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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Art + abuse = The People Pleaser?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 10:48 AM

The importance of civil discourse is driven into our heads from a young age. It’s a cornerstone of polite society. If you don’t have anything nice to say, we’re told, don’t say anything at all. And if you’ve got some built up frustrations, don’t air them in public.

One local artist recently challenged this cultural norm with a performance piece titled The People Pleaser. Joshua “Blue” Haney, a UNCC student and artist openly invited people to yell out their frustrations at him for five minutes while he sat mute and receptive. The idea, Haney said, was “to signify two things, my own feeling of confusion and overload, along with my issue with being a people pleaser.”

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  • Images courtesy of Malena Bergmann

Many likely find it quite appealing to vent their frustrations at someone who cannot verbally pass judgment or give them sunny optimistic platitudes in response. In reality, it may turn out to be more difficult than expected. In a way, the performance pressure was placed more solely on the shoulders of the “audience” than on the artist himself. It’s not easy to sit and listen to strangers yell, but neither is it easy to break free of the behavioral patterns you’ve had reinforced for your entire life.

At first, only the artist’s friends and classmates had a go. They yelled at him for smoking. They told him conceptual art was overrated. They said his art project was poorly thought out and doomed to failure because no one cared; only fellow artists were yelling at him and that didn’t really count.

Hainey seemed to be thinking the same thing, as he asked if he could pause, briefly standing up to encourage more participation. “You can’t pause in the middle of an art piece!” Hainey’s professor, Malena Bergmann, admonished. He sat back down and made due with the participants he had, who now seemed even more fired up to tell him what they thought of his art, and his existence in general. Eventually, this loosened a few of the two dozen or so in attendance. One woman walked up and vented about the college’s parking situation. A young man followed, asking, “Why does Walmart suck to work for?”

Hainey remained silent, taking drags off his cigarette and occasionally checking his watch, as things began drifting into the absurd. “You peed on the floor again!” shouted one man, as if Hainey were a misbehaving dog. Another, who after the performance was revealed to me to be Hainey’s best friend, pushed him flat on the ground before taking his shoes and chucking them across the plaza.

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When the five minutes were up it was Hainey’s turn to dish it out. He took the nonparticipants to task for being passive, for not caring about art, and for failing to try something new even though that’s what college is supposed to be all about. He finished strong: “Do something! You’re here, make a movement. Do it! It’s now. We live one time, one time only.”

Finally all those quiet onlookers let out one big, group scream. “Thank you!” said a visibly relieved Hainey.

So was the piece a success?

“I think it went okay,” Hainey said. “It could have been a lot better if more people had shown up and gotten caught up in the moment and participated. However, as far as the simple communication of my concept, I’d say it was successful.”

“It was an extremely cathartic experience,” he said of getting to yell back at the crowd (which, it turns out, was planned and signified his breaking away from being a chronic people pleaser). “I shook for about 30 minutes after. It was so cleansing to scream my frustrations out at the world.”

One can’t help but wonder if the experience was more fulfilling for the artist than the audience, but considering the performance’s concept, that seems a fitting outcome.

A video of the event follows. (Please be forewarned that there is strong language used throughout.)

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Art Review: PEOPLE PLACES POWER

Posted By on Tue, Feb 8, 2011 at 10:48 AM

Industry and government have long altered the landscape as if they were producing land art’s evil twin, creating exquisite scars that are the visual evidence of our need for power. Some of the most compelling photographs in PEOPLE PLACES POWER: Reframing the American Landscape, on view at the Davidson College Art Galleries through February 25, document this phenomenon.

The subject matter of these photographs gives them their moral authority. But it is the cruel, unearned beauty of the forms depicted — a gash of city light in the desert night, the elegant curve of a cooling tower, a single fence at the border — that draws us in, enmeshing us in a queasy, guilt-ridden relationship.

Mitch Epstein, "Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond, West Virginia," 2004, (Image courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)
  • Mitch Epstein, "Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond, West Virginia," 2004, (Image courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York)

The exhibition’s dominant image — it’s not only the centerpiece of the publicity, but it quietly assaults you as you first enter the galleries — is Mitch Epstein’s "Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond, West Virginia." In this subdued display of twisted normalcy, cooling towers loom behind a modest, pleasant neighborhood with a mix of paternalism and threat. The gray towers almost blend in with the sky, giving the whole image a weird sense of intimacy and rightness.

