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Dave Hickey at the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University (Jan. 14, 2010)

I was highly anticipating this lecture from Dave Hickey-- writer, freelance art and cultural critic, and MacArthur Fellowship winner among his many claims to fame. (As with any discussion of Warhol, the concept of fame itself played an important part throughout the evening.)   I had seen Dave speak one time before, in conjunction with his Beau Monde biennial at SITE Santa Fe, so I was eager to draw a comparison between the two talks.

But to be honest, I mostly went for the fun of just hanging out--for a short while and in a large crowd--in Hickey's presence. This was, I knew, the best place to enjoy his patented irreverence for certain aspects of life, his deft ability to pontificate on the intellectual underpinnings of American culture and democracy, and also where I could hopefully catch a brief joyride in the critical musings which, in the title essay of his collection "Air Guitar," he describes as "flurries of silent sympathetic gestures with nothing at their heart but the memory of the music."

Not many "rock star" art critics swing through the Raleigh-Durham area, so when it happens, ya gotta go.  As a participant in the endeavor of criticism myself,  I must admit a deep regard for Dave's writing, his cultural essays and "Art Issues" pieces in particular, for their accessibility, range and, like them or not, his compelling critiques.
January 15, 2010 11:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Lecture at the Nasher Museum of Art
October 27, 2009

 He was affable, humorous and generally seemed like an all around great guy.  Not exactly the typical description you might expect to hear of an artist's lecture in a formal academic setting like a university museum. But then again I'm talking about Fred Wilson, an artist who thrives on the unexpected, and whose lecture I attended this evening at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.  I believe it is no small part of Wilson's success as an artist that he is a likable and engaging character.  This good-naturedness allows him easier access to a rather privileged world he loves to tinker with, the inner workings of museum culture, in order to produce work that reframes, rethinks and challenges the status quo.

 Wilson's work explores curatorial practice itself and often relies solely on existing artworks in museum collections as subject matter which he rearranges and displays in unconventional and compelling ways.  Working in this manner allows him to produce startling exhibitions which provoke and confound our expectations of museums, their role as cultural arbiters, and their interpretation and presentation of artworks themselves.  This working method has in fact become Wilson's main methodology especially since his exhibition "Mining the Museum" at the Maryland Historical Society in 1992 - a breakthrough event he concedes changed his life forevermore afterwards.   After this landmark show, recontextualizing works of art (and in turn our interpretations of them) through bold curatorial juxtaposition became Wilson's signature.  Just one look at the well known image from "Mining' of Wilson's display of slave shackles and elaborate silver tea goblets together in the same display case is really all you need to start reconsidering the notions of historical accuracy, authenticity, and truth.  History is written by the winners as they say.

In the years since "Mining the Museum" Wilson has gone on to produce other provocative displays in museum and galleries worldwide. Representing the U.S. in the 2003 Venice Biennale afforded an opportunity for international cultural exploration and Wilson fittingly explored how the Moorish culture and Africans exerted and continues to play such a large part in the cultural life of Venice.  His large ebony chandelier entitled "Speak of Me as I Am" became a metaphorical exploration of Africans' impact on the culture of this particular city through one of their rich traditions- glassblowing.  His large chandelier was rich in form and seductive in its understatement of its medium.

 Wilson spoke of how he loves the idea of bringing two differing things together to produce a third thing - namely some unexpected concept or rethinking of the work itself - and this notion is one that continues to drive much of his artistic production.  His work reflects his own perspective of course so his reworkings of museum collections still provide a highly personal take on history and how it's been told- a fact the artist readily acknowledges.  Yet he does it with such gripping force that it has the effect of stopping you in your tracks.

The fundamental core of Fred Wilson's art is the idea that historical accuracy and representation are not all they are cracked up to be.  There's more than one way to organize a show he tells us.  And in that telling, Wilson's art explores not only how strongly museums impact and shape our cultural view but more importantly how we consider and understand ourselves.

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Fred Wilson, "Mining the Museum"  Maryland Historical Society, 1992

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Fred Wilson, "Speak of Me as I Am" from the Venice Biennale, 2003
courtesy PBS, Art:21 and PaceWildenstein, New York


October 27, 2009 11:08 PM | | Comments (1)

As it wound down its run towards its final weekend, the group show entitled "The Conquerors" at Artspace seemed to be crying out for a final close look. So I was more than happy to oblige. 

