The 11 best Triangle art exhibits of 2012

Dec. 27, 2012 @ 03:00 PM

Several years ago I began my Blue Award to the person in our area that has done the most for art during the year. This year it goes to Gov. Beverly Perdue. On her way out of office she saw to it that the Polk property, adjoining the N.C. Museum of Art, was transferred from the Department of Cultural Resources to the museum’s foundation. In this way, the foundation will be in charge of developing the property, holding land leases on all the development into perpetuity, with all funds going for the support of the N.C. Museum of Art.
But she was not done. Art, as we know, comes in many forms and city parks are one. On that same day Perdue leased the Dix Hill property to the City of Raleigh to be used as a park. She and the Council of State decided the opportunity to have open land in a thriving city only comes once in a millennium, and they embraced it. These are gifts for all the people of North Carolina; thank you, Gov. Perdue.
As I looked over the year it is clear we are not the “boondocks.” We are a rich cultural neighborhood. Because we have strong university museums, a Contemporary Art Museum and a first-class state museum of art, we attract artists and galleries. The combination makes us a strong and powerful art community.
Latino and outsider artists are two groups who have found their way into our museums and galleries. The Triangle has a large population of Latinos and we are finally becoming aware of the rich culture they have brought to our shores. Raphael A. Osuba of the Artist Studio Project has organized North Carolina Latino artists into a traveling group which crisscrossed our state in 2012 and exhibited at Latino Community Credit Union offices; the same organization, with the help of director Kenneth Rodgers of the N.C. Central University Art Museum, mounted an expanded exhibition at the school’s museum last spring.
As for outsiders, they have been around a long time and their work has been treated seriously by the traditional art community for many years. The Triangle has two resident experts in outsider art: Pamela Gutlon, director of Durham’s Outsiders Art & Collectibles gallery, and Roger Manley, director of N.C. State’s Gregg Museum. Besides regular shows at the Outsiders gallery, there were two big museum exhibitions this year. At the Ackland there was a solo show by outsider artist Thornton Dial, and at the Gregg, Renee Stout, Kevin Sampson, and Odinga Tyehimba were in a three-person show. Outsiders are self-taught artists and rely on love of God and country plus spirits, myths and personal gods for their on-going themes.
And now here is my list of the year’s best exhibitions. The choices were difficult because the field was so fine. I could not get the number down to 10 and so in 2012 it is the “11 Best.” They are listed in the order they opened.

-- “Born Digital,” Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh. Technologically engineered museum art is at the center of this show. Whether we like it or not the digital age is here and traditional art will never be the same.
-- “Calder,” Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Alexander Calder invented the mobile, carefully balanced objects that move when the air stirs. This is joyous and fun art. We need more like it.
-- “El Anatsui,” N.C. Museum of Art. El Anatsui’s art combines everyday throw-aways with the patterns of traditional kente cloth. He gathers the tops from locally produced liquor bottles, then crimps, folds, crushes, strips and squeezes them into elements he stitches and connects together. These huge metallic compositions hang like fiber tapestries and are unbelievably beautiful.
-- “When Janey Comes Marching Home: Portraits of Women Combat Veterans, by photographer Sascha Pflaegling and author Laura Browder,” Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. These portraits show us the dignity of proud women, both officers and enlisted, who live a life of conflict as mothers and soldiers. They are real heroes.
-- “Douglas Prince: 40 Years of Images and Imagination,” Through This Lens Gallery, Durham. The artist, a surrealist descendant, uses digital photography and the computer to capture images realized by such techniques as blurring, double exposures or solarization. The results would have delighted his early 20th century ancestors.
-- “Laurie Wohle: Tapestries,” First Presbyterian Church, Durham. Wohle pulls her surfaces apart thread by thread and then adds decorations; the process produces magnificent sacred wall hangings. First Presbyterian brought this nationally known fiber artist into our midst; it was a real treat.
-- “Legacy of Thrift,” Scrap Exchange, Durham. In a small space tucked away at the Scrap Exchange, a destination for every crafts person in the area, the exhibition was a love letter to Leola and Raymond Glover from their children. The Glovers were poor and grew up in the Depression. They saved everything from nails, to thread-bare clothes, to flash cubes to glittery things to be used again in some utilitarian or artistic way. Their children gathered the things they had from their parents and put them together to show us how recycling can be a way of life.
-- “A Season of Japan,” Ackland Art Museum, UNC Chapel Hill. This fall the Ackland celebrates Japanese art; the inaugural exhibition brought together post-World War II posters, restored traditional scrolls and screens from the museum’s permanent collection and pottery. The Japanese have a long tradition of art, especially wood block prints, and with the latest advances in print technology the posters represent originality and artistic excellence.
-- “Girl Talk: Women and Text,” Contemporary Art Museum, Raleigh. Words by women made it big time in the 1970s; the women artists railed about injustices against women in the art world, the world of advertising and Wall Street. Their contemporary descendants use words as works of art, not as political statements. It is the age of information installed in a gallery space.
-- “Still Life Masterpieces: A Visual Feast from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.” N.C. Museum of Art, Raleigh. Closing Jan. 13. Still life paintings have been an accepted genre since the 17th century. They have hidden meanings like death or the prelude to a sexual encounter; artists also use them to show off their expertise at making paint come alive as translucent glass, patterned pottery, or cut flowers. Here, the curators have juxtaposed traditional paintings with 20th century ones and even included a video of a still life decomposing before our eyes.
-- “Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore.” Nasher Museum of Art, Durham. Closing Feb. 10. Great paintings by Matisse and Picasso are within a short ride. The art, however, is only one part of the story; the other focuses on the American collectors Etta and Claribel Cone. They dressed like strait-laced proper Victorians, but lived unconventional lives. They collected luscious nudes and French avant-garde art and socialized with gay and straight intelligentsia. Their wealth came from their brothers who founded Cone Mills in Greensboro. Most of the collection went to the Baltimore Museum of Art, but Etta gave a number of Matisse sculptures and original prints to UNC Greensboro’s Weatherspoon Art Gallery, which was brand new at the time.
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.