David Hilliard, "Dad," 1998, (Image courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York)
  • David Hilliard, "Dad," 1998, (Image courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York)

Some images seem to depict a struggle in which nature is victorious. Andrew Moore’s "Model T HQ, Detroit" shows a ruined interior with what at first glance appears to be the remains of a filthy green carpet — but is in reality a moss-covered floor. Victoria Sambunaris’ "Wendover, Utah" portrays a dreary, isolated development that stands in sad contrast to the pristine mountains in the distance.

Andrew Moore, "Model T HQ," Detroit, 2009, (Image courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York)
  • Andrew Moore, "Model T HQ," Detroit, 2009, (Image courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York)

I’m a total sucker for images of the majestic, exploited landscape, so it's probably due to personal taste that my energy started to flag in the final gallery, with its emphasis on people and personal drama. This is not to disparage the many noteworthy photographs in this space, among them David Hilliard’s poignant "Dad," a pensive, perhaps defeated figure viewed through the window of his house, as well as "Tracy (Cherry Drizzle)" by art star Ryan McGinley. There is simply an abundance of work in this exhibition that demands serious consideration, and even with a spare installation that allows each piece to speak for itself, there is almost too much to view. This show is a must-see; just make sure you allot plenty of time.

While doing the preliminary research for PEOPLE PLACES POWER, gallery director Brad Thomas (who gets high marks for the restrained, intelligent curating of this exhibition and pretty much anything else that crosses his path) learned that Mitch Epstein and author Susan Bell were collaborating on WHATISAMERICANPOWER.COM, a public art project involving a website and billboards in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. Epstein and Bell agreed to extend the project to include a poster campaign in Davidson and the Charlotte area. To participate in Poster – Picture – Post: A Community Collaboration, pick up a free poster at the gallery before February 25, mount it (with permission) in a public space, then document it and post your image on the gallery’s Facebook page.

— Barbara Schreiber

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thinking about ‘thisness’: Artist Harris Dimitropoulos searches for exceptions in a world of rules

Posted By on Wed, Oct 20, 2010 at 9:21 AM

Harris DimitropoulosHecceity (Storrs Gallery, School of Architecture, UNC Charlotte) features nine large digital works made entirely with common tools. Dimitropoulos makes complex works using basic hardware and software as a way to explore his evolving attitude toward digital media.

Harris Dimitropoulos, Caustic Networks. Giclée print on canvas, 42-inch x 42-inch (image courtesy of the artist)
  • Harris Dimitropoulos, Caustic Networks. Giclée print on canvas, 42-inch x 42-inch (image courtesy of the artist)

The work falls into two different camps: ink-jet prints on canvas and map-like works on paper.

The seven canvases are aggressive, most with bright, hard colors that resemble automotive finishes. In some, glossy surfaces loop, twist and fracture; in others there is organic rupture and flow. There is a lot of contradictory play with flatness and depth, linear elements, spillage, and reflection, all harnessed into a set of highly disciplined works.

These canvas works are purely digital. Dimitropoulos starts with small sketches, but most of the work is done with 3-D software, Photoshop or other pixel-editing software and a graphics tablet.

The two map pieces are more subtle and intimate. They not only evoke the dreamy emotions one has when poring over maps, but they lack the sleek, cool distance of the canvases. Each 60-inch by 84-inch archival print on paper features a manipulated image of water or earth, over which are superimposed layers of black and white patterns derived from images such as water on a lake or plant structures.

Harris Dimitropoulos, Dichroic "Red". Giclée print on canvas, 48-inch by 48-inch (image courtesy of the artist)
  • Harris Dimitropoulos, Dichroic "Red". Giclée print on canvas, 48-inch by 48-inch (image courtesy of the artist)

For Dimitropoulos, this work is about exceeding limits. Intentionally using the default function of the computer (as well as readily available software), he fights something predetermined to produce unique objects.

As a studio instructor in architecture at Georgia Tech, Dimitropoulos was forced to accept our increasing dependence on technology. But he went beyond accepting to embracing — since the mid-’90s, his artistic output has been almost entirely digital. When he talks about these pieces and the arduous process of constructing them, however, it is evident that he still believes in the goodness of manual work.

