Art in this place: Embarrassment of riches

Of course, it's been some time since the city and a private group teamed up for "Art-in-Place," the program that effectively turned the city into a giant outdoor gallery.

At the same time, Charlottesville's gallery spaces not only continue to reproduce like bunnies, but also, impressively enough, fail to exhaust the pool of local and regional artists ready to exhibit. Oddly, the real challenge these days is not in the seeking. It's actually much harder to avoid art.

For those of you actually looking to broaden your horizons (an over-rated activity) beyond accidental viewing, however, there are plenty of fine places to go, and more all the time.

When it comes to big guns, it's nice to have an institution like the University of Virginia Art Museum around. Though modest in size, the gallery's well-curated, well-researched exhibits generally stick to the art world's fascinating tangents rather than the main-streamy stuff bigger museums handle more easily.

A short walk from there, the Fayerweather Gallery offers the newest work from the university's art students. The emphasis here is largely on conceptual and/or computer-generated work. Visiting art instructors get the occasional month-long exhibit.

Across town, the old McGuffey School at 201 Second St. houses two especially notable galleries: The Second Street Gallery (poised for its fall 2003 move to a new building) slakes local art-goers' thirst for conceptually oriented traveling exhibits, while the McGuffey Art Center provides its sizable stable of local/regional artists a convenient place to show their work. That building alone can host up to five distinct exhibits at once.

Beyond that, an impressive number of smaller galleries are spread around town, a few easily stumbled upon in the course of shopping for, say, books (The New Dominion Book Shop), beer (The Starr Hill Gallery), or muffins (Mudhouse), even religion– or at least something like it (the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church).

Two of the more unusual stops on the Charlottesville art tour are the Kluge-Ruhe Gallery and Les Yeux du Monde at dot2dot. The former rotates a terrific, terrifically large collection of Aboriginal Australian artwork, while the latter combines fancy wares and furniture with work by accomplished, mostly regional, artists.