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Art can be a magic lens that helps us to look both inward and outward from ourselves, to see who we are in what context. Looking inward--into self, into home, into community--is essential. But at other times we need to take a longer or wider view, in order to gain some perspective or simply to see something different. Art exhibitions this fall offer both options, and you can exercise them at home or away, considering interior life in another city or looking at grand views right here in the Triangle.

The North Carolina Museum of Art leads the inward-looking trend with Interiors, a 32-work meditation on the "closed-in space [that] yields a portrait of a style of life, a mindset, an outlook" (Sept. 17-Dec. 3). Curated by the Museum's Huston Paschal, the exhibition will present diverse contemporary additions to the long-standing artistic genre of the interior. Paschal is such a perceptive and thoughtful curator that this promises to be an intriguing exhibition, and not least of its pleasures will be her precise and poetic writing in the catalog. The show will include paintings, photographs, prints, sculpture and installations by 12 artists, eight of whom live and work in North Carolina--five of them in the Triangle: Stephen Aubuchon, Jeffrey W. Goll, Alex Harris, Andrea Mai Lekberg and Elizabeth Matheson. During the exhibition's run, Aubuchon, who is a photographer, will give a lecture, "Visions of Fear: Images of Nazi Death Camps," in which he will discuss the photographs he made at the camps, and the creative process that led to his journey to Poland (Sept. 24, 3 p.m., NCMA auditorium, free).

In Durham, Craven Allen Gallery will open a show of sculptures and drawings by George Jenne, Tell Only Your Closest Friends (Sept. 9-Oct. 28). This young artist continues the interiors theme with intricately crafted illuminated boxes, terrariums, glass cases and jars filled with miniature people and scenes, along with drawings of similar subjects--what he calls the "bizarre circus of human oddities." Jenne, who grew up in Chapel Hill before studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, has a serious interest in movie-making: Sound-stage, film still and cinematic storyboard shape the narrative style of this work. The artist now lives in Brooklyn, but will be present at the opening reception (Sept. 9, 4-6 p.m.).

Madonna Phillips looks into her own life in The Comforts/Discomforts of Home, a series of her signature mixed-media assemblages that explores her changing concept of home. Rather than the place she runs from, home has become her sanctuary (Artspace, through Sept. 30). In conjunction with Phillips' exhibition, the Off the Deep End Ensemble will perform "There's No Place Like Home," which ensemble members have created based on Phillips' artwork (Artspace, Sept. 8, 8 p.m., $7).

Feeling claustrophobic yet? Then get out of here! Take a day trip to some often-ignored venues that are really not all that far away.

Everybody interested in North Carolina art ought to make a habit of running over to Greensboro every couple of months to check out the current shows at the Green Hill Center for North Carolina Art, as this summer's fine series of painting exhibitions further confirmed. Green Hill's fall season begins with a rare treat: a solo show by Chapel Hill photographer John Rosenthal. While NPR listeners know him as an acute commentator on photography and things in general, and many people will have seen his book, Regarding Manhattan, it is only too rare that we get to see his photographs in person, so to speak. (You can see some prints in Somerhill Gallery's photography room.) The City (Sept. 15-Nov. 5) will include pictures from Regarding Manhattan as well as new work. Rosenthal will give a slide talk Sept. 21 (7 p.m., free, call 336-333-7460).

Also at Green Hill this fall will be the first major exhibition of large-scale cast and fabricated glass sculptures by Rick Beck of Spruce Pine. And while you are in Greensboro, don't forget to visit the Weatherspoon Art Gallery on the UNC-G campus. In addition to its major exhibitions, the Gallery usually has one or two smaller shows, and frequently features work by one of the many visiting artists that come to the school. Selections from the excellent and growing collection of modern and contemporary art are always on display. (Call 336-334-5770.)

Further west and a little later on, the South Eastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem will have a strong group of exhibits--including one by a Triangle artist. Photographer Artie Dixon will show The Impeccable Mr. (W)Right, which the curators rightly call "a stunning photographic essay." These 40 large color prints show the elderly Mr. Frank Taylor Wright in his many smashing, perfectly and artistically coordinated outfits. This work has been presented in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, but it will be a pleasure to see it again in SECCA's more suitable gallery. SECCA's other fall exhibitions are The Crossing, a room-filling video installation by internationally renowned artist Bill Viola, and minutiae, a group show by artists who champion, in various ways, the forgotten, the misunderstood and the lovingly obsessive. (All shows, Oct. 21-Jan 14, 2001, with a free public opening Oct. 20, 7-9 p.m. Call 336-725-1904.)

The Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University is currently presenting (through Sept. 16) an intriguing trio of exhibitions. The large gallery is filled with 40 pieces made during the past 10 years by Hollis Chatelain, a quilt artist from Hillsborough. Chatelain has a background in photography as well as textiles, and both influences are evident in her dye-painted and stitched images, many of which depict life as she saw it in the years she spent in Africa. Other exhibitions include one on African commemorative cloths, and The Monument Drawings by expatriate artist and author Barbara Chase-Riboud. On Oct. 6, the Diggs will open an exhibition of the art and the collections of the great North Carolina-born artist John Biggers. (Call 336-750-2458.)

If you are up for going all the way to Charlotte, there are numerous places to visit, from the Mint Museum of Craft and Design, to Tryon Center, to private galleries. But one of the Queen City's most rewarding galleries is always the Light Factory, and while this season's offerings may sear, they will not disappoint. The Center for Documentary Studies commissioned the photographs in Peter Goin's Humanature, about human impact on the rest of the natural world; Goin will lecture Oct. 12. Madison County, N.C., resident Rob Amberg, one of our finest photographers, will show a portfolio of images gleaned from years of photographing the building of the I-26 corridor through his formerly rural county. Give yourself a break from the I-85 corridor and take the train to Charlotte--it is quite convenient for uptown art venues, and you'll be glad you did after seeing Amberg's heartbreaking pictures of the devastation wreaked on the land and the people by highway construction. (Both shows Oct. 7-Dec. 22. Call 704-333-9755.)

Prefer to go east rather than west? Greenville's the town for you. Don't say "Huh?" It makes you sound ignorant of the fact that East Carolina University has the largest art program in North Carolina. Its influence is being increasingly felt around the state. The Wellington B. Gray Gallery in ECU's Jenkins Fine Art Building has just undergone extensive renovations (directed by architect Michael Newman, who did SECCA's addition and the Ackland renovation) and has, in the words of director Gil Leebrick, "gone from being just an exhibition hall to being a very nice gallery." The Gray re-opened with Sense of Place, featuring the wildly different paintings of Robert Johnson, Tom Spleth and Raleigh artist Nancy Baker. Johnson's lyrical work is always about the continuum of nature, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to think of Spleth's beautiful, squeegeed nonobjective paintings as reflecting his move from Raleigh to the wooded mountains of Penland, but Baker is harder to figure. I've always thought of her painted scenes as not-places, visual manifestations of ideas, rather than references to physical experience. Says Leebrick, "her sense of place is her global recognition of what the hell's going on." She herself says that her place is the slim edge between the absurd and the tragic, and that it is there she can explore such themes as ignorance, fanaticism and xenophobia. See for yourself through Sept. 23. (Call 252-328-6336.)

Craving more of a museum experience, but can't quite make it to Washington, D.C. or New York? Try Richmond. In hardly more time than it takes to get to Charlotte (although, sadly, the train is not a good option for central Richmond, you can avoid I-85/95 on U.S. 360) you can be at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. If you are panting for another blockbuster, there's Monet, Renoir and the Impressionist Landscape which runs from Sept. 19-Dec. 10 (timed tickets $15), with more than 40 paintings drawn from the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Currently, there is a wonderful small show ($4), a pendant to last year's retrospective exhibition, of Sargent's portraits of the Asher Wertheimer family (through Oct. 20). But the collections alone are worth going for. The VMFA is a few decades older than the NCMA, so it has had more time to build its holdings, and it has also benefited from having some very serious patrons like Sydney and Frances Lewis (fabulous art nouveau and deco furniture and objects; excellent core contemporary collection), Paul Mellon (19th-century French art and an awful lot of depictions of horses) and others. There are vast collections of Asian art, including some very fine Chinese bronze ritual vessels and Japanese ceramics of all periods--even an extraordinary neolithic pot. For something completely different, go across the hall and goggle at some Fabergé eggs, then have a coffee in the sculpture courtyard before heading back through the pretty Virginia countryside.

Even if you go nowhere out of town, you can turn your gaze toward the big and the sublime at our art museum. The NCMA will wind up its ambitious 2000 schedule with In Praise of Nature: Ansel Adams and Photographers of the American West (Oct. 8-Jan 7, 2001, $7.50). It will be enlightening, no doubt, to contrast these images of wilderness, made between 1860 and 1960, with the more recent landscape work, of wilderness destroyed by "progress," at the Light Factory. Even the most outward-looking art shows us something of our own interiors. EndBlock

  • The best visual art you can find within a day's drive of the Triangle.

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