Co-curated by Raleigh's own Paul Friedrich of Onion Monster fame and Lia Newman of Artspace, the show presents five nationally known artists prominent in the field of 'zine illustration and the Lowbrow style of painting.  This style, finally edging its way eastward from its '80's West Coast origins, is a funky amalgam of the bawdiness of underground comic graphics, hot-rod car culture and the ever scintillating aesthetics of punk rock all rolled into one.  It also throws in a unique incorporation of certain elements of traditional painting subject matter filtered through a streetwise sensibility.  It is worth noting that almost all the artists in the show are also crossovers, having achieved success in much larger media outlets producing graphic work in television, music and national publications.  

Mark Bodnar wins the Tim Burton award for his figures set in generic, yet seriously strange landscapes.  Bodnar's subjects are typically involved in a kooky and mysterious contemplation of their next move in any given scene all the while casting a wary eye about with Betty Boop-like beepers. His observations stand as an eccentric looking glass into a world in which your own emotions take flight couched in disowned, unloved cartoon characters trying to find their own place in the world.

Mari Inukai's paintings are sumptuous in their technique and direct expressive qualities.  Her underlying sense of sentiment and desire stand like beacons to ground her painterly figures in a realm which seems as influenced by Vermeer and John Currin as Manga and Anime.  I felt mesmerized by her tactile paint handling and strong emotive yearnings.

Bonnie Brenda Scott produced "Reactor" a large mural which dominates a full wall in the gallery.  The work is composed of writhing figures rendered in cerebellum-like matter that wind their amoeba shapes across the wall's expanse in a flurry of orange, pink, and blue.  Smoke like shapes flutter up above and her shapes seem at once to be menacing and contemplative as if engaged in some weird conversation to which we are not fully privy.

Bill McRight sticks to black and white imagery exhibiting a loose amalgamation of monsters hanging out and doing scary beasty things. They also cavort a little though and also do things like ride motorcycles.  He purposefully leaves the work a bit vague so that you're forced to fill in the blanks. Yet the strong graphic presence of his pieces (probably the boldest in the show) propels you into a dialogue that leaves you feeling like the work is always going to somehow win the battle on its own terms.

Liz McGrath has the only sculptures in the show exhibiting a trio of flying bunnies elongated in mid-leap (ala Barry Flanagan style) though hers are clothed in odd, hand-stitched, quasi military uniforms. She also has a pair of boxed relief works which depict an elephant and a mosquito in an elaborate ceramic framed and velvet lined animal reliquary. They stand out like some sort of carnival sideshow attraction at once mystically repellent yet so elaborately crafted that they command attention.   

The Conquerors at Artspace
September 4 -
October 24, 2009

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October 23, 2009 12:07 PM | | Comments (0)

Picasso and the Allure of Language

Nasher Museum at Duke University

August 20, 2009 - January 3, 2010


I will be the first to admit that I approached this show with caution and also a bit of trepidation.  The thought crossed my mind that the jig was up and it's just that our museum-going selves haven't caught on as yet.  I mean, can there really be that much more to be said in a Picasso exhibition that hasn't been said already?  The blockbuster shows, of which there have of course been many, have effectively worked over the terrain of Picasso as artistic genius to the point of exhaustion, but "Picasso and the Allure of Language" the current show at the Nasher Museum at Duke proves there is still fertile territory to be plumbed.  This show's perspective takes a beguiling multi-faceted approach with the primary aim of exploring the role and influence of language and writing in Picasso's work.

 

Organized by the Yale University Art Gallery in conjunction with Yale's Beinecke Library and support from the Nasher, the show displays manuscripts, letters, book projects, catalogues, and poetry both from Picasso himself (I have to admit I didn't know he had written such a large amount of poetry) and his contemporaries such as Georges Braque and particularly writer Gertrude Stein.  Surprisingly, fewer paintings are on hand than might be expected though the show includes a multitude of prints, drawings, and various illustrated book editions. There are also archetypal cubist-style Picassos included that were either created on newsprint or utilized newspapers as source/ subject material such as the work "Pedestal Table with Guitar and Sheet Music" from 1920.  One of the more intriguing works is entitled "Dice, Packet of Cigarettes, and Visiting-Card" from 1914  in which the artist remade one of Gertrude Stein's and Alice Stoklas's calling cards (left at Picasso's door when they called on him in his absence) into a collage work itself regifted by the artist and left at Stein's and Stoklas's door shortly afterwards.

