Editor's note: "Eye of the Beholder" is a new recurring column on the local visual arts scene by Chris Vitiello.
You have to make an appointment to see photographer Tama Hochbaum's Silver Screen at Hillsborough's Daylight Project Space through Aug. 22. It's worth it. Hochbaum shot close-ups of classic movie stars off a television to honor the memory of her mother, with whom she used to get on the phone to watch movies together.
Hochbaum printed the photographs on aluminum so that the images appear almost solarized, drawing in some of the underlying blue of the television screen. Most striking are extreme close-ups of Greta Garbo in the film Camille. Her parted lips, seen in blurred profile, create an ecstatic female form in the negative space of the background. Her eye, shot so close that the gridded glass of the screen looks like a storm window, becomes radial architecture beneath thick lashes and a penciled eyebrow.
Shot from oblique angles with an iPhone, Hochbaum's skewed and blurred images nonetheless have specificity and emotional power. Silver Screen is neither a salute to classic stars nor a meditation upon stardom; it's a personal testament to the connections that people make through shared experiences of movies.
The Durham Art Guild's Earth: Over and Out is a farewell show for both Jan Dickey and Sarah Goetz, who are heading off to graduate school at the University of Hawaii and Ohio State, respectively. It stuffs what's probably a record-setting number of pieces in the SunTrust Gallery, where's it's on view through Aug. 16.
Goetz's installation work will be particularly missed in the Triangle. Plenty of young artists follow the "I'm going to get a whole lot of some material and stick it in a room" impulse, and generally, it looks more like inventory than art. But Goetz transforms her materials, often densely clustering them on an armature so they become a kind of skin. She also pulls you into the spaces between and within her materials by hiding notes throughout her installations.
A white net stretches diagonally across the entire space, festooned with 15,000 white paper price tags. A second net called "the day i wrote love letters to everyone who's ever given me a hug" is honeycombed with clusters of puckered library due-date card envelopes. Goetz has typewritten the letters on library cards slipped here and there into the envelopes.
Amid Goetz's large forms, Dickey's paintings and drawings sparkle like treasures. He shows a similar practice of making many become one, but his fundamental unit is the mark. A pair of Dickey's ink and graphite drawings displays his intense stippling technique. "Mutagenic Space" bursts with stellar shapes; "Mutagenic Form" conveys a fluxing landscape. One cannot count the sheer number of dots in the same way that one cannot count the stars in the sky.
"Picturing Territory," a painting on a canvas surface, sits between the drawings. Dickey uses actual three-dimensional folds of canvas to convey the same kinds of forms that mere ink dots make so legible in the drawings. And the painting's palette of cornflower, ochre and cream is a little distracting next to the ink work. Those precise dots are intensely satisfying to lean close to—smaller than the tip of a hair.
I talked with Emily Weinstein, whose 18-year-old Eno River mural was destroyed by tech company Caktus Group in their renovation of the Penny Furniture building in downtown Durham. She's devastated. This wasn't just another commission for Weinstein; this mural was an essential part of her identity.
Weinstein's current show at the Hugh Mangum Museum of Photography at the West Point on the Eno is called Paintings by the Eno River Muralist. Not "Paintings by Emily Weinstein"—the mural was the artist. She and a dedicated team of other artists, neighbors and children worked on it for six months. Over subsequent years, many of us played "find the wildlife" with our kids in the giant river-scape image.
A beloved picture and an artist's defining work, the mural honored environmental visionary Margaret Nygard, who gazed down from a bluff in the scene. She was the driving force behind the creation of the 2,028-acre state park. For 20 years, when land managers, environmentalists, politicians and regular folks called the Eno River Association, Nygard's kitchen phone rang. She shaped the very geography of Durham and Orange County.
Now Nygard's image, along with those of about 800 local species of flora and fauna, is under a thick coat of the dullest gray paint imaginable. Ironically, it's called "oyster beige." Oysters are native to the Neuse River Basin.
The most appalling aspect of this story is that neither Caktus nor the Historic Preservation Committee that tepidly advised the company against destroying the mural thought to call Weinstein before popping open the paint cans, a monstrous oversight. She got a call from Caktus public relations only after the public outcry over the mural's destruction forced the company to react.
Weinstein might have a great case if she wanted to sue the company and its contractors under the Visual Artists Rights Act. In 2008, Los Angeles-based artist Kent Twitchell settled with the federal government and a variety of building contractors for $1.1 million after his six-story mural "Ed Ruscha Monument" was painted over.
This situation illustrates how even well-meaning "good guys" can fail to consider the value of art, especially public art, as Caktus otherwise shows signs of conscience, with a tendency toward social justice-minded projects. Its employees are noted for local volunteerism and philanthropy. CEO Tobias McNulty mixed shame and remorse with legal justification in a blog post on the company's site, where you can sign up to receive email notifications about a public meeting being planned with several local arts groups. Weinstein, once bitten and twice shy, says she does not plan to attend.
Let's hope this meeting will be more than just corporate damage control. This situation is a disaster, and Caktus hasn't shown much alacrity in addressing it so far. To heal the wound they've inflicted, they should do nothing short of handing the wall back to Weinstein and offering to buy as much paint as she needs.
The Nasher Museum of Art opened its terrific Rauschenberg: Collecting & Connecting show to the public a month earlier than was first announced. It also includes a mini-exhibition of Bruce Conner's work. Highlights include several of Robert Rauschenberg's combine paintings on shiny aluminum panels and a drawing-and-text collaboration between Conner and the poet Michael McClure. Up through Jan. 11, the show pairs 34 of Rauschenberg's works with pieces from the Nasher's permanent collection—mostly Russian conceptual work. Look for our full review of the show in next week's issue.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Eye of the beholder"