Hedy Fischer and Randy Shull’s industrial studio and gallery 22 London is a relatively new space from the duo that energized Asheville’s contemporary art scene with their flagship Pink Dog Studios in the River Arts District. Over the last four years, Fischer and Shull have utilized 22 London to exhibit works from their collection, with a focus on “artists of color in depth, over time […] artists who have traditionally been underrepresented in museum collections, yet are clearly making important statements about the unstable, unjust and anxious times in which we live.”
Originally set to open in May of 2020, High Anxiety gathers works from 21 artists that address the rising collective pressures of systemic racism, a global pandemic, rampant corruption, and corporate greed. Experiencing this exhibition six months later, during the third crest of COVID-19 and days prior to the election, is a reminder that anxiety may be uncomfortable, but it should also be productive.
The anxiety of this exhibition is in the inherent tension of holding two fraught realities at once. Decay and growth, power and fear, truth and conspiracy hold opposite ends of a tightly wound string. Entering the gallery, Nari Ward’s raised fist of Power Wall-Power People greets you as a totem of Black strength, dripping in joy and resistance. Amanda Ross-Ho’s limp, contaminated Blue Glove Right #1 threatens to smother that power as you move into the next gallery, surrounded by Robert Mapplethorpe’s resonant images of the vulnerable, weaponized Black body, with works like Cock and Gun from the height of the AIDS pandemic.
Holistically presenting the conversations of 2020 is a seemingly impossible task, particularly while we sit in the eye of the storm, but High Anxiety holds its ground. By encompassing the many layers of systemic failures that we are reckoning with, High Anxiety offers catharsis without pulling its punches.