 

It is a natural that this show emanates from Yale in that the literary influence of Gertrude Stein on Picasso's work can be directly traced from and supported by the Beinecke Library's vast archive of her writings.  An early benefactor of Picasso, collector of his work and his primary patron during the crucial formative cubist years of 1905-1914, Stein was a larger than life expatriate figure with an enormous influence in Parisian artistic life of the time.  The real heart of the show lies in precisely her particular literary lineage and influence and it becomes apparent that the impact of writers and poets upon early 20th century visual artists cannot be underestimated.  This literary influence which, as shown here is always a strong undercurrent in Picasso's work, is unfortunately often overshadowed by the sheer bravura of his artworks themselves (as well as his mythic persona and larger than life reputation.)

 

It is to the show's benefit that it possesses such strong multi-media appeal (a snazzy touch-screen video display with digitally turning manuscript pages kept many viewers' rapt attention while I visited the show)  and is quite interdisciplinary in nature.  In this sense, it is in keeping with our media enthralled age to a degree and yet also able to strike some common ground with appeal for lovers of the visual image, the written word and the printed page- vintage bibliophiles, art fans, and Twitterers alike. 


While the chronology of the show is vast - exhibited work spans across Picasso's life from age 19 to his 87th year - the intimate feel of the show in the Nasher's gallery gives it the feel of a retrospective in miniature form.  One in fact will likely leave feeling a bit dazzled by it all... but also refreshed.

 

(author's special thanks to Thornton Wilder for his suggestion to Stein to donate her literary archive to Yale in the first place.  Who knows how much longer we would have had to wait before some intrepid scholar would have tracked down these literary linkages otherwise?) 


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(image courtesy the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University)
October 18, 2009 8:38 PM | | Comments (0)
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Street art has an image problem.  This is of course nothing new.  The spirit of renegade vandalism is inherent to the medium, just ask any graffiti artist.  Often an integral part of the street artist's palette- right alongside the can of spray paint and a stencil or two - is a concern for tweaking the status quo.  Or to put it more bluntly, it helps to have a loose, freethinking state of mind to ponder: "How much can I get away with here?"  It is a case of the freedom of artistic license bumping up against the boundaries of civic obedience and property rights laws.  The more covert and riskier the work, (skirting the borders of the law especially) then the more street cred is bestowed on the entire undertaking if it's pulled off successfully.  This is very important stuff for an art form that occurs outside of the system of art gallery and museum contexts.   

 

Back on May 30th of 2009, Joseph Carnevale, a 22 year old history major at NC State University, garnered more such urban acceptability than he probably imagined that day.  Earlier that morning he had an idea for a street sculpture created from ubiquitous orange and white traffic barrels (numerous around the NCSU campus right now due to major street construction along Hillsborough Street bordering campus) and as he put it to the News & Observer newspaper, "it kind of grew in my head, until it was something I had to do."  And do he definitely did.  After pilfering a few barrels from a local construction site, he sawed, snipped, and reassembled them into a startling, larger than life visage of a 10' tall figure standing alongside the construction zone and making a gesture with an outstretched 'arm' seen as either (a) pointing traffic to the adjoining lane to avoid the construction zone or (b) extending a thumb as if hitchhiking. The "Monster's" moment of streetscape glory was brief however as by the next morning, Raleigh police had already dismantled and removed the work and embarked on a search for the perpetrator/artist.  Their break in the case came through investigation of NCSU's student newspaper the Technician whose reportage on the Monster made mention of Carnevale's website.  Quicker than you can say 'traffic safety' his anonymity was undone.  Carnevale was arrested and now faces a court date in July for misdemeanor charges of larceny and property damage.  The case is now entering testy territory.  While the construction company has asked to drop charges (grateful for the plentiful publicity they have received for the piddly cost of a few plastic barrels) Raleigh police are having none of it and plan to continue to pursue prosecution.

 

The story has extended beyond that initial Technician piece and has been reported in the local Raleigh based News & Observer, at blogs such as newraleigh.com, and now extends out to the national media including the Associated Press and MSNBC.   The largest impact is probably being felt online where web chatter is popping up in favor of the Barrel Monster and Carnevale.  Three separate Facebook groups alone have already been established with rapid daily growth over the past couple of weeks and the tweets are already flying as well.  


