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Revelatory 

Check all preconceptions at the door

What really counts is to strip the soul naked. Painting and poetry is made as we make love; a total embrace, prudence thrown to the wind, nothing held back. - Joan Miro

You may need to strip naked when you come to see Revelation: A Fresh Look at Contemporary Collections, now showing at the Mint Museum of Art on Randolph Road.

It's best you strip yourself naked of notions of what you should like, can't like or refuse to understand about contemporary art. Abandon preconceptions concerning art institutions and any silly academic distinctions between high and low art. Most of all rid yourself of any feeling this work is not for you. Come knowing this is your art, in your museum, made in your time. And check that cloak of cynicism with the docent at the door.

Robert Lazzarini's sculptures are front and center at this exhibit. His pieces are instantly recognizable objects made from wood. Two hammers, a chair and a violin were crafted from wood and steel. Lazzarini is an extraordinary craftsman, each object is painstakingly detailed. But they are warped. Each painstakingly crafted object has been pulled like warm taffy and distorted as though seen through a liquid lens.

Flattened hammers, a mashed chair and a stretched violin are each perfectly wrought and perfectly wrong. Lazzarini begins this show by opening a door on one altered perception, and also with the mild suggestion that all is not necessarily what it may first appear to be. His is an appropriate entry to this show. We've shed our cloaks of cynicism, no need to fret. Not chilly here yet.

Thirty feet to the left is a portrait of a black man. His facial features are easily recognizable, but his face is segmented and shimmers as if seen through a faceted glass shower door. Though distorted, the man's face is clear enough to read his expression of either withering impatience or mild disdain. When approached, the enormous face dissolves into a grid of small diamonds brightly painted in sloppy circles and stretched liver shapes. Standing directly in front of the painting it becomes a purely decorative surface, an amalgam of criss-crossed pastel bubbles on a diamond grid. This portrait by Chuck Close, titled "Lyle I," 2002, will have you walking back and forth.

Some of these works were borrowed from collectors and galleries. There are a number of pieces from the Joie Lassiter Gallery, Charlotte's outer limits venue for visual art.

Peggy River's "Chromatin" is a large oil on canvas painting. A dense, shiny, dark and misty ground pulses behind a laced organic matrix of streaming reds, evergreens and oranges. Brackish greens drip down the canvas like salt water run through a moss filter. A repeated yellow pattern shaped like surgical clamps floats over the surface. This painting carries the labors of Abstract Expressionist painters of yore (that's 50 years ago), particularly DeKooning, Jackson Pollock and lyrical abstractionist lunatic, Matta. River's painting attempts to translate some inchoate form of emotion into a visual reality -- a mystic's trick really -- an effort open to the risks of ridicule and everyman's claim this emperor has no clothes.

Oh yeah, I'm the naked one here -- I shed those dour threads at the door. Stripped of my standard preconceptions, I have a difficult time not liking this painting. Though it lacks any apparent meaning , staring at this thing does for me what River's visual forebear Matta expressed in a few words:

Art serves to arouse one's intuition to the emotion latent in everything around one, and to show the emotional architecture which people need in order to be and to live together.

Atop a narrow six-foot pedestal, a naked, life-sized infant teeters overhead on one foot, his body frozen in a falling motion. The infant is "Einstein," a terra cotta sculpture by Judy Fox. The child is caught halfway between the act of falling and not falling -- a captured instant of imbalance --as he lifts one foot high and throws out his arms in a gravity-defying pirouette. The child's face, contrary to his insecure position, is composed and unconcerned, as if he is confident he will not fall, that he is in fact only testing the limits of his body and the pesky forces working against it.

I expect young Albert will prove his point. His naked and precarious, but confident, pose girds me on my continued walk through the show.

There are enough modern Old Masters here to sate one's requirement for historical legitimacy -- a few heavy hitters from our recent past century. Jim Dine, Gene Davis, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol are here.

Jim Dine's "Two Hearts" is a lithograph of two black hearts emerging from a blue/black ground, dark hearts dabbed with patches and squiggles of color. This is a bumper sticker reference to Pop Art.

Robert Rauschenberg's "Arcanum IX" and "Arcanum III," both from 1983, hearken back to the halcyon days of post-Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art -- into the giddy Warhol days. These two silkscreens help explain why Rauschenberg's star rose unimpeded in the 60s. His randy eloquence with design and color continues to show through as late as 1983. Rauschenberg has that enviable talent for making the carefully assembled appear magically thrown together. These prints don't offer the machismo of his early years but still illustrate his "unwashed phenomenon" appeal.

And here's Andy! "Bald Eagle, Endangered Species" is vintage Andy Warhol. The oversized silkscreen is the profile of the eagle with black body, white head with raised hackles and orange beak against a cobalt and ultramarine blue ground. It's over-the-top grandiose, the Liberace of all eagles, regal, robust, wild and wickedly beautiful. For an artist who could make the soup can an icon, this American Bald Eagle was a gimme.

Perhaps the most valuable recent acquisition made by the Mint Museum of Art is new Curator of Contemporary Art Carla Hanzel. (Oops, didn't mean to objectify the human there, apologies to Ms. Hanzel.) She must be given credit for combing the vaults to unearth these rarely or never seen ditties from the Museum's collection. This show goes a far distance to shed any concerns we may harbor about the Mint's collection of old stuff, through past centuries of object d'art that too often feel more like a history lesson than an art show. This walk through the risky vagaries of contemporary art shakes out our own dusky preconceptions, and reconfigures notions of what our city's best museum has to offer.

Revelation: A Fresh Look at Contemporary Collections is at the Mint Museum, 2730 Randolph Road, through September 19. For more information, call 704-337-2000 or visit www.mintmuseum.org.

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