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Art Wishes 2002 

Looking ahead at the new year's possibilities

My art statement for the year: A world-class city promotes art. It's that simple. My first wish, therefore, is that Charlotte's mayor grows to be truly supportive of the proposed one percent for visual art endowment in new public construction budgets. Our current incumbent, Pat McCrory, is a waffler about this straightforward proposition and holds Charlotte back from higher status.

Wish #2: That the Public Art Commission of the Arts & Science Council and Ron Tober of CATS (Charlotte Area Transit System) get along together, and establish a strong, community-based program to keep public art actively engaged in the design of stations and related elements of the light rail system.

My third wish ­ a perennial from previous years' wish lists ­ has at last come true, at least partially! For more than a decade, I've argued that the Mint Museum of Art should revive its Regional Biennial, or at least offer a competition of some sort to involve contemporary, living artists, regional or otherwise. Though this specific competition is not being revived, things are definitely looking up.

Susan Perry of the Mint tells me that the museum will be offering "the Charlotte art community" the chance to compete for spots in a juried exhibition at the Mint Museum of Art and Spirit Square. This single competition with two venues, titled Celebrating the Legacy of Romare Bearden, will give artists the opportunity to "express the impact of the Charlotte artist Romare Bearden on their own artwork."

This competition will complement a pair of exhibitions, Narratives of African American Identity and Art: The David C. Driskell Collection and Charlotte's Own: Romare Bearden, both of which are slated to open August 24, 2002 at the Mint Museum of Art.

Artist, educator and collector David Driskell will be the juror for the exhibition to be held in the Middleton-McMillan Gallery at Spirit Square (October-December 2002) and the Dickson Gallery at the Mint (November 2002-February 2003).

The prospectus with an open call to artists from NC and SC is available by calling Susan Perry at 704/337-2032 or by e-mail, sperry@mintmuseum.org. The Mint has not offered regional artists the opportunity for a juried exhibition since the 1990 Mint Museum Biennial. One wonders, why not? The limiting theme, of Bearden, may disturb some artists wishing to do their own thing, but this is a good start for a renewed program.

Having an item on many years' New Year's Wish Lists partially coming true is wonderful, but how wonderful depends upon whether Celebrating the Legacy of Romare Bearden, which relies for its existence on a specific grant, will evolve into a regular opportunity for such exhibitions, or whether it's simply a tease, a one-off. Will the exhibition become perennial? Or will my wish regain perennial status instead? Wait and see. It's thought provoking to consider that The Fayetteville Museum of Art is celebrating its 30th Annual Competition for North Carolina Artists this year.

Wish #4: This is another echo from previous years. The younger, fresher, Mint Museum of Craft + Design should establish a juried national, or even international, show of living craftspeople and designers. Call it what you will ­ Art Currents of Craft or New Frontiers for Design ­ a regional annual or biennial needs to be instigated there, too.

Wish #5: But wait! Another, related wish has come true! Interestingly, the Tryon Center for the Visual Arts has trumped the Mint Museum at its own game and instituted a competition for artists in the region! What's New, juried by Pallas C. Lombardi, the Center's new Director of residencies and exhibitions, is already in the works and will be displayed at Spirit Square in March. Congratulations to the Tryon Center!

I'd like to end my 2002 Wish List by challenging some tired old art cliches. My last wish is to question these alleged truisms about art that so often hold us back, as individuals and as a city.

Truism I: You have to be poor to be an artist, and preferably live in a garret.

What's wrong with this picture? No artists I know aspire to this condition. Is this a notion promulgated by people who want to pigeonhole artists, to assign them a role in a romantic myth and thus marginalize them in society? Many artists I know are successful, perhaps in a smaller way than their corporate brethren, but still able to pay the rent or the mortgage. Some artists even make a decent living.

Truism II: Van Gogh was a typical artist; Jackson Pollock was just like him. Reputedly, both guys were miserable a lot of the time. The Dutchman was poor and unappreciated, and Pollock developed a "bad boy" image, both of which contribute to the popular mythology of the artist as outcast and rebel (related to Truism I above). In a postmodern reversal of stereotype, Englishman Damien Hurst put the "misunderstood bad boy image" to good use in the 1990s and became very, very rich. Let's move on.

Truism III: New York is viewed as a kind of "Mecca" by the visual arts world.

Is this still the case? In an essay about NYC's decline as the center of the art world, Australian-born critic Robert Hughes commented as long ago as 1990 that New York's "hegemony of American art" no longer set the cultural standard for the rest of the world. Hughes added that artists might as well live in Chicago, San Francisco or Hoboken, within "city-states" with their own centers. You could add Charlotte to this list.

Truism IV: New York is the only place worth looking at visual art.

New York fights to retain its imperial status by relegating other venues to lower divisions. It promotes itself endlessly, to an extent that has engendered a great deal of laziness among provincial art critics. Rather than forming their own analyses of work on its merits, these critics brand their own "provincial" artists as being, at best, "outsider" or "regional" artists, not worthy of serious consideration on the "national" scene, or, at worst, simply not worth noticing.

In reality, the art arena is bigger, and more sophisticated, than this. I'd wager that if a critic from anywhere made appointments to visit the studios of certain serious visual artists living in Charlotte, these visits would be as visually rewarding as a similar crop of visits in "the art capital" of America.

Happy New Year! *

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