I see all of this as a healthy dialogue for the city.  It is well known that Raleigh has a tenuous history with public art and while this story is centered in the university community of NCSU, it in fact provides a tremendous opportunity for discussion and discourse about the role art in the public realm can play in the Triangle area's metropolitan life.  While public art with any hope for official sanction and embrace by the civic powers that be cannot justifiably operate outside established legal boundaries, Carnevale's barrel monster shows that artistic ambition, originality, and consequence should not be discounted or underestimated when undertaken solely by personal initiative.  It is, if nothing else, a learning opportunity for the city.   

 

Related stories:    http://nopromiseofsafety.com/2009/05/31/relapse/


http://www.newraleigh.com/articles/archive/barrel-monster-spotted-on-hillsborough-street/


http://www.technicianonline.com/features/barrel-monster-creates-a-stir-on-campus-1.1759449


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June 18, 2009 9:17 PM | | Comments (1)
I regretted that I was unable to get this piece published back when I originally wrote it as this artist is so long overdue for this review. As we all know, life sometimes has a way of getting away from us however this is no excuse on my part.  So under the maxim 'better late than never' here it is:


Richard Kinnaird Retrospective at Lee Hansley Gallery 
13 January - 21 February 2009 


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Richard Kinnaird " A Red Space"  acrylic on panel (courtesy Lee Hansley Gallery)


Area painter Richard Kinnaird is a lion (though a rather under-recognized one) of the Triangle's art community. Argentinean by birth and trained in art in the American Midwest (receiving his MFA from University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana in 1958), Kinnaird moved to the Triangle area in 1963 for a teaching post in Chapel Hill.  Throughout an academic career spanning some 39 years Kinnaird literally taught thousands of aspiring artists establishing their own career paths through UNC's art department.  Currently an emeritus faculty member, he is also a longtime devotee of abstraction and the rigor necessary for sustained, in-depth work in that mode of painting. 

Kinnaird is also committed to making paintings that explore a fundamental modernist concept: namely what the physicality of paint on canvas or panel can embody.  A quick look at his canvases and you realize that many of the issues he is involved with are still so essential to the medium that they have never really gone away (though relegated at times to the storage bins of past styles and tastes.)  Notions such as surface and flatness of the picture plane, gesture, texture, collaged composition, and harmony of line and color have proven to be longtime preoccupations.  A primary interest is materiality and Kinnaird has been consistent in his fearless adventurousness and experimentation with materials.  Laser cut metal, burnt paper, and polycast resin are but a few of the various media which have found their way into his palette over the years. 

The 64 works in this show are a veritable clinic for painters.  A rigorous vitality of paint application, optical effect, subtlety of surface and shape, and the qualities of edge and line are all probed in skillful fashion.  Kinnaird has a particular affinity for repetitive, rhythmic linework and collage, both of which continually reappear throughout many canvases in the show.  He also has an empathy for Op Art as many of his paintings since the late 1970's utilize a system of overlaid, multi-color parallel lines to produce striking, yet graceful, swirling compositions of arcing lines and underlying geometric shapes.  Works such as "Asylum" and Penache No. 1" are signature works in this vein and convey a delicate balancing act of vibrant pinks, greens, yellows and blues all applied with layered bravura. An interesting sidenote is that many of these paintings have been produced with the artist's own self-designed compass device which he uses to draft his signature arcing lines onto unstretched canvases laid out on the floor.     


kinnaird-Penache-No-1.jpgRichard Kinnaird " Penache No. 1"  acrylic on canvas (courtesy Lee Hansley Gallery)


The show's installation is compendious and I was particularly struck by the middle gallery which synopsizes a few of Kinnaird's working methods.  Here the Miro-like paintings "Shapeful Lineage" and "A Red Space" converse with the double panel "Ground Cover" in which a plethora of fiery autumn like colors are circumscribed with those trademark line series - as if freshly announcing a hint of things to come. (All be told, this retrospective's timeline is somewhat enigmatic as the artist does not date his works and in fact often considers them to still be unfinished.)  An adjacent wall showcases two polycast resin works aptly titled "Convex Form" and "Concave Form."  These high relief works, reminiscent of the forms of contemporary 'blob' architecture, nudge the boundaries of painting beyond the picture frame to sculpturally occupy the viewers' space.  Their overlapping of material experimentation and elemental form walks that line which all of Kinnaird's work and indeed abstraction itself eventually somehow transgresses: that the paint itself and how it occupies that thin space on the surface of its support can become transcendent. 
May 10, 2009 9:55 PM | | Comments (0)

