This is the time of year to trot out our rituals. We have to eat a turkey on this certain November Thursday and go shopping before sunrise the day after. Maybe we automatically put a spangled tree or a menorah in our houses. Too many of us try to get to the bottom of a bottle in order to flip the calendar over to next year. But what if we could make a thought or feeling ritual instead of just a series of actions? A seminar class of undergraduate art majors at UNC-Chapel Hill did just that on Monday with “A Taste of Empathy,” a one-evening culinary installation in the Graham Memorial Lounge. The class, taught by elin o’Hara slavick and teaching assistant (and INDY contributor) Amy White, applied some creative groupthink to some big art questions: What is it exactly that we have to express? And what's the best way to express it?
Students made 10 different cakes, each representing a social issue that they were concerned about such as poverty, racism and domestic violence. Then they held a semi-formal tasting in the elegant campus sitting room complete with a pianist and twin glowing hearths. Held aside, the poverty cake would be delivered to a local shelter after the event.
I wonder if Beverly McIver ever feels like she's chasing herself. Or perhaps passing herself in the airspace between North Carolina and New York. Her new paintings, currently on view in New York Stories at Durham's Craven Allen Gallery, were painted during a residency in New York last year. But it wasn't your run-of-the-mill residency. It was a duplicate of her residency during 2004 that was interrupted by her mother's death—the exact same apartment and studio she left to return to North Carolina to care for her mentally disabled sister Renee.
In a way, last year's time in New York was a way to finish what McIver started before all that sorrow and tumult. Her self-portraits in this show open a widening emotional range, revealing parts of herself that have been guarded in previous work.
Hurricane Sandy also hit the New York area during McIver’s residency. The devastating storm doesn’t directly appear in the paintings, but it seems to have provided a clarifying backdrop for the artist as a survivor of huge forces beyond her control.
RALEIGH—This sentence has been severely mediated. Typed on a word processor, it was converted from human thought to digital data, then encoded in an email to an editor and now you’re reading it as light from a screen.
A hundred years ago this sentence would have been Linotype. A hundred years before that, letterpress. Technological changeovers may not be immediately evident in this sentence, which could have just as easily been hand-set verbatim in lead type, but then it wouldn’t be the same sentence, would it? Messages don’t mean independently from their media.
Michael Itkoff, in CtrlAltDel through Sept. 30 at Flanders Gallery, mulls the gap between medium and message in the digital age, when media are in constant changeover. With appropriated photography and imagery, and video capture that brings the images of visitors into the work, the accomplished photographer and cofounder of Daylight Books and Daylight Digital in Hillsborough reaches back toward 1960s conceptualism in the exhibit.
The Triangle is a liberal stronghold within a North Carolina that’s not. That dynamic has long activated citizens and artists here during the Civil Rights era and the Helms years. The ongoing Moral Mondays response to the current rogue, throwback legislature registers on that historical scale.
Two shows in downtown Durham galleries—the group show Speak Truth to Power: Communicating Messages of Social Justice through Visual Art at Pleiades (through Sept. 15) and Amanda Hakanson-Stacy's WRK, Inc. at the Carrack (through Sept. 7)—pick up on the moment to make broad political and social statements with mixed results. These exhibits speak as much to the difficulty of imbuing political artwork with more subtlety or substance than a politician’s speech as they do to the high stakes of the issues in play for North Carolinians.
WRK, Inc. is a solo show at the Carrack Modern Art Gallery by Carrboro-based artist Amanda Hakanson-Stacy about both literal and psychological labor inequities. Although the show lacks a singular message, a few individual works break through their hasty execution to express clear truths about workers and wages in the state with the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation.
You begin the show by filling out a timecard and clocking in. If this seems a gimmick, then you’ve never had to punch a timecard before. The harsh mechanical report, followed by the slightest vibrating metallic whine, elicited a physical memory of a telemarketing job I had in college—the only job I’ve been fired from, actually. It’s a great choice with which to open the show.
In many of her works, Hakanson-Stacy uses office supplies as her media, which comes off as a bit literal even if the timeclock doesn’t. In two series of color printouts, white-out obliterates the faces and hands of workers on the job and of people in scenes of a horrific building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh in April. The erasure is poignant in the second series, honoring the 1,129 victims, most of whom were garment workers forced to return to the building to work the day after inspectors issued public warnings after finding huge cracks in the structure.
