Special Delivery

Mail Art show takes on new dimension in 2020

If you put it in the mail, Carlos Steward will put it on the wall.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Flood Gallery Fine Art Center in Black Mountain is encouraging artists to address undressed submissions for its 15th Annual Mail Art Show. The gallery’s owner, Carlos Steward, describes this unconventional special-delivery exhibit as a letter-perfect way to support the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and its essential workers.

How does the Mail Art Show work? 

If you just put postage and an address on it, the U.S. postal service will let you mail all sorts of objects, without a box. We prefer 3-D items that are just painted or decorated, stamped and mailed. This is our most fun exhibit, and everyone can be part of it. If it makes it through the postal system, we will definitely exhibit it. We just want your uncensored art. Anything goes, and everything shows.

How’d you come up with the idea?

Fifteen years ago, we had a canceled exhibition, and I was wracking my brain how to quickly replace it, so I said “Let’s try it.” It’s unbelievable and crazy how popular it’s become. I expect 600 or 700 entries this year, from about 70 different countries. 

Carlos Steward of Flood Gallery Fine Art Center.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Whoa! Does anyone else do mail-in art shows?

It was really popular with the Dada movement during WWI, when artists mailed art as a form of political protest against the war. Then it kind of faded until artists at Black Mountain College revived it. We kind of brought it back again, and it’s blossomed from there. 

What kind of things have people sent over the years?

A 100-pound sculpture. A painted pig skull. Painted shoes and 78 records and a decorated lamp with the bulb intact. One year, someone mailed a ham sandwich in a plastic sandwich bag with stamps on the outside. We put it on the wall, and it was fun watching as it deteriorated during the show. 

Photo by Colby Rabon

What does your local post office think?

The first year, they kind of scratched their heads, but now they love it. They look forward to seeing what comes through, and it generates a lot of revenue for them. We figured it was a good year to get money into the postal service, so we extended the submission date by a couple of months. We also ask people to call out and thank postal workers as part of the art. Postal workers see that, and it bolsters their spirits.

“Anything Goes, Everything Shows,” the Mail Art Show at Flood Gallery Fine Art Center (850 Blue Ridge Road, Black Mountain) is accepting submissions until Nov. 3. Art should be addressed to Flood Gallery Fine Art Center, Mail Art Show c/o Carlos, PO Box 9907, Asheville, NC 28815. The show opens with a reception happening on Saturday, Nov. 21, 6-9 pm, and runs through the end of the year. The gallery observes healthy social-distancing protocols; during the opening event, Flood will offer food and games outside under tents. Visit ncarts.org and floodgallery.org for more information.

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