And what about the title of the show? Briefly, hecceity is that which makes something unique, an object’s “thisness.”

This work is perfectly capable of standing on its own, but if you choose, the knotty artist statement accompanying the exhibition can lead you down a trail of critical theory and philosophy that can be confounding, inspiring or both. Welcome it or ignore it, but don’t be intimidated by this or any other complex artist statement. Artists travel many paths — in terms of both inspiration and method — to get to their work.

– Barbara Schreiber

Harris Dimitropoulos: Hecceity runs through October 22 at the Storrs Gallery, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, College of Arts + Architecture, School of Architecture: http://coaa.uncc.edu/Academics/School-of-architecture/

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A plea for peace: Iraqi-born American artist Wafaa Bilal states his case with visceral performance works

Posted By on Tue, Oct 12, 2010 at 4:03 PM

The galleries at Davidson College have a tradition of bringing notable, sometimes difficult art to Charlotte audiences. This week, an exhibition that upholds that tradition opens in the college’s Van Every Gallery.

Wafaa Bilal was born in Iraq and is a naturalized citizen of the United States. In his often grueling, performance-based work, he takes both cultures to task for allowing fears, assumptions and noxious stereotypes to obstruct the path to peaceful conflict resolution. Among other things, he addresses the way people are desensitized by video games that present fantasy as fact and how depersonalization is essential to prosecuting war.

Wafaa Bilal, "Domestic Tension" (photo courtesy of the artist)
  • Wafaa Bilal, "Domestic Tension" (photo courtesy of the artist)

Bilal’s Davidson exhibition includes recreations of two live performances. In “Domestic Tension,” Bilal was confined to a gallery where people could interact with him via chat and webcam 24 hours a day. Over a period of one month, his website received more than 80 million hits. People also had the option of shooting him with paintballs, and shoot they did — more than 65,000 times. “and Counting,” is an ongoing project in which Bilal will be tattooed with 5,000 red dots to represent members of the US military who have died in the war in Iraq and 100,000 green dots, visible only under black light, to represent Iraqi casualties. There will be additional programming on Bilal and his work throughout the run of the exhibition.

Wafaa Bilal, "and Counting" (Photograph by Brad Farwell, courtesy the artist)
  • Wafaa Bilal, "and Counting" (Photograph by Brad Farwell, courtesy the artist)

Despite his subject matter, Bilal strives to skirt controversy and instead promote discussion. As a result, he has racked up coverage and praise from mainstream outlets such National Public Radio, which recently did an in-depth feature on him, Newsweek and the Chicago Tribune and exhibited in Baghdad, the Netherlands, Thailand, Croatia and numerous U.S. venues, including the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and the Milwaukee Art Museum. He currently teaches in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

Bilal will present a lecture in the Semans Lecture Hall, Thursday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m., to be followed by a gallery reception.

The Smith Gallery will feature a sort of homecoming for former Charlotte artist Darren Goins, who decamped to New York earlier this year. Casual Language: A Mixed Emoticon, will feature all-new work that encompasses silkscreen, neon and drawings rendered with old CAD software. (Goins has endured some ribbing for his attachment to vintage CAD, but it really fits his aesthetic.)

Goins will discuss this work, which was commissioned specifically for the exhibition, Friday, Oct. 15, at 12:45 p.m., in the gallery.

Both exhibitions run through December 8. The Van Every/Smith Galleries and Semans Lecture Hall are located in the Belk Visual Arts Center, 315 North Main Street, Davidson. Admission is free. Info: Brad Thomas, brthomas@davidson.edu or 704-894-2519.

— Barbara Schreiber

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The lab and the riff: Diverse processes come together in Synaesthesia

Posted By on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 at 9:10 AM

While the term synaesthesia refers to cross-sensory experience, in the exhibition Synaesthesia what comes across even more strongly is the power of accretion. Both Nick Bloomberg and Oliver Lewis allude to stuff piling up — Bloomberg to time and events, Lewis to the effluvia of consumer culture. Bloomberg celebrates it; Lewis tries to rein it in.

Nick Bloomberg, "Sphinx (light-Blues)," acrylic on canvas, 36-inch x 26-inch
  • Nick Bloomberg, "Sphinx (light-Blues)," acrylic on canvas, 36-inch x 26-inch

Synaesthesia provides a rewarding opportunity to see two talented artists early in their careers as they’re developing their respective aesthetics and working out a few kinks.

