciplinary artist Melissa Vandenberg who explores the concept of identity in an era of increasing homogeny and globalization.
The Eastern Shore Art Center is based in the small town of Fairhope on the eastern coast of Mobile Bay and was established with the mission of engaging and educating people of all ages and abilities in the arts and bringing artworks from artists across America to the Eastern Shore region. Founded in 1954 by a collective of Fairhope-based artists, the Eastern Shore Art Centre hosts monthly exhibitions which has included sculptures by artist Lonnie Rich and folk art by Alabama native Lucy Hunnicutt. The center also organizes two outdoor art festivals each year in March and October that showcase works from around 100 renowned regional and international artists.
Located in the riverside city of Decatur in northern Alabama’s Tennessee River Valley, the Carnegie Visual Arts Center was established in 2003 and, following extensive renovations, resides in the historic former Carnegie Library building which was built in 1904. The Carnegie Visual Arts Centre is host to a number of local, regional and national exhibitions in all artistic mediums each year and also holds regular workshops, art classes and lectures for the Decatur community. The center is passionate about promoting local talent and rising stars, and has presented exhibitions including Earth Vessels: Works of Clay, a group show of the works of three Alabama-based artists – Steve Loucks, Larry Percy and Guadalupe Robinson – and an exhibition of young artist Mercedes Moran’s sketches, animated shorts and Anime-inspired sculptures.
Wiregrass Museum of Art The Wiregrass Museum of Art was established in 1988 as a response to a damning magazine article published two years prior that claimed the museum’s hometown of Dothan was one of the worst places to live in America, partly due to the city’s lack of a museum. A committee of local citizens set about planning the museum and housed it in downtown Dothan’s Water and Electric building, which was originally constructed between 1912 and 1913 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Wiregrass has a collection of over 600 pieces with a number of modern and contemporary examples including works by American artists John Dine and Robert Indiana. The museum regularly exhibits works from its permanent collection alongside temporary exhibitions which have included shows by kinetic sculptor and animator John Douglas Powers’ Field of Reeds and Alabama-based photographer Beverly West Leach.
Founded in 2006, Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment is an artistic complex made up of gallery and studio spaces, a theatre, a record store and various food stands that is quickly becoming one of the Southeast region’s most popular cultural haunts. The center, which is housed in a former textile mill built in 1901 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, is home to over 100 working local artists including sculptural and multimedia artist Katherine Purves and painter Logan Tanner and his surreal creations. Lowe Mill regularly exhibits the work of its resident artists alongside a program of art shows that has included a presentation of watercolors by Alabama artist Starr Weems DeGraffinried.
Established in 1963, the Mobile Museum of Art, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, is located within the grounds of the beautiful Langan Municipal Park in the cultural Gulf city of Mobile and, following a $15 million expansion in 2002, is the biggest art museum of its kind on the Tampa to New Orleans stretch of the Gulf Coast. Overseen by the Mobile Art Association, the museum has its own outdoor sculpture trail which was established in 2010 and has featured the work of Louisiana artist Cliff Tresner, and an extensive permanent collection of over 9,000 works including art by the late African-American folk artist Mose T. The museum also presents travelling and temporary exhibitions which has recently included a show by Georgia-based painter Anke Schofield.
The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts was formed in 1930 in Alabama’s historical and culture-rich state capital, becoming the state’s first fine arts museum, with the aim of collecting, preserving and promoting American art for the Montgomery community. Initiated by a group of local artist which included the Alabama-born regionalist painter John Kelly Fitzpatrick, the museum started out life in a small abandoned schoolhouse, but for the past 25 years has resided in the picturesque 77-acre Blount Cultural Park and will soon expand its grounds with the addition of an outdoor sculpture garden. The museum has an extensive collection of North American art with impressive examples of outsider art, American Studio Glass, and contemporary photography that includes the iconic portraits of Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousef Karsh and works by Southern sculptor Frank Fleming.