High-Concept Installationist Doesn’t Recognize Your Arbitrary Deadlines

“Great procrastinator” Brenda Coates, at the piano at her Brandy Bar, contemplates her next project, outlined in the sketch on page 53. The piece, which will involve pirouetting pill bottles, addresses the opioid crisis.
Portrait by Rimas Zailskas

“The reason we call ourselves the Faux Book Club,” says multimedia and installation artist Brenda Coates, “is that we got together to do a book club, but can’t ever agree on what book to read. So we don’t read books. Now it’s just a bunch of artists and great procrastinators.” 

She’s describing a group of five acclaimed women artists in WNC who’ve been collaborating on exhibits for about 20 years. (The other members are Connie Bostic, Linda Larsen, Marya Roland, and Alice Sebrell.) They cover cross disciplines including photography, painting, sculpture, installation, and the written word. But whatever the medium, they inevitably add a fun dose of kitsch. 

Their most recent group show has a promisingly sly title: Domestic Bliss 2019. “There are so many subversive things that go on inside a household that you think are innocent,” says Coates. “So we play around with that a lot.”

Asked to provide more details, Coates laughs. “The others in our group can talk about the show better than I can, because, unlike me, some of them have already finished their pieces. I’m still in the throes of doing it. I just ordered some of my materials. They’ll be here by the end of March.” 

Reminded that the end of March is actually when she’s scheduled to install the work, Coates just shrugs. She doesn’t acknowledge deadlines so much. “Frankly, I’m not that much into finished pieces. I’m into ideas and concepts. Just having the idea is sometimes enough.” 

The Dietys
Photo by Rimas Zailskas

She does disclose that one of her pieces in progress makes a statement about the national opioid crisis and the complicity of Big Pharma. It’s a household medicine cabinet stocked with prescription-drug bottles. Open the cabinet and it plays music-box tunes, the bottles pirouetting. Another work involves a set of pull-down attic stairs. But instead of leading to an attic, it enters a nebulous black hole.

Installation with Lava Lamps
Photo by Rimas Zailskas

Coates will often be sparked by a creative idea that comes from a research project or a book she’s reading. There was the time, for instance, when she delved into local history and learned that the doctor for whom the Henderson County town of Fletcher is named distilled his own brandy. “I thought well, hey, maybe I’ll do that. Then I renovated this building and got a loan for it from the bank. But the bank said I had to show a source of income. I thought, well, I’m already making my own brandy, so I’ll open a brandy bar in the building.”

And so she did — The Brandy Bar in downtown Hendersonville. “It doesn’t make any money, though,” Coates laments. “It just cuts into my art-making time.”

Jokes, distractions, and delays aside, Coates is, in fact, a productive artist with an impressive résumé. Her widely collected work has been exhibited at the North Carolina Museum of Art and at Asheville Art Museum, and she’s been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Atlanta Arts Council. Coates holds an MFA from New York’s Pratt Institute, has worked as an assistant curator at the Brooklyn Museum, and has taught at UNCA, Western Carolina University, and Israel’s Haifa University. 

It seems great procrastination brings timeless rewards.

Photo by Rimas Zailskas

“Domestic Bliss 2019” opens at Flood Gallery Fine Art Center (850 Blue Ridge Road, Black Mountain) on Saturday, April 27, with a 6-9pm opening reception, and runs through Thursday, May 30. The gallery’s general hours are 11am-5pm Monday through Saturday, 1-5pm Sunday, and other times by appointment. 828-273-3332. www.floodgallery.org.

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