Oliver Lewis started off as premed student. He threw it all off to become a self-taught artist, but his love of scientific process remains. His large works (about 40 inches x 30 inches) involve staged photos that he manipulates in Photoshop and silkscreens onto wood panels, which he then coats with chemicals and chars to reveal the final monochromatic image. If everything goes right, the result is an impressive meditation on the too-muchness of contemporary culture, with a little memento mori thrown in. If it doesn’t, the piece can literally go up in flames.

Oliver Lewis, "Holiday," 40-inch x 30-inch, photograph/chemically charred wood panel
  • Oliver Lewis, "Holiday," 40-inch x 30-inch, photograph/chemically charred wood panel

These pieces function like windows onto a strange world that Lewis has created, although I did find that the glossy frames and prominent signature detracted a bit from this otherworldliness. (But he picks up some extra credit for his cool labels.)

Nick Bloomberg’s work is deeply influenced by music, particularly jazz. Much of the work here is based on etchings that he digitally reproduces on canvas and then paints back into. They are exuberant, filled with jittery forms and colors.

Bloomberg is drawn to what happens in interstices, how various art media and forms can interact not just during the process of making art, but after a work is completed. He also ponders what it means to finish a work or how one even determines when a work is finished. This is evident in “Sphinx,” perhaps his most accomplished piece here, which derives a lot of its energy from the interplay of precise lines and frenetic washes of color.

Bloomberg’s passion for bringing diverse elements together can be seen not only in his individual works but in the way they’re exhibited. In this case though, I think he would have been better served by a more spare, cohesive installation; in particular, I found the inclusion of a single wood piece distracting, especially in such a compact space.

So what about the title of the exhibition? “Making visual art that is process-oriented and then bringing in music and poetry — the art then becomes what happens between all these individual efforts,” Bloomberg told me at the Sept. 3 opening. “That is a fascinating thing to work with — where the larger art piece is the conversation and the development within the community.” This experience is what he and Lewis are going for on Sept. 17: the exhibition will open at 6 p.m. and an event featuring live poetry by Adeola Fearon and music by Ultimate Optimist, Blossoms and Many Moons begins at 8:30 p.m.

— Barbara Schreiber

Synaesthesia at Grinfactor, The Arthouse, 3103 Cullman Ave., NoDa.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Color rules at Pease Gallery's Oil Spill exhibit

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 9:20 AM

Linda Luise Brown’s paintings are big, exuberant affairs. “Oil Spill,” her current exhibition at the Pease Gallery on the campus of Central Piedmont Community College, offers a chance to see these works just as they should be seen — by themselves, unapologetically commandeering a space.

"Crucible" by Linda Luise Brown. Images courtesy of the artist.
  • "Crucible" by Linda Luise Brown. Images courtesy of the artist.

Brown’s paintings churn with clear, brilliant colors layered with an assortment of bold strokes, delicate calligraphic marks and controlled drips. She begins by methodically priming her canvases with rabbit-skin glue and multiple layers of tinted oil primer and her works on paper with acrylic gesso before attacking the surface in a process she likens to automatic writing.

A few of the paintings have explicit landscape references. Others are more subtle, at first appearing like total abstractions, but on further examination revealing what might be pathways, vegetation and other recognizable forms. “Crucible,” a large (4.5 x 6 feet), luscious painting primed with old Italian colors and filled with movement and density, can keep a viewer occupied for quite a while, teasing out all manner of things — geological formations, some fairly amazing stuff spewing into the air, and perhaps a figure (and what the hell, maybe even a champagne glass or two).

"Sonar" by Linda Luise Brown.
  • "Sonar" by Linda Luise Brown.

In contrast to the big, bossy canvases are a few smaller (30 x 40 inch) and quieter works on paper. “Sonar,” which has an ethereal glow that can probably be attributed in part to its gold gesso primer, sports an alluring shape on the left that inspired the title.

While Brown’s painting process might appear spontaneous and effortless, it is fraught with risk. There’s a certain amount of courage in working this way — one screw-up and there goes the painting, because it’s difficult to paint out a mistake or cover it up when you’re working this thin.