Matt Lively - Recent Works at Adam Cave Fine Art

Raleigh NC   March 28 - April 29, 2008

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Turgid Type, oil on paper, 30"x40"  (all images courtesy of Adam Cave Fine Art)


        Matt Lively creates paintings that live up to his surname.  His works are never dull but instead are about the fanciful flights of everyday objects that foray off in unexpected directions.  The Richmond based artist has developed a style imbued with a tremendous dose of whimsy and often a good bit of surrealism thrown into the mix for good measure.   His paintings recently on view at Adam Cave Fine Art in Raleigh depicted stage set-like tableaux of domesticity: sitting parlors with groupings of striped and patterned chairs, living or bedroom like spaces with large windows and wind blown curtains, ironing boards fraternizing with high chairs, and staircases that curl around small tables like your grandma's that held the family telephone.  Ordinary household items, often of the old-timey, made-in-USA era variety, are a common thread that reappear in the canvases and visually tie this series of works together.  These items are central in the paintings and are typically actual objects the artist owns- an antique film projector for instance, an old circulating fan, a rotary dial telephone- and they simultaneously lend an air of nostalgic familiarity coupled with an unsettled air of mysterious tranquility.

The paintings share much with the fundamentals of still life painting in that the main subject matter consists of carefully composed objects, attentively painted, within a supporting background.  Yet in Lively's paintings these objects are always strongly metaphorical and seem to be stand-ins for the missing occupants of these spaces. This in turn gives rise to all sorts of associations that your mind begins to draw. Has the occupant of the room just left for a second and we're catching the precise moment when they are absent? Or are they ever really coming back? Why are their belongings blowing all around in the drafty breeze like that? Who really owns that many chairs and how can their house have so many little rooms?

Indeed for all the tendency of your mind to have a traditional Westerner's point of view (i.e. focusing on the objects rather than the space around them) it is a more intangible element that recurs throughout that gives these works their chutzpah: namely the continual breeze that appears to be blowing across the scene. It is a constant presence whether blowing the papers out of an antique typewriter in the painting titled "Turgid Type"or loosing the dots right off the pattern of a hanging dress in "Fall in Place" leaving them tumbling down onto the floor. It is a tough task this; the painting of the wind, yet this abstruse breeze seems to me to be the true inhabitant of these spaces.  It flutters and flows about, making its way around and between the objects in the rooms as handily as we viewers survey the painted subjects themselves.  


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       Fall in Place, oil on canvas, 30"x30"       

        A few live elements do occur to bring a sense of the living into the fray: a bird just flown out of a birdcage, a comical swarm of bees in flight mounted on curious little miniature unicycles. But one particular inanimate item that caught my attention is the recurring old fashioned plug-in electrical cord that is generally present with each painted appliance.  This cord curls out and away from the fans, clothes irons, and movie projectors towards a wall socket as if to seek out some broader harmony for the objects within their surroundings. It is a tangible element of connection -a literal power source- that suffuses Lively's work with a sense of tactile linkage.  In our accelerated present, a time of wireless and unplugged everything, sometimes it takes an honest time-worn item like this to connect us back to fundamental notions of inhabitance and spaces we might call our own.   

 

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     Flutter and Click, oil on paper, 30"x40"

a postscript...

    The painter, I learned from his recent interview on WUNC radio's "The State of Things," also has an intriguing alter ego- Matthew Lively- who is more the brooding type, preferring to work with darker, more menacing themes.  Matthew is more prone to show his work in bars and pubs - his own art underworld if you will- whereas Matt's work is more content in hanging (no pun intended) with the traditional gallery crowd.  The work done under each guise rarely crosses over into the realm of the other and Lively (who I have to imagine must have to constantly refer to himself as the Artist formerly known as the other M) is perfectly ok with that. Indeed it is a modus operandi that serves him well as it has many other creative types through history from Duchamp / Rose Selavy to the multi-heteronymical Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.  The overall benefit is that Lively is able to cleverly pursue multiple, simultaneous streams of thought in his work in a fruitful way.  He in fact becomes his own multi-tasking editor as this working method allows him to let varying ideas and concepts be utilized (or not) in a pluralistic variety of working styles.   In doing so he is able to tinge his works with various subtle shades of meaning that have the benefit of broad resonance with viewers...whatever sort of art venue they tend to frequent.   The artist noted in this same interview that practically none of Matthew's fans are likely to cross over to see the paintings done by Matt and vice versa due to the differences in venue and the type of crowd each attracts.  But do yourself a favor if you get a chance; break this trend and check out what's going on in both places. It's well worth the trip to see what's coming out of the flip side of this artist's palette.













