Blue Greenberg: At Carrack, a smorgasbord of art

May. 09, 2013 @ 02:21 PM

“Tiny: attention, exploded,” Carrack Modern Art Gallery, 111 W. Parrish St., Durham, through May 11.

In an upstairs gallery on Parrish Street a revolution of sorts is taking place. Artists are invited to organize and display their work or put together a show of other artists; no fees involved, no commission taken. Laura Ritchie is the gallery director and with small donations from art aficionados has paid the rent for two years. At this writing there is no jurying process, so the artists stand in line for their turn. One stipulation: turn around time is two weeks then the next exhibit goes up. Along the way there are musical evenings, lectures, poetry readings; it is a smorgasbord of art.
If you are reading this in the morning, there will be just two days to get to the show, but it is worth the effort. According to Chris Vitiello, the “Tiny’s” curator, he has always been fascinated by little things and details and has been thinking of organizing such a show for some time. Vitiello writes, teaches and does short-term residences as he moves around the Triangle meeting and searching out new artists. In putting this together, which he told me was the first time he had ever tried to curate an exhibition, he found three artists who lived on his same street.
The space is a bare upstairs in one of downtown’s older buildings. The floors and walls are immaculate; ambience is spare; the art is really good. The theme encompasses the miniature, the very small, and the microscopic and extreme detail. The 90 objects by about 50 artists contain installations like Cici Stevens’ “On Closer Inspection” where small shells, watch parts and pins are arranged on one side of a window frame and other things are laid into chinks in the wall. There is also Torry Bend’s stage she prepares for her puppets and wears on her head. We see it here set onto a dress form. The little theater is small and the attention to detail is mind boggling.
As I moved around the room, I realized I had to stop and look carefully or I would miss the most important parts. Tiny objects demand the viewer’s engagement or the meaning is lost.
Revere La Noue offers four handmade snow globes, each with a vignette based on Lucy Daniels’ book “In So Many Words,” which explores Daniels’ battle with and ultimate victory over anorexia nervosa. Again, understanding comes only after you stop and look carefully. There are also Brett Baker’s tiny abstract linear paintings, built stroke by stroke into a thick juicy surface and Bonnie Melton’s small paintings filled with luminous brush strokes. When you give M J Sharp’s photograph your attention you realize you are looking at a hazy long exposure of an apple core.
Jessica Berkowitz offers two small room sets with photographs to match. They seem quite straight forward until you look closely; then they become dark. “The Massacre,” is an informal dining room where birds are ravaging the food, the furniture, drapes and carpets. The other is a classic drawing room interior and beautiful butterflies have taken over. Will they become predators like the birds?
Two small sculptures share a pedestal. One is George Jenne’s thumb, “Clean Cut,” an exact replica of a man’s thumb, painted on a type of polymer; the other, a pyramid covered in chart paper is Heather Gordon’s “Anuit Coeptis: our undertakings have been favored.” The two have been paired by chance which brings to mind the dada (an early 20th century art form that preceded surrealism) mantra, quoted from the 1869 songs of Comte de Lautreamont, “Chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.”
Rounding out the show is a couple of egg crates filled with special objects first- through third-graders prepared for the show. Vitiello’s daughter attends Durham’s George Watts Montessori magnet school and with the teacher’s permission came to the class with some empty egg cartons and asked the children what they liked to collect; then he asked them to imagine the cartons were a tiny museum and each segment was a room in the museum. Then he invited them to fill it with their prized possessions. The children understood the concept and brought favorite things to place in the make-believe museum. One special offering was a bent up dog tag, a memento from a favorite dog that had died.
The exhibition includes a microscope positioned over a line drawing, and in order to appreciate the detail, the viewer must stoop down and look through the scope; most objects invite touch and some only work when the viewer interacts with them.
Vitiello told me about the genesis of Carrack. First of all, the name comes from a 15th century sailing vessel which had a new design that enhanced speed. The name and the gallery were the ideas of John Wendelbo, an art metal worker who came to Durham with the idea of forging a giant outdoor sculpture for the city. When he could not convince the city fathers this was a good idea, he decided to start a democratic art gallery. He found a space and set it up as a joint community-art space. Ritchie soon signed on and the two were making it work when Wendelbo got a job out west and left town. Ritchie was committed and with a good deal of community support from both artists and non-artists, the gallery is beginning its third year. Vitiello said the openings are phenomenal with 200 to 300 people in attendance.
This is art on a shoestring but deadly serious. This is not back-of-the-hand art; this is art with a purpose, an idea and a message. The support the artists want from us is to go to the space and look at the art. It is the least we can do.
Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.