Brown’s rich knowledge of art history is evident in these paintings — among others, you can detect whiffs of Kandinsky, Gorky and Matta. But whatever their influences, they are mostly about the transcendent pleasure of moving paint around a large surface.

— Barbara Schreiber

Linda Luise Brown’s Oil Spill: Large Oil Paintings runs through Sept. 30 at the Pease Gallery, Central Piedmont Community College. Reception for the artist, Sept. 7, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. For directions and maps, visit http://tix.cpcc.edu/parking-directions.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From Banksy to Banktown

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 10:03 AM

Graffiti at Mecklenburg/Johnston Mills, Noda. Image courtesy — Marcus Kiser.
  • Graffiti at Mecklenburg/Johnston Mills, Noda. Image courtesy — Marcus Kiser.

Banksy was here! Well, not really (wouldn’t it have been cool though?) — but at least his film, the most anticipated and discussed movie of the year (as far as visual art world is concerned), Exit Through the Gift Shop — was playing here.

Maybe as many words have been written about the film as people have watched it, and I don’t wish to regurgitate the thoughts or re-speculate on the “truthiness” of the film. These are just some thoughts provoked by the film on contemporary art, graffiti/street art, and finally, its place in Charlotte.

The so-called contemporary “art world”, as the readers of this blog might know all too well, is a strange place. On one hand it is the most open, egalitarian world, occupied mostly by people who have made a conscious choice to follow a tough path in life as an artist, purely because of their love and dedication to their art. On the other hand, it has a rather closed highly exclusive center, where success (and hence, fame and fortune) is decided by a relatively small number of critics, large institutions, dealers, gallery owners and their affluent patrons, mostly based in a handful of big cities. But it is also a very insecure center, as it is always trying to maintain its contemporariness and “edginess” by finding and including what is well outside that glorified circle. And while being isolated from most major social trends of the day, it is very susceptible to media hype, and the short-lived fads that they engender.

It is this insecurity, this breach in the proverbial camp, that allows people like Bansky and Shepard Fairey (to mention the biggest names in the medium of “street art”, and also two of the main artists featured in the film) to mock and exploit the establishment, and to profit from it.

Whether it is hip-hop or rock music, the art of rebellion soon gets co-opted by the very forces that they oppose. Street art is being used these days by the biggest corporations like Toyota, Reebok and IBM. Has the medium thus lost its effectiveness as the voice of the counter-culture? Is “Exit Through he Gift Shop” thus meant to be an epitaph to street art that has gotten commercialized and absorbed by the establishment?

No matter whether Mr. Brainwash is real or a fake, or whether the whole thing is a “prankumentary” or not, it is not too often that a low budget summer flick can make one laugh, and raise such questions.

A basic tenet of Richard Florida’s famous prescription for the growth of cities is that places that are open to “gays and bohemians” are also places that attract creativity and hence growth. I would like to think that any city where graffiti has developed and gained enough quantity and depth to be termed “street art” are also cities that have attained culturally fertility at all levels of the society.

Charlotte doesn’t do well in that regard. Thanks to an anti-graffiti task force, we see little “creative vandalism” around here. We need to search hard to find the few remaining places where graffiti still (barely) exists. One such place is behind the boarded up Mecklenburg/Johnston Mills (see photo), which perhaps not coincidentally, was also the birthplace for some of the now flourishing slam poetry groups, as well as art collectives like God City.

How does a city balance its zero-tolerance of any kind of crime, while allowing the creative expression of individuals who otherwise does not have any venue for that? How far are we from producing our own Bansky or Fairey, if not the Banktown Basquiat?

Manoj P Kesavan

Fairey interviews Banksy — worth a read: http://swindlemagazine.com/issue08/banksy/

Special thanks to Antoine, Marcus, Tim and Wolly of God City — local artists who draw inspiration from graffiti and street art. This article is in part the outcome of a discussion with them about the film.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gallery Up is a haven for Small Works

Posted By on Wed, Jun 30, 2010 at 10:12 AM

Not all hallways are created equal. If you need confirmation of this, just visit Gallery Up in Rock Hill. A hallway gallery is often an afterthought, a sop thrown to artists. But Gallery Up is a jewel box.

