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Raleigh's First Friday program of visual art openings continues to broaden its size and scope.

Pop and Circumstance 

Raleigh's First Friday series of visual art openings broadens its size and scope

For several years, the first Friday of the month in downtown Raleigh has meant evening sidewalks filled with art-seeking gallerygoers straight off the heels of fine dining in the city's expanding restaurant and bar scenes. Initially, the open-late galleries and artists' studios were centralized around Raleigh's Moore Square area, with city-funded organizations like Artspace handling the advertising for the event. In recent years, however, First Friday has spread across the downtown area, encompassing the Glenwood Avenue strip between Peace and Hillsborough streets; and these days, the traffic moves equally in and out of private galleries and artist co-ops, each providing vastly different versions of the First Friday experience.

If October's shows and installations are representative of where this monthly ritual is headed, there's cause for celebration: There were actually too many exhibitions to view in a single evening. Fortunately, most of the work will be on display for the remainder of the month. Here are a few you might want to return to in the sober light of day.

At LUMP gallery, Dallas artist Ludwig Schwarz, who was recently featured in Art in America, and Brooklyn's Willie Gregory, challenge viewers with minimalism, humor and pathos. Schwarz's Thrillseeker(s), which loosely fills the front space, complicates the line between expectation and delivery with an open-for-business-style banner stretching across the gallery's exterior, announcing "Ludwig Schwarz Indian Cuisine Lunch Buffet $5.95." Inside, three photographic portraits printed on poster paper (at Eckerd's One Hour Foto, the artist reveals) depict an Asian woman smiling in front of a blurred beauty products aisle, a Middle Eastern man smiling from the half-open window of his car, and a Caucasian man in a wig and Dali-esque moustache. The photos are pinned along the top of the wall near the ceiling, literally and figuratively distanced from one another across the room by vast and awkward negative space.

Another three portraits, painted life-sized directly onto the wall in ordinary gray latex house paint, depict a simple outline culled from a pop-rock album cover. These three figures are linked by their profiles, but lack formal identities. Here the themes Schwarz is working through begin to emerge. Opposite this mural on another wall is "Untitled (close-out)," which represents a yellow hook displaying 19 identical blue-and-green basketball jerseys featuring Dennis Rodman's name and number, again isolated by large amounts of negative space. The jerseys point to the oddity of wearing someone else's name as a form of consumerized hero worship, or to the purchasing of an identity already admired by others.

To the left of the jerseys hangs a thrift store painting of snow-covered trees at dawn, with a black finger-painted sign added above the sunset, which reads: "Hip Urban Lofts." The painting is signed "Anonymous Crack Whore"--incorporating both humor and a sense of dissolution to a mundane object. Echoing this clever presentation of human detritus is "Untitled (racing pack)" which consists of a crumpled cardboard beer box left in a corner, a Ziploc bag filled with coffee beans, and a bag of Cheetos. On a small shelf sits "Nineteen Lamps (study for a book titled Nineteen Lamps)"--a stapled-together series of low-resolution photographic printouts of various cheaply-made desk, floor and lava lamps, which call to mind the endless supply of coffee table books on banal subjects intended to present their owners' worldviews or interests in a series of flip-through images. In a similar brand of ironic observation, a photocopied recipe for A-1 steak sauce, with the heading "Conversation Piece," suggests an easy-to-make party dip, and is placed alongside Yoko Ono's suggestion for a collaborative food art performance in which refrigerator leftovers can be thrown together as an abstract visual work. This comparison, both funny and pathetic, continues Schwarz's anti-art dialogue.

The series is given absurdist narration by a toy horse on a tiny Casio television monitor in an intentionally boring, badly edited video of amateurish stop-motion images. In the video, the figurine moves in slow choppy circles, pauses, faces the camera, and then starts again with out-of-sync trotting sounds accompanying its animated dance. With this and many of the other works, Schwarz comments on modern daily life and directionless grasping, complicating many of his viewers' reactions by refusing to entertain them with traditional visual art formats.

In LUMP's project room, Willie Gregory's Recent Pin-ups series treads similar ground, with photographic self-portraits and reintroduced pop photos presented in photocopies that have fold lines down their centers--which, along with the show title, give them the appearance of having been torn from the center of pornographic magazines. In a grouping with an obvious bird theme, Gregory is repeatedly pictured nude in a bathtub, gesturing toward the camera with middle fingers thrust forward and standing silhouetted by a window, flipping the bird with one hand and presenting his penis with the other. The effect is a juxtaposition of come-hither poses and go-away gestures, creating a sense of emotional detachment borne of loneliness and isolation. These caustic self-portraits are mingled with photos of sinister-looking birds and cages, and both are shot in a faux-candid manner that feels voyeuristic and intrusive. The 10 photos surround a central shot of daybreak over a cityscape that appears to light the others around it, alluding to a life ironically immersed in humanity yet finally alone and defiantly masturbatory.