May 13, 2008 8:57 PM | | Comments (0)
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I was speaking with someone this week about a local artist I hadn't thought about in awhile and I got to pondering why this was the case.  (Since I'd been thinking about local folk or outsider artists lately this seemed a natural choice for me to write about this time out also.) The sculptor's name is Vollis Simpson and he's become especially well known nationally in the past decade or so for his giant whirligigs. These are windmill-like contraptions that he builds in his garage in tiny Lacama, North Carolina. Vollis is a retired machinist so he has the know how (plus the requisite shop space and importantly a serious tool collection) to build such things and for the most part, they are some pretty large and intricate constructions. Perhaps I've just taken these artworks for granted as they are accommodating, crowd pleasing, a hit with the kids, and actually just plain fun to watch. Every time I see one of these whirligigs I get a small inkling of what it must have been like to see Calder performing with his circus back in the day. It's like catching a maestro at the top of his game; in this case one with a welding torch in hand and metal grinder in the other. 

There is always an element of kinetic anticipation with these sculptures since for all their lightheartedness and carnival-like whimsy they are actually very precisely balanced and engineered; constructed to spin even in very slight winds. It is easy to be transported back to childhood memories of kites and handheld windmills when you look at Vollis's work because they in fact conjure up all these associations. Hand built, home made toys cobbled together for an afternoon's enjoyment come to mind but most particularly they exemplify flights of fancy straight from the imagination of a child.  To get an idea of what one of these looks like, picture a triangulated metal truss painted up in red, white, and blue and decked out with small cup shaped propellers, reflectors, metal cut out figure shapes, fan blades, and festive spirals that project up and about.  This truss is typically perched upon a metal post directly proportional in height to the whirligig's overall size (i.e. the larger the truss then the taller the post.)  There is often a large propeller shape at the front end and a vertical wind vane-like tail at the rear to help the whole construction spin on its axis and orient itself to the best winds.  There is always with these whirligigs a guarantee of a multitude of shapes and colors glittering and spinning in harmony at the whim of the breeze all through the day. 

One of Vollis's more spectacular whirligigs which is at least the size of a Volkswagen rises magnificently up on a tall column base sited along the sculpture walk that circles the North Carolina Museum of Art. The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore has an equally large whirligig prominently sited just outside their main entrance and it is effective as an eye-catching announcement to potential museum-goers that a different type of art is housed there.  Downtown Raleigh is actually the beneficiary of 3 small whirligigs that reside in a tiny little park near Moore Square. Unfortunately this park (and especially the artwork) is so woefully underutilized that it is actually cordoned off by a high metal fence circling its entire perimeter. The park space is likely to be part of the redevelopment associated with Raleigh's downtown renaissance and the ongoing building boom which is bringing a plethora of new mixed-use construction (and some much need housing) to the downtown scene.  Along with all this is the great hope of enhanced vitality for the downtown scene.  The whirligigs in such a scenario don't really stand a chance against the promise of bona fide leasable square footage and the lure of restored retail spaces long-lost to the suburbs.  much needed retail and teeming with retail and anxious shoppers (or this is how certain hopefuls see it) eager to try the newly rechristened downtown shoso they seem up for grabs.

What my companion and I actually talked about was Vollis's extensive collection of original whirligigs scattered abouts his property in Lacama and how they've weathered over time.  The artist has been at it now for a good couple of decades and some of his first sculptures have been out in the elements since then.  They've gotten a little creaky as a result and we were contemplating this fact as my companion had been fortunate enough to see some of the early whirligigs when they were brand new and freshly installed outside Vollis's garage workshop.  Their movement, he told me, was flawless and silent; like a fine tuned machine motoring along with the breeze.  Part of their awe was seeing the whimsy and crudity of some of the cut-out sheet metal figures and windmill blades contrast with superb engineering allowing their high degree of wind-blown performance.  Would the artist be amenable to restoring his constructions to such a state of super-smooth efficiency if asked?  Or would he instead prefer their weathered appearance acquired over time in situ?  It struck me as an odd pair of juxtapositions: one set of folk art sculptures whose only real problem is that they have simply been outside now at the artist's home for quite awhile now and have consequently suffered pm;u at the hand of Mother Nature, and another trio of small whirligig cousins whose only crime is that they sit on some now highly valued land deemed much more appropriate for something other than a teeny-tiny urban park that no one can enter or use.  