I spent a few hours last Thursday hanging out in this beautiful spot for the opening of 30 Small Works, an annual juried exhibition that attracts artists from across the country. Gallery Up also includes a store and a custom frame shop, discrete spaces that sustain the exhibition program. You can find all this on the second floor of the Gettys Art Center, a former post office and courthouse building that now houses an array of studios and other arts-related enterprises.

30 Small Works opening at Gallery Up in Rock Hill
  • 30 Small Works opening at Gallery Up in Rock Hill

A juried exhibition can be a real crapshoot for a gallery, because you’re dependent on whatever artists send in for your consideration. But a great space and a no-nonsense juror can go a long way toward corralling a woolly assortment of submissions into a coherent show. 30 Small Works , now in its third year, always looks tight and this year’s version seems particularly so. And it looks as if juror Ce Scott, the Creative Director at the McColl Center for Visual Art as well as the Harvey Gantt Center, brought both her critical eye and her experience as a private chef to the task. The show has more than its share of dessert imagery, my personal favorite being Tabitha Ott’s luscious Dulce Brooch.

The gallery has always benefited from a strong pool of local artists, but early on there was a desire to expand its reach nationally. Gallery manager Stephanie Jordan and former co-manager Alfred McCloud proposed the juried show to owners Tamara LaValla and Zan Maddox as a way to bring in artists from across the country. (Or even the world — it was opened up to international submissions this year.) “It’s been pretty consistent over three years,” says Jordan. “About 20 percent of the submissions come from the area, which includes Charlotte. This year, there were over 300 entries from 120 artists.”

Artist and Winthrop faculty Shaun Cassidy chats with Gallery Up co-owner Tamara LaValla
  • Artist and Winthrop faculty Shaun Cassidy chats with Gallery Up co-owner Tamara LaValla

In a little more than three years, Gallery Up has become an important venue for area artists, who have long struggled with a dearth of professionally run places to show their work. The gallery was honored this year with the Business and the Arts Award from the York County Arts Council.

“It took us a while to feel comfortable approaching people and asking them show in what is essentially a hallway,” says LaValla. “But after a while, we decided that this is what we are and we could be proud of it. We’re here in this historic building, and the building is gorgeous.”

— Barbara Schreiber

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Recession, architecture and Dope: A tale of two art shows

Posted By on Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 1:33 PM

Two notable — and maybe the best attended — art shows that opened this month are (1) the Art by Architects show, a collaboration between AIA Charlotte and Hodges Taylor Gallery; and (2) the Art of Dope – Vol. 1: Coke by five artists from the God City collective, held at the Art House. And they present a perfect study in contrasts, if there was ever one.

There are the more obvious differences: one is in one of the oldest galleries, right in the middle of the glossy corporate heart of the town, the other in an area full of rundown mill buildings and empty warehouses. The artists and the attendees at the opening in one event were predominantly (if not all) white — and the other, black. But it is the contrast in the nature of the work that is even more fascinating, and perhaps more revelatory.

The Art of Dope series attempts to explore the effect of drugs on the individual, society and popular culture. This premier installment focuses on cocaine (both the blow and crack varieties, in case you have a preference). It was also a play on the popular usage of the term “dope” — as something so good it is addictive — art as dope. Some of the work is literal, some more subtle and layered; some dark and complex, some not much more than slicker versions of editorial cartoons … yet taken as a whole, they blur the boundaries between various media, and question the role of the artist in the society — as it has become characteristic of God City’s work. They boldly tackle the complex and highly sensitive politics and culture of drug use in the community, while offering up art, music and creativity as a possible way out of the trap.

Murray Whisnant: "Fuller's Earth." Image courtesy of AIAC/Hodges Taylor Gallery
  • Murray Whisnant: "Fuller's Earth." Image courtesy of AIAC/Hodges Taylor Gallery

Marcus Kiser: "Coke is it." Image courtesy of the artist.
  • Marcus Kiser: "Coke is it." Image courtesy of the artist.

Whereas the architects show was notable due to the total absence of any reference to social/political/community issues. Other than the usual travel sketches/paintings, the majority of the works comprised of abstract compositions drawing from the various early 20th Century styles in very traditional media, like painting and sculpture. (That is not to imply that the Architects’ show did not have some exceptional pieces: Murray Whisnant’s “Fuller’s Earth” showcases his characteristic skill and levity, Ron Morgan’s marble and wood abstract “Figure” displays a high refinement of craft and aesthetic, and Carrie Gault’s small and seemingly quick watercolors captures a unique emotional intensity. And that is just to name a few — in fact most of the 30-odd pieces display notable talent.)

