With ramped-up precautionary measures in place, gallery visits—where you can stroll and pause at your own speed, with plenty of space from other people—feel like one of the best opportunities to support the arts, soak in beauty, and learn something.

Not all of these exhibits will necessarily function like a balm, though: whether you’re at Chapel Hill’s BASEMENT group show looking at a sculpture exploring connection, or one of the dozens of works in the Nasher’s thoughtful curation of politically engaged collection work, the reminder that art is meant to risk, move, and challenge is always near.

Don’t forget to check museum websites before paying a visit: some may require additional special COVID-19 precautions, while others may yet need to move online at the last minute.

As a bonus, maybe you’ll discover more exhibits beyond the handful of shows highlighted here.

A Beautiful Proxy | Lump Gallery; through Oct. 2

Catch artist Jasmine Best’s uneasy, intricate inaugural Lump solo show before it wraps up in early October. Using a blend of colorful soft sculptures and fabric collages, the UNC-Greensboro alumna interrogates warped cultural perceptions of beauty and the exploitation of Black bodies.

The Raleigh gallery is also celebrating 25 years this fall—no small achievement, especially after the past 18 months—so consider supporting its mission of invigorating contemporary art programming with both a visit to the gallery and a donation to its fall arts fundraiser. Limited-edition T-shirts and Risograph prints and posters by Bill Thelen and other Lump-affiliate artists await donors.

From Fallujah | PS118; opens Oct. 1–Nov. 6

Curated by retired U.S. Army veteran John Bechtold, this group exhibit features work by four Iraqi photographers—Mohamed Alani, Mohamed Jamal, Harith Khaleel Ali, and Sura Abbas Jasim—with the motivation of installing “an Iraqi perspective in an American space.” (When it is remembered, Fallujah is most commonly remembered in American spaces as an Iraq War battlefield; these photographs attempt an adjustment to that public memory.) An October 9 reception will feature guest scholar Noor Ghazi. Horse & Buggy Press, the umbrella gallery space and press that PS118 is a part of, is also celebrating 25 years of being open; look to the H&B website for more exhibits, talks, and events.

Loose FootingBASEMENT; through Dec. 5

The entry to BASEMENT allows in four people at a time, lending this young Chapel Hill space the feel of an artist’s speakeasy. If the setting is intimate, though, the scope of the questions that Loose Footing—which features sculpture, video, and installation by artists Felicity Palma, Kate Robinson, and Peat Szilagyi—asks are nothing less than epochal.

Take, for example: ‘How do we make genuine and lasting connections to the places we live and with each other that transcend our inherited, systematic ways of thought and action?’

In Relation to Power: Politically Engaged Works from the Collection | Nasher Museum of Art; through Feb. 13, 2022

A small hallway, with televisions broadcasting several news channels simultaneously, greets visitors upon entering this thoughtful exhibition curated by Nasher chief curator Marshall Price and curatorial assistant Adria Gunter—a greeting potentially either jolting or normal, to those dulled by 24/7 news cycles. But these electric works, organized loosely around three structural power themes, are anything but dull.

Whether you find yourself fixated on a sculpture of welded AK-47 assault rifles or Wendy Red Star’s annotated prints that tell the story of circa-late-1800’s Crow chiefs (whose portraits were appropriated commercially for years), you certainly won’t find yourself suffering from inertia.

Pieces of Light I Durham Arts Council; Oct. 1–Nov. 27

Just a few short months into 2020, “six feet” became shorthand for both mutual safekeeping and mutual loss. The Six Feet Photography Project, launched in early pandemic days by a group of Western North Carolina photographers, sought to document that dichotomy and ongoing uncertainty. In collaboration with Tom Rankin and the Durham Arts Council, Pieces of Light showcases works from the project by 50 photographers across the Southeast. A drop-in opening reception on October 15 marks the first Third Friday event since the pandemic began; guests can otherwise view the photographs by weekly appointment blocks.

Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau Visionary | North Carolina Museum of Art; Oct. 23–Jan. 23, 2022

Take a trip to turn-of-the-century Paris with NCMA’s major fall exhibition, a collection of posters, sculptures, and ephemera by the Czech-born art nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. The exhibit marks the Mucha Trust Collection’s first major U.S. tour in 20 years and tells the story of an artist whose intricate golds, pastels, and flowing-locks-figures elevated advertisements to art. That blurring of lines may not feel so radical now, when social media has increasingly grayed the distance between the two, but 100-some years ago, Mucha’s decorative arts changed history.

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