Mint Museum Uptown to Host Lyle Owerko’s “The Boombox Project”

Chandra Johnson’s SOCO Gallery organizes pop-up photography show in museum’s Level 5 expansion space

The Mint Museum is offering the public an unprecedented opportunity to see expansion space representing the next phase of the museum’s future growth by hosting photographer Lyle Owerko’s The Boombox Project. This pioneering pilot program is anticipated to be the first of many future uses for this space that will provide special opportunities for artists, entrepreneurial projects, and community engagement.

Mint Museum Uptown will host the pop-up exhibition of works organized by SOCO Gallery, founded by Charlotte philanthropist Chandra Johnson, from September 17 through October 19. The exhibition will be free and open to the public, and will mark the museum’s first public use of raw 15,000-square-foot expansion space on Level 5, opposite the Mattye and Marc Silverman Grand Room, which has been a popular community venue for weddings, business meetings, and Mint-organized events. Museum visitors will obtain special stickers at the Guest Services desk to receive free admission to the pop-up gallery during regular museum hours on Wednesdays through Sundays. The exhibition features approximately 15 photographs from Owerko’s iconic series devoted to boomboxes of the 1970s and 1980s. Paid admission or museum membership will still be required to visit the museum’s other galleries, except on Wednesdays from 5-9 p.m. when the museum’s permanent collection is always free and open to the public.

In the time before Spotify, iPods, MP3s, and even the Sony Walkman, politics and identity were deeply woven into one’s choice of music. Punk, rap, hip-hop, and New Wave movements were gaining momentum, and music was giving a new voice and strength to people on society’s periphery. In the 1970s and early 1980s, some would blow through a paycheck’s worth of batteries to share their music with the world. Music mattered. The boombox was their muse and their messenger, and The Boombox Project memorializes this exciting time in America’s cultural history.

Lyle Owerko has been collecting and documenting boomboxes since he first discovered a mint condition late 1970s Victor JVC in Japan in 2001. Painstakingly photographing the boomboxes with his large-format Hasselblad camera, Owerko is able to bring out the most stunningly intricate details and personality of each machine. In 2010, Abrams published a book inspired by the series titled The Boombox Project: the machines, the music and the urban underground with a foreword by film director Spike Lee, and contributions by musical artists Fab 5 Freddy, LL Cool J, and Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys.

Owerko is a photographer, filmmaker, and modern day cultural anthropologist. His work has been featured on the cover of Time magazine as well as The New York Times, Communication Arts, The Village Voice, Blackbook, and New York Magazine. He was also included in Drawing From Life, published by Princeton Architectural Press, which includes works by Mike Figgis and David Byrne. Owerko has exhibited his work throughout America, and it is part of the permanent collection of The Victoria & Albert Museum in London. He has been named a Hasselblad Master, and has won awards from the New York Art Directors Club, the National Press Photographers Association, and American Photography.

As part of the construction of Levine Center for the Arts, a partnership between the City of Charlotte, Wells Fargo, and cultural institutions including the Mint, the expansion space was included on Level 5 and left unfinished, with many potential future uses, when Mint Museum Uptown opened in 2010. Level 5 represents a very different type of space for the museum – an industrial space that will address community needs related to experimenting with new and creative art concepts, accommodating larger exhibitions, and providing the ability to showcase more of its permanent collection. The pilot program marks the museum’s first exploratory use of the space, which is currently still raw and gives a rare behind-the-scenes look at the building’s architecture. The space is anticipated to be used for other pilot programs as the museum develops its longer-range plans for its next phase of growth.

The exhibition dovetails with the museum’s recent focus on modern and contemporary photography. The museum has hosted groundbreaking photography exhibitions including Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment and the Mint-organized shows Bearing Witness: The New York Photo League and Sonia Handelman Meyer and Vik Muniz: Garbage Matters, both of which subsequently traveled to other institutions.

Johnson has a long record of supporting the Mint and is a member of the museum’s Board of Trustees and active in the Mint Museum Auxiliary. She and her husband, NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, served as honorary co-chairs of the museum’s inaugural fundraising gala in May.

Schedule of events:

Invitation-only artist reception and book signing: September 17

Mint Museum members preview: September 18, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Exhibition open to the public: September 19-October 19, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Wed; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thurs. – Sat.; 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sun.

SOCO Gallery, opening in 2015, aims to become Charlotte’s home for emerging and established photographers. Founded by Chandra Johnson, the gallery will focus on innovations in the photographic medium, as well as providing a platform for art education and community outreach. This is the second exhibition for the organizers, who exhibited Jimmie Johnson: On The Road in October, 2012.

For more information about Lyle Owerko at The Mint Museum, please visit For more about SOCO Gallery, contact