It was the spring of last year. The idea was impossible: Find a young energetic curator to help identify 100 American contemporary artists whose art is exceptional, but have no national recognition; borrow their work and mount a one-of-a-kind exhibition that draws from every region of the United States. The show will open at Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas, on Sept. 14. They found their curator, Chad Alligood, a 29-year-old with super art credentials, and by July 9, 2013, he was on the road.
East of Bentonville, in Durham, in October last year, Jeff Whetstone opened his computer and found a message from someone at Crystal Bridges asking if he would be available for a studio visit in the next few days. In a telephone conversation Whetstone and I talked about that visit. “I have lots of studio visits and I had heard about Crystal Bridges so we fixed a date and after thinking about it, I decided to show my weirdest stuff, so I pulled out photographs and a couple of my videos.”
With shiny new MFA degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in hand, nine graduates have mounted their final exhibition. The nine -- Ben Alper, Michael Bramwell, Isabel Cuenca, Minjin Kang, Cody Platt, Meg Stein, Lile Stephens, Antoine Williams and Connie Zamorano -- have each mastered one or more of the techniques of painting, sculpture, print making, photography or video and have chosen to use their medium of choice in innovative and unusual ways. They were putting the finishing touches on their work when I visited the gallery.
There are a lot of people who love Durham and North Carolina, but no group is more enamored of our area than photographers, and the Will Grossman competition has been organized to encourage that love. This year’s theme was “People, Places and Things in North Carolina.” All photographs must be made in the state. Beyond that rule, the artists could interpret those guidelines any way they wanted.
There is an image of Mickey Mouse, with a skeletal body and his gloved hand poised like a gun. There is a Sun-Maid raisin box, labeled “Sun Mad” with the image of the girl on the box changed to a ghastly skeleton. There is a portrait of Cesar Chavez with the Nike swoosh emblazoned on his cap. And there is a sweet 15-year-old dressed in her coming-of-age finery. These are just some of the images by the 44 artists in the exhibition “Estampas de la Raza.”
It is becoming a habit, working the art scene in downtown Durham. This past week I was back at it and Cynthia Aldrich’s exhibition of still lifes in three dimensions started me thinking about the genre and some of its history; it also sent me on a still life search in other galleries. A still life is usually a picture of inanimate objects; they are still. Sometimes a dead animal or cut flowers are included; the animal no longer moves and the cut flowers will quickly die.
Art is not simply paintings or sculpture worked in traditional media or even photographs done in the most complicated digital imaging available; art is all of those things plus beautifully crafted wood boxes that hold landscapes made of layers of paper, pieces of machinery that rotate by sensor, filament that falls in space like controlled fire or a documentary about modern-day Afrikaners who see themselves in post-South Africa apartheid as victims.
The Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh is hosting the 15 winners of the 2013 N.C. Arts Council Artists Fellowships and the work is strong, creative, new and smart.
Department stores and original art are not a usual pairing, but the local Nordstrom sees it differently. Beginning just six months ago, the store created a new space and invited its visual merchandising team to come up with an original use for it. The idea, put forward by Ashley Reynolds, was to create a gallery and invite local artists to show and sell their work in the space.
It caught fire. Everyone loved it, from her teammates, to the store manager to corporate headquarters, and so have the artists, Kelsey Melville and Chieko Murasugi, who were the first two to exhibit. The space is situated on the second floor where customer service used to be; it is a prime location near the restrooms and the elevator.
After a little more than 20 years in business Craven Allen Gallery has organized a group show for its current and former employees. Three -- Kathryn DeMarco, Mark Mooney and Jennifer Purcell -- still work at the gallery. The other seven -- Tony Alderman, Steven Braker, Helen Griffin, Joy Greenwolfe, Linwood Hart, Paul Hrusovsky and Jen Kunz -- have moved on in pursuit of their own art.
For some societies to take one’s picture is to rob that person of the soul. In this “Face-to-Face” juried competition it is not the soul the artists wish to steal, rather it is to reveal some hidden thoughts of the sitter. In fact, in the call there is the suggestion that to look in someone’s eyes can capture a candid moment which may open a window into another person’s world.
Printmaking has never been considered one of art’s major techniques:
After architecture, sculpture and painting, printmaking has traditionally been a second cousin. Robin Holder (b.1952), the subject of the current show at N.C. Central University’s Art Museum, is not only a master printmaker but proves over and over printmaking can hold its own against all the so-called classical techniques.
Her images are dark: The spaces look abandoned except for the straight-on shot of a fully stocked bar neatly arranged with a full assortment of beer, whiskey and snacks. It is the only indication visually that these are viable places temporarily empty of people.
In 1854 Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy sailed into Edo Harbor and demanded that the Japanese open their gates to the West and they did. There are many explanations why the Shoguns opened up trade to this American when they had closed their country to foreign influence for more than 200 years. The history of Japan at this moment in time is beyond the scope of this column, but the results of this incident, especially those that affected Western art, reached halfway around the world and were a key influence in the development of modern art.
Queen Elizabeth I sent a team of ships with soldiers, botanists, mathematicians, artists and historians to stake Britain’s claim into what was being called the New World. “A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia” by Thomas Harriot with engravings by Theodor de Bry of John White’s watercolors was published in 1590. It was a result of a 1588 expedition and the first book about North America written by someone who had been there.
The Jazz Age calls up visions of “Gatsby,” women in short skirts, bobbed hair and smoking in public; Prohibition and gangsters; deep rooted discrimination; and music with a syncopated beat played by black musicians for white and black audiences. Archibald Motley Jr. (1891-1981), a mixed-race artist, New Orleans born and Chicago bred, recorded this era in acidic, neon colors of violets, teals and seaweed greens, and the current exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art is jumping with his busy, crowded canvases.
It seems there are endless variations for the artist who wants to pursue the color white as the overall theme in a series of paintings. For some years Don Mertz has worked through this challenge and presents some of them in his current show, sponsored by the Durham Art Guild. Because of the London-Heyden exhibition in the main gallery, the Guild has traded spaces with the Durham Arts Council and Mertz’ show is in the upstairs gallery, making the lobby to the theater quite splendid.