“Worker Skins” is comparable to the white-out works, but it’s the best piece in the show. Hakanson-Stacy cut coveralls into hand-sized human outlines and dragged them through cement. Then she pinned them to the wall in a tight cluster. The more heavily caked ones clump and curl, contorted, expressing the physical toll of manual labor. The others give the feeling of staring back at you with a posture of exhausted witness. The overall shape of their cluster is ambiguous—it could be the continental United States or it could be nothing intentional at all.
For the piece “One Minute,” Hakanson-Stacy cites Bureau of Labor statistics to compare a minute’s earnings, represented in pennies, for the average CEO ($116.66) to those of a minimum-wage worker (12 cents). The CEO’s pennies overflow a large glass bowl to scatter on the floor around its pedestal. The minimum-wage worker’s pennies are barely visible at the bottom of the kind of glass ramekin that servers bring your ranch dressing in.
Instead, a poorly executed video work entitled "Success" dominates the show, taking the front half of the gallery and suffering almost total illegibility from sunlight during the daylight hours. You can’t escape the audio drone of William Penn Patrick—a John Birch Californian who ran for Governor against Ronald Reagan (and lost for being further to the right of the Gipper)—reading his essay "Happiness and Success through Principle." The monologue is perforated occasionally by the pop of a balloon, which is shown onscreen. Hakanson-Stacy very effectively conveys the boom-and-bust economic reality beneath Patrick’s theocratic rhetoric with “Success” but, at almost 30 minutes, the audio loop is too long and a television would have been a better choice than a large video projection screen. One could easily assume that the video was turned off, it’s so washed out by the sun.
More disappointing was "Dreams," an audio piece that you listen to with headphones while staring at red threads pinned to a wall that a fan blows upon. The recording sounds as if it was made in the same bar all on the same night. A succession of young, white-sounding twenty-something voices basically state that, if they could do anything, it would be to travel, drink, and eat, in that order. Unselfish aspirations rarely appear. These narrators fall heavily on the lazy, “I don’t wanna work” end of the labor struggle, and the recording is embarrassing for the unnamed people who lent it their voices.
Frankly, “Dreams” pissed me off. It’s tantamount to middle-class whining, turning an overeducated, underemployed and disenfranchised generation into slackers complaining that their entitlements aren’t being recognized. Meanwhile you can hear the bartenders and dishwashers clinking craft beer glasses in the background, earning their wages. This piece takes a tipsy swing at class struggle.
If this critique is harsh then it’s because Hakanson-Stacy is obviously sincere and passionate about the issues she’s concerned with in this show, namely that a corporate ideology has been so driven into us—governmentally, societally and personally—that we can hardly get outside of it enough to think and talk about it. Her expression embodies that position at the expense of her sincerity and passion at times.
Appropriately enough, I sandwiched a “no U.S. military in Syria” protest at Five Points between visits to the Carrack and to Pleiades Gallery to see Speak Truth to Power: Communicating Messages of Social Justice through Visual Art. Pleiades, more or less a commercial gallery, is stretching itself with this juried group show of 44 works by 39 North Carolina-based artists.
The current state legislature, which is taking advantage of a Republican swing in 2012 to cram every oppressive policy they can think of into the law books, provoked Speak Truth to Power. State Senator and former Durham City Councilman Mike Woodard (D-District 22: Caswell, Durham, and Person Counties) served as guest juror. Like the Moral Mondays protests that soon will register their 1000th civil disobedience arrest, the exhibition expresses outrage, defiance, frustration, gloom and hope all at the same time.
Erring on the side of inclusion, the show is also as crowded as the protests—but not to its benefit. Along one wall, framed pieces are literally an inch apart. The handful of abstract works particularly suffer, disappearing among the more direct, figurative work that competes for your engagement. Take a third of the pieces out of this show and it’s twice better.
Another curatorial improvement could have been to organize the show into several themed areas, but the range of issues dealt with makes that pretty difficult. My rough stab would be: a section for Moral Mondays and other protests; a section about economic inequity; a section about violence; and a section about race. But there would still be straggler issues.