I also don’t believe that art should be judged by the strength of its message (or the lack thereof), or the (un)conventionality of the medium; however, how a group/community acts at a time of crisis often reveals a lot about its true nature. The “safe and detached” nature of the architects’ work would not have been so ironic if not for the fact that the show is taking place after two years of the worst recession in anyone’s memory (and because of which, most people who were at the opening were probably facing the biggest professional crisis of their lives). When one’s work is out of touch with one’s own reality — let alone that of the larger society — something is fundamentally wrong.

Of course these problems are not unique to Charlotte. (Even though our city, being middle of the road on most things, seems to illustrate them perfectly.) Also analyzing what is wrong with architecture is a whole ’nother discussion. Yet it is not hard to conclude that if the current conditions teaches anything, it is the need to redefine architecture (both academics and practice) to be more responsive to the times, make itself more inclusive, and be relevant to the larger community, well beyond the tiny percentage of the populace it currently serves.

Crises force one to be inventive, to redefine one’s role and to be creative beyond the confines of one’s medium. Maybe the ailing Uptown architects can start by learning something from the sick work of the young artists at the edge of the city. Hip-hop architecture, anyone?

– Manoj P Kesavan

Show details:

Art by Architects at Hodges Taylor Gallery: June 4 – July 31, 2010

Art of Dope – Vol.1: Coke at the Art House: June 4 – June 30, 2010.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Save our libraries. Redux — the 'Crying Wolf' edition

Posted By on Wed, Jun 2, 2010 at 10:42 AM

As our regular readers know, this blog is primarily about (mostly local) art, design –  and the social/cultural events and trends that affect and influence them. But, two months ago we departed from our usual topics to urge everyone to help ward off the closure of half our libraries — because we believe that it is an issue that anyone (who advocates any kind of cultural development) can be apathetic about.

And as we all know now, the March crisis, a $2 million shortage that threatened to close 12 branches and lay off 150 employees, got averted with reduced hours at all branches, and the layoff of around 120 employees and pay cuts for all those who remained. But now the wolf is back at the door. And this time the it’s a seemingly steeper challenge:

As per the new county budget, the library system will apparently be short of $17 million for the next fiscal year (starting July 1). So, if a shortage of $2 million could cause the closure of half the branches, this should be the death of the whole system, right? Well, apparently the math isn’t that simple. The current advocacy page at the library website warns (in bold red letters, in case you miss it) about the imminent closure of 16 branches — unless of course, something is done soon. Elsewhere, they are also proposing a “Sustainability Plan” where with an additional $8 million from the county and the cities, they could survive by closing only 4 of the branches.

Some of us — especially those who championed this issue two months ago — are perhaps a bit weary of it this time around. There have also been questions about the role and the judgment of the Library Board of Trustees, who ultimately decides what the Library does. If they had a Plan B (the one adopted now, with the reduced hours) did they really have to cause all the shock and anxiety at the prospect of the sudden closure of 12 branches? (It also didn’t help that, in the process, they aggravated the County Commissioners and the county manager — who controls almost 90 percent of their funding – by making it seem that it was the Commissioners’ decision to close them, and not theirs.) Moreover, by causing a public outcry (not to mention an outpouring of support) then, perhaps they lessened the chances of that happening again now, when there is an even bigger need for it.

Maybe all of us have a limited supply of outrage/angst (well, with a few possible exceptions), and it is not easy to repeatedly whip up those emotions — especially about the same old topic, when we have hot new monsters to shake our fists at. However, this is still an issue that would have an immediate impact on the quality of our daily lives, as well as a long-term one on prospects of this city. It is too critical to be discounted due to doubts about the competence of the government/leadership. People come and go, the institutions need to remain.

It is in our interests to contribute whatever we can, to urge the city and the county to allocate more funds, and moreover, to remain concerned and engaged. It is just too valuable a resource for us to lose, particularly now, in the middle of this seemingly never-ending recession — when we fear losing a lot of things that we took for granted just two years ago.

Let’s try hold on to this one.

— Manoj P Kesavan

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