Converge purports to be a two-artist show, but it's really two engaging solo exhibitions that share some thematic and visual concerns.
If you're puzzled about the relationship between the works of Sonya Clark and Quisqueya Henriquez, here it is in a nutshell. Both artists deal with history — Henriquez with the history of art and Clark with cultural history — and there are visual similarities between the moiré/grids in Henriquez's work and the combs in Clark's work. Also, Clark and Henriquez are acclaimed artists whose residencies at the McColl Center for Visual Art were funded by the Knight Foundation. But don't feel obligated to dwell on this — it's rewarding enough to experience each body of work on its own terms.
Clark creates visual puns that are loaded commentaries on race and identity. Hair — as a material, subject or allusion — is central to a lot of her work, which in this exhibition ranges from a $5 bill that has Lincoln sporting an enormous Afro to large works composed of pocket combs.
Clark combines cleverness and gravitas in a way that can elicit a "why didn't I think of that" longing from other artists. Her materials are inseparable from her message. In the video "Counting Change II," Clark has replaced the wooden balls of an abacus with ones made from her own hair; to the accompaniment of Nina Simone's "Old Jim Crow," the abacus counts the years from 1863 to 2013, marking 150 years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Clark's use of hair, combs and textiles is refreshing and inspired. Although the message is insistent, it is not preachy. Her work is rich in cultural and historical references and reflects a deep scholarly involvement, but many aspects of it are direct and accessible.
Although Henriquez is known for lively interactive works, here she is represented primarily by two-dimensional pieces that have an alluring remoteness. They require some effort on the part of the viewer to find a point of entry. But these works can be appreciated solely for their formal qualities — the seamless collage technique and the sensuous moiré patterns that are the by-product of sourcing images from a computer screen.
Henriquez's work expresses her abiding interest in art history — or more generally, the history of the image. In an age when one can access so many outstanding works of art on the Internet, Henriquez questions who owns these images. She also ponders the world we live in now, in which much face-to-face interaction has been replaced by interaction with images on a screen.
Henriquez photographs the works of prominent artists and architects directly from the computer screen, prints them and then cuts, collages and embellishes them. The work is layered both physically and metaphorically. You're probably not going to get to the meat of these images without a little help, so don't be shy about borrowing a gallery guide from the front desk.
Converge is the last McColl Center for Visual Art exhibition curated by longtime Creative Director Ce Scott, and it's a strong finish. Scott was associated with McColl for nearly 14 years and much of our perception and experience of this institution is a result of her work there. I'm not alone in wishing both Scott and McColl great success as their paths now diverge.
The exhibition Converge will be on display through March 23 at the McColl Center for Visual Art, 721 N. Tryon St. mccollcenter.org. 704-332-5535.