Corletto bent coat hanger wire into the shape of the female reproductive system suggesting, with her choice of materials, the abortion option that legislators have left women now. What looks like an empty, scroll-like trash bag or intravenous drip bag hangs from the hook at the bottom of the uterus. The full text of the law is reproduced on the bag, beneath the mattress-tag text "Under penalty of law this tag not to be removed except by the consumer."
In combining the commercial warning with the legal document, Corletto suggests (as she does with the choice of the coat hanger) that abortions will now be performed on home mattresses instead of in clinics, and bitterly points at the rhetorical profit the Governor and his legislators are making at the expense of women needing the most sensitive care. By presenting that text in the context of a medical service, Corletto implicates the legislators as the ostensible doctors they’re pretending not to be.
Corletto’s is a brutally honest, provocative work. Every part of the sculpture is considered, and works together as a whole. You can’t look at this piece without viscerally feeling it. I can only guess at the overwhelming reaction women must have to it.
Virginia Tyler's "Ten Hours of Work for Abena Duffee" is comparably direct. Beneath a photograph of Duffee, a 14-year-old Ghanaian girl who breaks granite into gravel for her living, a pile of the gravel sits on the floor with a hand sledgehammer and a rusted basin. Tyler informs us that Duffee was required to produce four basins of gravel daily, totaling 480 pounds of material. She's 21 now so, older and stronger, her quota has risen to 800 pounds per 10-hour day.
Libby Lynn's 9-panel oil painting "Recession Porn (Death of the Mom and Pop Shop)" would have been good to pair with Lee’s image. Lynn presents a desolate grid of numbered surveillance camera frames of an empty parking lot and a hallway of closed sex-shop viewing booth doors. Lynn’s been working so much with encaustic these past few years that it’s easy to forget her straightforward talent as a painter.
Several works in the show use images of flags. Saba Barnard's painting "WTF NC" ghosts the Confederate flag behind the North Carolina state flag, with the textured letters “WTF” overtop. It’s more successful than her "Filthy," a take on George Washington's image on the one-dollar bill with collaged magazine cutout words and Trayvon Martin’s face peeking thru. (Originally I thought this face was a reference to Washington's slave ownership, but Barnard corrected me.) Both paintings lack the subtlety and flatness of Corletto and Tyler. However it’s interesting to see work of Barnard’s other than her wonderful and expectation-defying portraits of Muslim women.
Calvin Brett's "My America" is a crudely painted flag cobbled together from wood scraps into a wall panel. Its construction is a terrific mess, at odds with itself, falling apart. The drywall screws that hold it together read as gunshots. It’s a ramshackle image, using what's at hand in a time of depleted resources.
There are always lots of flags at protests, which two photographic images capture. Tim McGloin's journalistic shot at an antiwar march on Washington shows a huge flag blanket laid out, with the crowd densely packed around its perimeter, not wanting to step upon it. A peace sign is painted on the flag and a single man stands on its star-spangled field, pointing and wearing a full skull helmet over his head. McGloin catches some of the incoherence of a large-scale protest—and of this exhibition—in one image.
Eric Raddatz’s simultaneous exposure photograph “Moral Monday (July 8, 2013)” is an impressionistic take on a vista of the crowd beneath a U.S. flag. But the image is too blurred to have a dynamic quality, giving the crowd as much a feeling of lockstep as of community. It’s equal parts unnerving and inspiring. Raddatz is neither critiquing nor describing; he’s insubstantially marveling at the turnout.
I like the clarity and simplicity of Ernest Oliphant’s "Young Skateboarders of Durham," which looks like a framed photocopy with a ballpoint signature. An outlined boarder hangs in the air in front of a fingerprint-gnarled field of text, ranging from complaint to inspiration. The skateboarder would have gone nicely next to a work that it faces across an aisle: Jean LeCluyse’s "Mugshot Icon: Hoodie Halo." A young black man—impossible not to read as Trayvon Martin—stares from beneath his hood, expressionless. But the intensely textured surface of the painting implies the sheer social noise that mediates his image. A single puzzle piece hovers over his shoulder, a cipher.
