10 best in 2013

Dec. 26, 2013 @ 12:20 PM

In 2013 the visual arts in the Triangle covered the spectrum. Time, love, activist Indian art, a feminist Kenyan-American, Doris Duke’s Shangri La and Porsches were just a few of the artistic wonders woven into the cultural fabric of the Triangle. The museums organized and hosted these shows and each in its own way added to our rich local art scene.
Wangechi Mutu gets my vote for creating the most beautiful work I have seen in a long time and the Porches for bringing in the most visitors. We are lucky to have the university museums of Duke, Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University, plus the N.C. Museum of Art in our back yard. We also have smaller venues, commercial galleries, cooperatives and alternative places where the spaces are not sumptuous, but the art is very good.
This year we lost Pam Gutlon and her Outsiders Art and Collectibles gallery. She was dedicated to the self-taught artist and for four years supported and exhibited dozens. The economic times took their toll, especially with her audience of young collectors whose extra money had to go for groceries and the kids. Outsiders is gone but Pleiades, a new vibrant cooperative gallery, opened at Five Points and is doing well in its first eight months.
I have chosen a number of smaller venues to feature this year; they work month after month to give good, local artists a place to show their work. They need our support, which means go and look; it is free.

--  “Gordon Parks,” Center for Documentary Studies. The center trains documentary photographers and gives them a platform. The exhibition space is small but open to all.  This show included blow-ups of a 1956 “Life” magazine photo essay by Parks, its first full-time African-American photographer. The story is about the Thorntons, an African American family who achieved the American dream despite racism. The show was important because new generations need to see what that looks like.
-- “Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey,” Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.  Kenyan born and Brooklyn based, the artist incorporates drawing, sculpture, collage, installation and video to fill her surfaces with the primordial woman, who is at once beautiful, erotic, mysterious and powerful. Organized by the Nasher, this beautiful exhibition captured the attention of the New York art scene and the national news media.
-- “Vaudeville: Daniel Herrara,” Through This Lens Gallery. Sci-fi enthusiasts love Herrara’s world in its Victorian settings. He combines digital imaging, gum bichromate printing and layers of hand applied gum emulsion on watercolor paper and each image is unique. Herrara said his major collectors are “nuts like me who are addicted to science fiction.”
-- “Rubbish 2 Runways,” Frank Gallery, Chapel Hill. The jurors were looking for innovation and craftsmanship in the winning garment, which had to be wearable for several hours and could not be made of fabric; materials to be used could be bottle caps, plastic food bags, twist ties, film strips, things like that. The final show was masterful with couture at its core.
-- “African American Close-Ups: Prints, Photographs and Works on Paper from North Carolina Collections.” Online, Nasher Museum of Art website. A college introductory class mounted an online exhibition of 38 art objects which belong to area museums. This first time was modest, but a good beginning. The technology is available for elaborate shows, if the permissions to use the images can be obtained. And that will ultimately happen. Will online shows replace museum or gallery exhibitions? No, but they will open doors for those who cannot go and beckon those who can.
-- “Currents: Photographs from the Collection of Allen Thomas, Jr.,” CAM, Raleigh.  The best of several photography shows this year; all the photographs have been loaned by Allen Thomas. Most of the work has been created with every technological tool available; a few are old-fashioned straight photography. I looked carefully and found it impossible to say one is superior to the other. 
-- “A Shot at the Big Time or Happiness is A Warm Glock: New Paintings by Cat Manolis,” Room 100, Golden Belt. It is a small venue -- just one room -- but artists can have their say and Manolis has some strong opinions about guns. Using a realistic, almost cartoonish style, she cleverly confronts a very serious subject.  
-- “Pedro Lasch, Susan Harbage Page, Yinka Shonibare,” Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Globalization is told with maps, photographs and headless sculptures. Lasch and Page picture the Latino immigration. Shonibare goes back into the 19th century and uses sculpture to portray the carving up of Africa by the European nations. Lesson: whether by war, colonialism or immigration, cultures merge and isolationism is a thing of the past.
-- “Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Mail Art,” Scrap Exchange. The Scrap Exchange has a small gallery space nestled in its huge warehouse full of cast-off stuff people recycle into extraordinary things. Mail art is art as a wonderful pastime and invites fantasy attached to the distance traveled, the method of delivery and the people who handled it. The handmade objects were hung on a clothesline for display.
-- “Titus Brooks Heagins: Witness, A Retrospective,” N.C. Central University.
Heagins is a Durham photographer. His portraits are up close and personal. We see the familiar, the unfamiliar and ourselves in each one.  

Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at blueg@bellsouth.net or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.