It was one of those pretty summer days when the temperature had not soared into the 90s and the downtown Chapel Hill art scene beckoned. I began my visits at the Horace Williams House where Cici Stevens has mounted a show of small found objects. From there I moved uptown to Frank Gallery and a group show of drawings and prints and then across the street to the Ackland Museum Store where they were putting the finishing touches on a pottery exhibit which would open in a couple of hours.
Play ball! It is that moment when the teams have taken their positions on the field, the pitcher winds up and the game begins. It is summertime in Durham and for 72 days the Triple A Bulls will play at home to big crowds, folks who love baseball and all the fun and hoopla organized around it.
The summer of 2014 has also turned into a Durham Bulls museum event. Last year, 10 photographers were commissioned to document the 72-game season. It was the 25th anniversary of the best all-time baseball movie ever, “Bull Durham.”
Hillsborough is less than 30 minutes from Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh and is a destination with a vibrant art scene, good food and a nationally famous auction house; on the fourth Friday of the month, its downtown takes to the streets. Although we have missed May’s excitement, the galleries are open and the exhibitions invite a visit.
Three women artists hone in on the figure at the Eno Gallery.
Molly Cliff-Hilts paints seascapes with small figures enjoying the beach. Alicia Armstrong also paints vast spaces, probably near the ocean, with one or at most two strongly defined figures, who seem involved in fantasy happenings. Tinka Jordy sculpts female figures out of clay; they are substantial forms and fit in with nature rather than stand outside it.
Damian Stamer (b. 1982) is into nostalgia, not just with his images, but the way he paints those images. His canvases are filled with dilapidated barns and sheds buckling under debris. The surfaces are blurry, hazy and sometimes spotted with what seem to be droplets of rainwater. He insists we see things he remembers from his childhood or things that are slowly deteriorating in front of his eyes. And we must see them as he does, in the fog of memory. In the gallery handout, he writes about returning over and over to his past, that there is comfort in familiarity. “Time passes slowly as things fall apart,” he writes, and painting is the only way to describe these places, which he confesses exist more in his mind than on earth.
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.