Many individual works here are powerful but, lacking in curation, Speak Truth to Power resolves to a restless liberal din. Several participating artists step forward from that din to give a voice to their works at a talk on Thursday, Sept. 5 from 6-8 p.m.
Speaking truth to power brings nobility to righteousness, but power doesn’t listen except to register a vague threat. And power is artless—witness the North Carolina House members dancing on the legislative floor right before passing their abortion ban and rolling back voter rights to the Pleistocene Era.
Art and self-expression, however, can be means toward positive ends on election days (the ultimate speech one can deliver to power), inspiring the likeminded and jaded to fundraise, get out votes or even run for office. Both of these exhibits have their faults but, especially seen together, they will likely make you feel like doing something for the greater good when you walk out of them.
The “interim” tag is gone. Sarah Schroth is now officially in place as the director of Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art.
After a committee comprising academic heavyweights and museum board members conducted an international search throughout the spring, the decision was made to promote from within.
“I’m actually happy that they did an international search because it makes everybody feel like the right decision was made,” Schroth said.
An expert in 17th-century Spanish art, Schroth is also a knight-commander in the Order of Isabel la Católica. King Juan Carlos I of Spain bestowed that honor upon her after she organized the award-winning 2008 exhibition, El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
She takes over an institution with a lot of forward momentum at the moment. Through exhibitions such as The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl (2010-2011) and the current Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey, the Nasher has established a reputation as one of the premiere venues for contemporary art in the Southeast.
Duke University, meanwhile, has made a cross-disciplinary commitment to the humanities in recent years, even establishing its first MFA program two years ago in Experimental Documentary Arts. As a teaching institution, the Nasher has become one of the campus’ biggest classrooms.
Schroth understands the moment and sees opportunities to build upon the resonance between the Nasher’s national reputation and Duke’s academic transformation.
“I would like the Nasher to be even more concretely integrated into the undergraduate humanities education here at Duke,” she explains. “It’s one of my missions to think about serving the undergraduates the best way we can and contributing to Duke’s commitment to cross-discipline collaboration, which is what makes Duke so special.”
“The whole transformation through the arts here at Duke is very exciting and the Nasher has to be a keystone in that, and we will.”
One facet of that transformation will be a focus on photography in the Nasher’s future. Schroth points to the 2009 exhibition Beyond Beauty, which drew upon photography and film in the Duke Special Collections Library, as the beginning of an initiative at the museum. Gathering photographs from some of North Carolina’s most prominent collectors, this year’s Light Sensitive exhibition, which Schroth co-curated with art history and visual studies professor Patricia Leighten, expanded that initiative.
“There’s room for the Nasher to participate in the overall Duke story of collecting and exhibiting photography,” Schroth says. “We have the Center for Documentary Studies doing it and we have the library doing it. So, you know, what can the Nasher do?”
“I think Light Sensitive was a good answer to ‘What can the Nasher do?’—bring in some really exciting non-documentary work and give it a good curatorial infrastructure.”
That attention to infrastructure will help Schroth in selecting her curatorial successor, her next task as director.
Vollis Simpson, internationally known visionary artist and master of the whirligig, died in his sleep at his home in Lucama, N.C. on Friday night. He was 94.
Simpson’s monumental windmill sculptures, many more than 40 feet tall, are made from reused machine parts, huge rigs used for moving houses, scrap metal and thousands of tiny reflectors. The North Carolina Museum of Art and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, among others, have Simpson whirligigs on their grounds. Four were installed in Atlanta for the 1996 Olympic Games.
But Simpson rarely left his eastern North Carolina property. Thousands of art lovers and seekers of the weird have made pilgrimages there over the years. It was a jaw-dropping sight. The whirligigs loomed up out of the rural landscape, physically competing with loblolly pines. On windy days one had to shout over the din of gigantic wheels spinning. At night, when one’s headlights caught the reflectors, his field transformed into something resembling Coney Island.
Mitch O'Connell's colorful, crazed pop-art illustrations have appeared everywhere from the cover of Newsweek (four times) to a recent full-page story in The Wall Street Journal, but you'll have to forgive him for hoping for a good-sized turnout at his appearance at Nice Price Books in Raleigh on April 27.
