Greenberg: Exhibit reflects 'new broom' at Art Guild

Mar. 07, 2013 @ 05:51 PM

“Transitions:  movement, passage, change,”  Durham Art Guild, 120 Morris St., Durham Arts Council building, through March 22. Gallery hours are Monday- Saturday 9 a.m. to – 9 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. For information, call 919-560-2713 or visit www.durhamartguild.org.

A new broom is sweeping through the Durham Art Guild.  Two young art professionals, Katie Seiz and Laura Ritchie, have assumed the title of co-coordinators of the Guild’s programs and, if enthusiasm and dedication are reliable indicators, the future bodes well for this distinguished arts institution.  

Seiz and Ritchie met with me in the gallery surrounded by their second show of 2013 and their first theme show.  The two women are friends, and after working for several months sharing the responsibilities of the gallery director, they proposed to the Guild Board that the job be split into three segments -- membership services,  programming the spaces at the Durham Arts Council building and Golden Belt’s gallery, and education and outreach. As gallery director, Seiz talked about their ideas for the next year.  Shows will open on Third Fridays to coordinate with downtown Durham’s arts evenings. There will be one show a month, which will include three themed exhibitions with an outside juror, four solo shows, an annual juried show and two annual non-jury member shows, one at Christmas with art priced at saleable prices. Jurors will be chosen through a nomination process.  The bottom line is to create new opportunities for artists to show their work and to entice more artists to join the Guild. 

Ritchie proudly told me about the mentor program she has initiated. Five Guild members have become mentors to five students who are part of Durham’s Student U program. The commitment includes meeting with the student once a week for a full semester, doing art, talking art and seeing art.  (For more information visit studentudurham.org.)

Ritchie has a BFA from UNC Chapel Hill in studio art and art history; and Seiz has a fine arts degree from St. Ambrose in Davenport, Iowa.  Both have experience in public art programs.  They confessed that choosing themes which are neither too broad nor too specific is much harder than they originally thought.   They are still learning, trying on ideas, keeping those that work and discarding those that do not.

“Transitions” is an all-encompassing word, meaning anything from the changes that come with war to old age to young girls and their mothers to butterflies emerging from their cocoons.  It is one of those thematic words that fits well into the Guild’s new program which is all about transition. In their electronic invitation Seiz and Ritchie wrote about transition as shifting time, seasonal change, cultural change and personal growth.   The show, juried by Pam Gutlon of Outsiders Art & Collectibles gallery, includes 44 objects by 31 artists.

As I walked through the gallery, there were a lot of new names and many objects to look at a second time.  The few three-dimensional pieces are prominently placed in the center of the gallery.  One, Lynn Wartski’s “Change” realized in a mixture of metals, deals with nature in transition; a dainty butterfly climbs eagerly from its cocoon into the real world.

Hattie Pink’s cubist women hold their arms up to their faces in defense, but their mouths are open in a deep howl.  The painting with its steel greys and blues tells us these women have not achieved freedom but will be heard.  Pink titles it “Women’s Evolution.”

“Through the Hole in the Bed, (with a push from Salvador and Rene’)” by Fred Stewart is the most complicated take on the show’s theme.  It also is the first-place winner.  We see the painting from a bird’s eye view.  There is a bed ripped apart by the jagged edge of a figure which has escaped; the hole left reveals a blue sky and a small figure floating upside down. The artist acknowledges the influence of two 20th-century surrealists, René Magritte and Salvador Dali.

Mary Brower is the only artist who chose a political subject, something I find surprising in this community of informed artists, academics, scholars and scientists.   In her digital photograph, “Aftermath,” she shows us a wall, disintegrating with peeling paint and broken bricks, and the word WAR painted in large graffiti letters across the top.  With a carefully muted voice she reminds us of the transitions which come with war. 

I am of two minds about group shows.  On one hand, the artist gets limited visibility and, on the other, one sample has no value when trying to show the scope of aesthetic ability.   As for the collectors, they learn nothing about an artist’s range from one object. Solo shows may be harder to come by, but when the artist is awarded that privilege he or she has the opportunity to develop a theme and see it through.  Consistency, developmental abilities and an autographic style are the stuff of real artists and that is what we can assess in a solo show.

As of now, the plan includes several non-juried members’ shows and one large juried competition with a renowned juror.  That may be enough. 

The Durham Art Guild has a long and successful history as an organization operated for artists by artists, but the life’s blood of any organization is new members and this is a priority for Seiz and Ritchie.  At this point in time, the Guild is lucky to have these women at the helm; we look forward to the coming months.

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, P.O. Box 2092, Durham, NC 27702.