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Visual Art 

The Triangle saw some art shifts in 2004. Branch Gallery opened, and Bleecker Street Studios and Gallery cemented itself in Carrboro, while Chapel Hill's Green Tara Gallery announced a move to Wilmington. In Durham Artologie had to close, while the Scrap Exchange started offering art made of recycled materials, or reclaimed art that had been previously discarded. In Raleigh, the Contemporary Art Museum opened its walls for a one-weekend salon hanging, the Greenhouse Collective came at the art world from its own perspective, and Mary Jo Bell reopened the Garden Gallery on the Route 70 frontier between Raleigh and Durham.

The area is packed with talented artists, and one of the best showcases every year is the Durham Art Guild's Juried Exhibit. The 50th Anniversary show met expectations from the painters and exceeded expectations in sculpture.

Kristin Gudjonsdottir's thought-provoking "I Bend, Not Break" is made of conical, recycled, re-melted glass formed in her unique reusable clay molds and attached to found metal. Mixing bold lines, conceptual art and an Icelandic desire to reuse material that has been discarded, Gudjonsdottir's work consistently stops viewers to make them think. She has also made "paintings" from clothes dryer lint that hold up well as patterned abstractions.

Al Frega's continued fascination with chalices too large to drink out of was supplemented in this exhibit by a useful piece called "Ceremonial Stool Imperial Tobacco."

Wayne Henderson added "Heart Quiver," an intricate job of reed bending that is etched in your mind by its ability to mimic human forms, cast linear shadows and show impeccable assemblage.

As for the painters, Murry Handler's minimal but studied abstract "Suspension in Motion" forced us to see red dabs caught in the act. Were they reacting to a black rock that's been batted by a thin stick, or playfully jumping upstream to spawn, away from the rock's menacing protrusion?

Katherine Armacost's thickly painted "Dream Sequence, Venus" used warm undertones to mellow out the jabbing movement of yellow. Armacost built away from the canvas, creating deep-felt expressionist art that soothed rather than exploited the eyes.

Kudos to Tony Breuer for "Fluorocarbon Express," a stark reminder of our polluting ways, Henryk Fantazos for "Blessing Cotton," an imaginative take on the powers of good and evil, and Sandra Luzenberger, whose "Contrivance I: Trouble in Paradise" was both two bees circling five pears and two bees buzzing over large breasts.

In Raleigh, Vincent Mastracco's April 2004 posthumous exhibit Vincent Mastracco: Paintings at Lee Hansley Gallery spanned 24 years of the artist's life, covering at least four different periods of discovery within the realm of abstract expressionism. Mastracco used a studied approach rather than the emotional flings associated with expressionists like Jackson Pollack. In "Untitled, Flame Pattern Diptych" oils leaked and dripped, while Mastracco retained enough control to keep the color juxtapositions vibrant.

Later, in works like "Windemere," Mastracco piled multicolored oils on a canvas under-painted in black acrylic and squared off by masking tape. He must have waited until the paint was semi-dry (a month or two?) then ripped the tape off in bold motions that pulled the color from the canvas. The result is hundreds of inch-sized squares with different colors exposed, depending on how hard or in which direction the tape was pulled off. Two months of set up time are risked in one giant pull. Many expressionists have neither the time nor the guts for this type of experiment.

In "Edgewater" Mastracco's technique is harder to decipher, but it appears that the large piles of white oil with multicolored edges were achieved by smearing a knife with exact lines of color, then covering those lines with a large amount of white. As the knife runs three inches down the canvas, white dominates until the very last movement, when the colors come forth to create unusual striped bottom edges. Occasionally the colors smear through earlier, adding an element of randomness without diminishing the pattern made by the thick bottoms.

It goes to show how fleeting the combination of genius and artist can be, as few ever have the persistence--like Mastracco--to carry their vision past contemporary norms to take art to a new place. Plenty of modern masters were packed into one exhibit that would have ranked as one of the year's best in many cities.

The North Carolina Museum of Art's exhibit Matisse, Picasso and the School of Paris, which is on view through Jan. 16, also has a North Carolina connection. Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel Cone, Moses Cone's sisters, who benefited from many family-owned cotton mills in North Carolina, put their collection together from Baltimore, the home city of Gertrude Stein. It was Stein who introduced them to the Paris art world, and it was their interest that sparked fellow Baltimore sisters Sadie May and Blanche Adler to start collecting there.

This exhibit is astounding for at least two reasons: It shows how important patrons are in the world of art, and it shows just how wide a range of art was being made in Paris from 1880 to 1940. The Cones preferred the earlier Picasso, all of Matisse and a wide array of impressionists. From their lead, May and Adler went forward into the surrealists.

"The Cone sisters left more than 5,000 works to the Baltimore Museum of Art," says NCMA curator David Steel. "Of the 74 works in the exhibition, 44 (16 Matisses and 14 Picassos chief among them) come from the sisters' collection, and one more from their nephew, Frederic Cone."

Degas, Monet, Cezanne and Bonnard give a full tour of impressionism and post-impressionism, while Tanguy, Masson and Matta show off Sadie May's penchant for surrealist art. Works by the then 22-year-old Jacques Lipschitz, Giaccometti and an early Leger strengthen the exhibit too.

Steel has curated an exhibit that is informative and entertaining, even though he did have to leave some of the works "stored away" in Baltimore.

In Chapel Hill and Carrboro, there were many great exhibits in 2004, but one that stood out was the colorful take on modern art by sculptor Mary-Ann Prack at Tyndall Galleries back in February.

Prack's stoneware clays are shaped and glazed "intuitively," but come out very aware of Matisse, O'Keefe, Miro, and to an extent, Picasso and Kandinsky. Being able to conduct a modern art orchestration while retaining her own style is what makes Prack's work memorable.

In "Primitive Spirit No. 2," the adobe feel of O'Keefe's cattle skulls came through via rough texturing, while primary colors in arched shapes and blue-dot eyebrows lightened up the gravity inherent in skeletal remains.

Complex sensuality was seen in works like "Women's Song 2" and "The Cradle," where shapes flowed toward your libido then retracted back into figures made warm by welcoming earth tones.

Though the great majority of Prack's work is figurative, she offered a chance to test your eye for art by glazing or painting "cold colors" on both sides of her sculptures. When there are heads, like on "Sun Fell on Me," they are often attached by a metal bar with a wooden ball for a neck. These heads are fully reversible, allowing you to face two completely different fronts toward the center of a room.

With studio tours in Chatham and Orange County, commercial galleries that aren't afraid to take a risk, and the NCMA--which has four exhibits focusing on North Carolina artists and collections coming up in 2005 alone--the Triangle figures to be an art lover's potpourri again next year.

More by Doug Stuber

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