In 1910 James E. Shepard founded a liberal arts college for black men (and women) in Durham, and 30 years later the school opened its Art Department, with a major in art. Sound simple? It was extraordinary because across the American black academic world two of the greatest African-American scholars, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) and W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963), were fighting over the soul of education for the country’s young African-Americans who were the first generation born out of slavery.
Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck are giants by any standard and a first impulse may be to sniff at small paintings by them and their contemporaries, but the images in the “Small Treasures” exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Art only prove what a rich place northern Europe was for artists in the 17th century. Yes, they are small and the huge gallery walls seem painfully empty, but as the North Carolina Museum of Art’s curator of Northern European art, Dennis Weller, writes in his first catalog essay, “The closer you are the more you see” and that close look offers one delightful surprise after another, proving why their giant status has only grown over the centuries.
Outside the Joan Miró (1893-1983) exhibition is one of the artist’s sculptures, “La Caresse D’un Oiseau” (“Caress of a Bird”), 1967, on loan from the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas. The wall text tells us the green body is made from an ironing board, the head from a straw hat, the stomach from a tortoise shell and, in the back, two bocce balls sit where the buttocks might be. A bird perches at the top. This cast metal statue began with found objects and recalls, among its artistic ancestors, Picasso. It is a jaunty figure, inviting and whimsical, and promises colorful and fun art.
For the second year in a row, Frank Gallery has invited students and professionals to create clothing that re-purposes discarded materials while thinking about sustainable design. Seventeen Orange County artists have used ingenuity, craftsmanship, talent, artistic ability, creativity and design to create wearable clothes from every imaginable material except cotton, linen or silk cloth. The results are fabulous. Beneath this offering of fashion is the other story -- consumerism and our total disregard for the environment.
“Photography is a problem,” said Peter Nisbet, interim director and curator of the new photography show at the Ackland Art Museum. At the press preview, he talked about the deluge of photographs that will not stop. Everyone takes pictures, he said, and for a museum which has the biggest photography collection in the state, the question remains, is it art and which images are worth preserving? With that said, Nisbet introduced a show filled with 150 photographs chosen from more than 500 that have been collected in the last 10 years.
Sixty years is a long time to keep a volunteer organization going, but the Durham Art Guild has prospered; the artist members ply their trade as professionals and the exhibitions provide a platform rarely found in any community, much less one the size of Durham. This year the show of 89 objects by 67 artists is exceptional; there was more work submitted than last year and the gallery looks better than it ever has. Katie Seiz, executive director of the guild and the person responsible for day-to-day operations, deserves a huge round of applause.
Isabel Chicquor (1943-2011), a highly trained artist, taught studio art for 30 years in N.C. Central University’s art department. This month, the university’s museum is honoring her with an exhibition of her paintings and photographs. The 49 images are part of a recent gift from Chicquor’s family to the NCCU Art Museum. The show includes early drawings in charcoal and pastel; the rest are photographs.
There is some fascinating art at the Nasher Museum of Art, and the conversations between the works span decades and cross continents. The core of the show is 34 works of art by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) on loan from the Rauschenberg Foundation. Those images have been juxtaposed with Russian art created during the 1980s and 1990s, which are part of the Nasher permanent collection. Added to this mix are 24 works from the newly acquired gift of more than 50 objects by San Franciscan Bruce Conner (1933-2008), photographer, videographer, collage artist and longtime friend of Rauschenberg.
The fall season is the busiest time of the year; school begins, the leaves turn and art in all its forms competes for our attention. This year is no exception. The next months will see art exhibitions of the giants from the golden age Dutch and Flemish artists of the 17th century to those of the 20th. And while modern painting was moving off the walls and out of the frame, a mechanical object called the camera was changing everything we thought we knew about the visible world and we’ll see what that looks like.
Themes attached to group shows make it much easier for the visitor to be a part of the process, and trees are a perfect example. We know what a tree should look like, and we can weigh our ideas against those of the artist; there is also the chance to compare one artist’s vision with another’s. And then there are the unending numbers of ways to present a tree through the medium of art.
Found objects: stuff from scrap stores, flea markets, Dumpsters, abandoned houses and yard sales have found their way into art galleries by way of both highly trained artists and those who are self-taught.
This week Craven Allen is showing ceramics and paintings and at the Durham Arts Council are three very different painting shows. Craven Allen’s exhibition space is beautifully arranged with Brad Tucker’s pottery seemingly floating on their glass shelves against the bright greens and yellows of Linwood Hart’s paintings.
Art can be a powerful voice against evil, social injustice and corruption.
Marvin Saltzman (b. 1931) and I have known each other more than 35 years. We never met in the classroom, however; he was teaching studio and I was studying art history. But since I have been writing about art, we have spent many hours discussing the state of art in general and his art in particular.
Two shows as different from each other as found objects are from archival papers ordered from Japan are about to close. At the Scrap Exchange are the small tabletop sculptures by Christopher Kearney. At Light Art + Design are works on paper by Ippy Patterson and Leigh Suggs. Check them out if you can. In any event not only is the art a treat, but each gallery has important business news to report.