"I’ll be in North Carolina meeting my fiancé’s father," says O'Connell, on the phone from his home in Chicago. "My only goal is that hopefully a respectable line is in place to impress him.
"So I impose this responsibility on the people of Raleigh—hopefully it’s a burden they’re willing to shoulder."
O'Connell's on tour to promote Mitch O'Connell: The World's Best Artist, a new hardcover collection from Last Gasp Publishing that offers an extensive retrospective of his pop culture-infused career in art, providing colorful, chaotic pics that draw from decades of American iconography.
"I’m lucky that my grandparents and my parents saved a lot of my stuff, so there were still books available from childhood and adolescence," O'Connell says. "It let us give the book an actual narrative, and hopefully a humorous one."
One change is taking place at the top. Early this week, CAM parted ways with Elysia Borowy-Reeder, the museum's executive director of the last two years. The change has been announced internally but an official announcement is expected soon.
[UPDATE 4:11 p.m.: Here it is.]
Kate Shafer, who has served as gallery and exhibitions manager since the institution’s opening, is now interim director.
“There was a desire on the part of the Contemporary Art Foundation and the advisory board to seek a new direction for the philosophy and the leadership of CAM,” says Marvin Malecha, ex-officio of the museum’s advisory board.
Borowy-Reeder, who is traveling, referred questions to Malecha.
“I think there are some people here who were looking for maybe more of an out-of-the-box thought process relative to how we go forward with CAM, rather than a traditional director’s role as we’d been in," Malecha said.
"We’re looking to take a new turn after two years of finally getting the museum into place after years of aspiration. This is really a chance to go off in a new direction.”
What does “new direction” mean, exactly? The museum’s two governing bodies—the 14-member advisory board and the 16-member Contemporary Art Foundation—will kick around answers during a half-day retreat next week. They’ll also decide what kind of search CAM will make for a new director, or whether they’ll simply reorganize the existing staff.
In other very recent changes, Marjorie Hodges has taken on the role of director of the Contemporary Art Foundation. Her commute won’t change, however—Hodges leaves the Flanders Gallery, directly across West Street from CAM.
Gab Smith also comes on board as director of advancement and membership engagement.
DURHAM—Out of appreciation for the public discomfort of a unique maker of many various things and deft handler of many different materials—the word “artist” embarrasses him—I’m only going to use his name in the headline. He didn’t ask to be the center of attention, but he’s summoning the tolerance.
So why should you go? Because you’ve not seen handiwork like his. Unless, that is, you are one of the lucky folks who’ve hired him over the years to make a stone wall and waterfall in your yard, or to build a radiant wooden sconce for a living room wall, or to craft a fused-glass and poplar-branch entryway for your house.
You just don’t often see an artist who can think and work in so many different media. Truly it’s as if he doesn’t consider media as such. He just looks at a material like stone, leather, glass or wood, intuits its properties, and begins melding them together. He never draws plans, though these are precision works.
If we can’t call him an artist, then an alchemist? An Archimedes?
“Decorative” is a bit of a dirty word in the art world. It’s why we say “interior decorators” instead of something like “décor artists.” In galleries and museums, the word “ornamental” is preferred, describing artwork that incorporates motifs from traditional crafts, fashion or architecture into a larger statement or meaning. If, in the context of your work, you scrutinize an aspect or example of craft, then you’re considering the ornamental. But if the work doesn’t mean beyond its aesthetic fact, it might be dismissed as merely decorative.
The full-body portrait “Juliette the Baptist” is Walker’s best riff on a religious original, copping an aspect of Caravaggio’s beheaded St. John the Baptist. A woman poses jauntily in a slim brown suit against a dim, indeterminate background, grasping what seems to be the severed head of the actress Julianne Moore. Walker applies minimal sculptural collage to render the gore streaming from the neck to the painting’s ground. Something between thick rose petals and a bright red version of bracket fungi is affixed to the panel in bloody bunches.
Tonally, this woman could have stepped right off the pages of Vogue. She conveys feminine independence without overt sexuality, but the head she’s lugging looks just like her. Walker’s pointing out that independence has a habit of eating the independences of others. It’s a lesson that St. John learned the hard way.