Other single "pinups" include two images each, taken from teen, fashion and art magazines, which are separated only by their centered fold lines. This style of display renders all magazine printed photographs pornographic by default, and poses questions of what is or is not profane. In the curator's wise pairing, Gregory's Recent Pin-ups seems to further Schwarz's argument about an often hackneyed human existence.

On the opposite end of this spectrum lie "beauty" and traditional art history, both of which are present in the miniature paintings of East Carolina University art professor Paul Hartley, whose recent work is on display at Lee Hansley Gallery on Glenwood Avenue. Hartley creates georgeous collages on panel and canvas with acrylic, oil and paper. The collages are, for the most part, under a foot wide or tall; get as close as you want and you will still find it difficult to see the tiny brushstrokes and details painstakingly rendered with what could only be a single-haired brush. Trompe l'oeil images of birds and flowers, male and female portraits, and assorted personal icons such as insects, rabbits and strawberries are each placed meticulously into graphic compositions over sheet music and intricate line drawings. These are highly studied works, with a strong focus on craftsmanship, that tell obscure visual stories of sensuality through historical art references and photorealistic textures.

In one painting, titled "Workers," a drawing of a woman's hand massaging her '40's-era high-heeled leg is painted over with an oversized ladybug, a shrunken hummingbird in flight, and a Renaissance-era portrait of Christ. Several of these new paintings include idealized visual tributes to the artist's chosen influences: Einstein, Botticelli, Magritte, and classical composers. There are also numerous self-portraits in miniature, such as the one in "Man with Movie Girl," which is no more than 2 inches by 3 inches and yet filled to its frame with miniscule details. In the seemingly aged circus colors of "Pink Elephant," a jointed toy figure appears nearly three-dimensional over an exquisitely collaged backround of a Renaissance parade and thick gestural strokes of complimentary colors. Looking around the gallery rooms at the several dozen paintings and seeing strawberries burst with invisible juice, flowers open with nearly detectable aromas, and insects that seem capable of skittering off of their canvases, you can't be sure if Hartley is more capable or prolific. There are many, many hours of work in this series, and his trademark icons and compositions grow richer and more elegant with every exhibition.

Across the street, behind the Clark Art building, newcomer and recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduate Laura Snoderly has set up an untitled installation in the rear of Basement Studios, an artists' collective helmed by photographer Shonna Greenwell. Snoderly's materials are simultaneously unassuming and visceral: wax and hair, chocolate and paper, glass and jello. The installation is simple but effective, pointing to multiple associations involving the body and female objectification through hygiene. Approximately 100 circular retail paper tags framed in metal and hung from string have been dipped into wax, coated with bits of human hair, and pinned to the wall in a perfect line around the room, increasing in their hairiness until completely covered at the series' end. The stark white walls, paneled with foam core, give this macabre display the impression of a museum- or bathroom-like environment that could have you imagining the echoing clinks of a dripping faucet.

Opposite the installation, Snoderly has displayed additional works, including three disposable razors molded in red jello and placed on a white tile tabletop, an infant's dress sewn from fake fur ("Fetish Object I"), and a baby's first shoes molded in chocolate ("Fetish Object II"). Pastel lollipops with obscured hairy objects inside them are wrapped in clear plastic and four hand-made hairy paper "orifices" are pinned to the wall above, with red cake-decorating gel spelling out single cursive words within them: sugar, honey, sweetie, pie. These separate works, along with the installation, carefully set the stage for Snoderly's themes, and do so provocatively with both organic and clinical textures.

With First Friday behind us until November, readers who are aching for a visual arts event replete with diverse works and crowds of onlookers will be pleased to know that this coming Saturday marks the 11th Annual Works of Heart Art Auction. For more than a decade, hundreds of well-known and as-yet-to-be-discovered artists working in a wide range of media have generously donated their work to the fundraiser for people living with AIDS and prevention programs run by the Alliance of AIDS Services. This year, the scaled-up proceedings include a posh new venue at the A. J. Fletcher Opera Theater, located at the BTI Center in downtown Raleigh, and a record 270 donated works. Many of these pieces have been displayed in area restaurants as sneak previews over the last few weeks. Since the auction's inception, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised by volunteer committees in yearlong endeavors, with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly to the programs. This year is no exception.

Works of Heart has evolved into one of the most highly anticipated charity benefits in the Triangle. The silent auction starts at 6 p.m. and the live auction runs until about 10:30 p. m., so be sure to get there early enough to scope out the work you wish to bid on and prepare to battle it out with serious collectors and first-time buyers. For more information, visit the website at www.worksofheartnc.org, or contact co-chairperson Lisa Maxfield Holcomb at 919-782-5909. Happy bidding.

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  • Raleigh's First Friday program of visual art openings continues to broaden its size and scope.

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