 

 

May 9, 2008 10:21 PM | | Comments (1)

It's a heartfelt event for me when kids are allowed to truly interact with art and this is just what happens at the annual Clydefest celebration each April in Chatham County, N.C.  It's a grassroots event in the tiny community of Bynum and the feeling is more of village festival which it in fact is, although it is organized with the intention of also honoring a specific individual: local outsider artist Clyde Jones.  The festival is at the Bynum ballpark with all sorts of tents and activities set up across the outfield grass. Clyde himself takes up residence in a folding chair under a tent canopy set up right in the middle of all the action and it's great fun to be able to walk right up and talk with him and check out a rough work-to-be by his side in the tent. A highlight of the day is when Clyde does a demonstration and carves a work right on the spot for a charity auction.  Clyde's trademark artworks are his 'critters' which are extremely rough-hewn, large wooden animals, usually brightly painted and festooned with glitter, metal scraps, and all other sorts of found objects. (A giraffe on display this year had its markings demarcated by old tuna cans for instance and many smaller pig critters have attached objects like softballs for eyes.) They are often decked out in these tremendous pastel colors like mint green or lavender.  I think whatever old house paint color palette Clyde has going at the time. The festival this past weekend had my personal favorite, a Harley Davidson-size glittery silver critter - decked out with a saddle even- and of course all are invited to climb aboard for a photo op or just a momentary ride down the highway of one's imagination.  Kids of course love all this, mine are certainly no exception, and Clyde has also sawn and carved several other attractions at the festival for them: a hoop toss onto a few medium size spiky critters, a ball toss into a slanted piece of brightly painted plywood, a few fish critters that kids can fish for in a small wading pool, an open painting area with pre cut animal shapes and plenty of open paint cans in a wide variety of colors and a whole bunch of glitter where you can make your own take-home critter.  I think you get the idea. It is crowd participation par excellence. The fact that kids can so directly interact with the artwork I think is the best part. Rather than be all touchy and particular about the sculptures, Clyde in fact encourages this interaction and the fact that kids can be so hands-on I think is a tremendous benefit for them. Kids have that natural inclination to learn by touching and the Bynum ballpark on this day is a great learning field.   The fact that Clydefest's main attraction and namesake (not to mention all the volunteer help) puts in this amount of work and personal energy to give everything such a personal touch and also takes the time to make it so fun for all the attendees and especially for all the kids makes this a new favorite day out adventure for me.  Now if I can just wrangle up one of those critters to keep at home...

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April 27, 2008 6:40 PM | | Comments (0)
I was able to get out over this past weekend to enjoy a beauti-mous day out at the outdoor sculpture area and path around the NC Museum of Art's campus known as the Museum Park or artwalk. You can check it out here.

'Tis a good thing the art walk is in such good shape (although it's still awaiting some real construction action on the yet to be constructed pavilion designed to be a model in environmental stormwater management with high art mojo to boot)  as the rest of the museum's grounds are a bit of a wreck at the moment. A highly anticipated museum addition is in the early to mid-construction phase and there's basically a whole bunch of exposed red clay dirt punctured by a little raw steel framing on that side of the site.

There is however some definite progress on the Thomas Pfifer-designed addition which promises to provide much improved galleries more in line with contemporary standards of gallery design.  Let's face it, the museum's Edward Durell Stone bunker building from 1983 (which in truth feels much older - surely I'm not alone in feeling this?) is a little lacking compared to the spaces being churned out now by the big starchitects who have been benefiting from the big museum building boom of recent years.  Nowadays the light filled soaring spaces that seasoned museum goers can experience from MoMA to the Tate to the Nelson-Atkins are not only getting them accustomed to some serious spatial extravagance, but now they are indeed expecting this every time out I think.  While the Phifer addition still has a long ways to go until completion, it will be a very interesting project to see as it moves toward completion.  One of NCMA's biggest problems is their hodgepodge of a campus which besides the Durell Stone building and Museum Park also includes a Smith-Miller Hawkinson designed amphitheater and concert pavilion as well as Barbara Kruger piece designed to be seen in aerial view.  There is a lot to see out there and it all sprawls around the grounds so the question of how the Phifer piece fits into this menagerie will be a very interesting one to watch...



April 2, 2008 10:37 PM | | Comments (0)

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