DAG celebrates 59 years of great art

Oct. 24, 2013 @ 01:28 PM

“59th Annual Juried Exhibition,” Durham Art Guild, Durham Arts Council building, 120 Morris St., through Nov. 9.

Fifty-nine years is significant. When an institution like an art show, which at best is ephemeral, can claim so many years of continuous operation, it needs to be rewarded.  Our attendance is one way. Seeing the work, bringing friends, returning and perhaps buying something is what these shows are all about. 
The Durham Art Guild owes its longevity to the fact that this is an art organization run by artists for artists. Local artists fought for recognition 59 years ago; most had day jobs to support their art making and women artists, in particular, were labeled dilettantes or dabblers. While much has changed, especially the acknowledgement that women equal men in professionalism, it is still hard to make a living as an artist. Once, however, it gets into the blood, artists make art because they have to. It is that dedication to their dreams which demands our admiration. 
These exhibitions could not have continued without the commitment of the
coordinators who work for very little money to keep the galleries open, exhibitions organized, and juried shows built into first-class events. This year Katie Seiz and Laura Ritchie share the responsibilities; Seiz runs the gallery and Ritchie coordinates outreach and education programs; they are good at what they do. 
A well-known juror brings in the entries and over the years there has been a long list of important ones. This year it is Edie Carpenter, director of curatorial and artists programs at Greenhill in Greensboro. Her resumé includes teaching at the University of Lyon, France, and curatorial positions for the Paris branch of the Zabriskie Gallery and the North Carolina Arts Council.
Jurying has also changed from an exhausting weekend of looking at several hundred objects to studying them through an Internet program which offers reproductions of the objects, submitted by the artists. Seiz told me that part of the process is pretty standard; the artists enter their works of art on the site, pay the entry fee, send all the appropriate written work and hit click. When the entry process is completed, the juror opens the site and scrolls through the work at her own time, choosing the ones for the show. Seiz said Carpenter will come to Durham on Nov. 6 and, after seeing the objects close and upfront, will pick the winners. Seiz felt the art actually looks better in the flesh than on the web and did not believe the show suffered in any way from being chosen through flat screen reproductions.
As you enter the Arts Council Building the show is directly ahead of you and looks great through the glass panels.  Dominating the gallery is a large painting at the back which uses the American flag as its background. Saba Barnard titled it “Maesta,” an Italian word which designates an iconic formula of the enthroned Madonna with the baby Jesus, either accompanied or not with angels and saints. Here a dark-eyed Mary holds the infant in her arms with two older children in attendance; jeweled haloes cover the heads of each figure. Among many meanings, it certainly speaks to the diversity of America and especially Durham in the 21st century.
Portraits are everywhere and Seiz remarked on the juror’s preference for realism in general and portraiture in particular. Portraiture is traditional art; the artist has to be able to draw. It is a pleasure to see so many examples of fine drawing. The portraits are proof art is alive and well. When you visit, walk around matching portraits with each other and to your own tastes; it is a fun way to engage with the art in such a diverse field.
Some of the portraits I found particularly arresting are Karol Tucker’s “Nile Boatman,” a youngish man whose head is swathed in a white cloth; Edie Cohn’s “The Gentle Man from Baltimore” and the “Man at the Temple,” painted in subdued reds, pinks and blues;  and Judy Smith’s “Isabel,” a woman, like many we know, who looks you straight in the eye with a fresh and open  expression. Amanda Dicken’s portraits, “90s Glasses” and “Me and Grandma” require a long look. There is something just a little off in each of the paintings. Are the children intellectually challenged or is it the light and shadows? It is something to think about.
This is a good show with a lot of talent, and Seiz said there are a number of new people in the exhibit. In the end Carpenter chose 59 artists from 150, with 96 individual objects.  Sculpture is in the minority, but a few deserve mention. There are Emily Lees’ stoneware “Black Bottle,” a take on the old-fashioned medicine bottle, decorated with a wide white band marked by a few delicate lines and a large red circle, and Teddy Devereux’s “Tissue Box,” with its glass tissue waving from a silver box.
Look for a small pair of digital photographs by Nureena Faruqi. They offer us a quiet but powerful message about poverty. In “Living Room 1” we see a sad, empty room with peeling paint, broken windows covered with newspaper, an unmade bed and a TV set. In “Living Room 2” we are looking at a close-up of the same room but now an old woman and a young man share the bed watching television. There is no need for text.
Other images for your attention are Karin Neuwirth’s “On the Mountain,” a painting of fall foliage, Harriet Bellows’ minimalist paintings, especially “Structure Factor,” with its flat forms of yellow, white and small rectangles of black at the outer edges; and Julie MacDonald’s “Clothesline Compendium.”  MacDonald has hung 25 small abstracts on clothes lines and offers them for sale individually. Mary Kirchner is the only fabric artist in the show. “Immersion” is a medley of blue and gold punctuated with an intricate design of fiber twined into thick strands. Sadly there are no videos. The awards and juror lecture is Nov. 6.

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.