Lump turns 20: How Raleigh’s essential early gallery and collective ignited a sleepy Southern art scene | Arts Feature | Indy Week

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Lump turns 20: How Raleigh’s essential early gallery and collective ignited a sleepy Southern art scene

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Twenty years ago, talking about the Triangle's art scene would have been like talking about its great public transit system or its plentiful vegetarian restaurants­—more aspirational than accurate.

A lot has changed. The number of artists in the region, and the number of places they can show—from small, flexible galleries to large, world-class facilities—has skyrocketed. Now the problem isn't finding something good to see; it's finding time to see everything good.

With its relatively low cost of living and relatively large amount of cultural opportunities, the Triangle was primed to nuture a thriving art scene long before it had one. The missing element was venues to get work into the public sphere and galvanize communities around it.

In our cover story this week, we look at two indispensable spaces that are celebrating milestone years­—one that has helped build the scene from the top down, the other from the bottom up. Between them, we get a well-rounded picture of how local art has matured, startlingly fast, over the last two decades.

The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University feels like such a permanent fixture of Durham that it's easy to forget it has been there for only 10 years. We delve into the story of its humble origins as an obscure campus museum and how it developed its unique collection area in the art of the African diaspora.

Lump has held down its Raleigh spot for an astonishing 20 years. As grassroots and grungy as the Nasher is grand, Lump's gallery and collective model feels more like Durham in 2015 than Raleigh in 1995. The little gallery that could's contributions to local life cannot be overstated, and its innovative shows continue to challenge, confound and confront. In celebrating the birthdays of Nasher and Lump, we celebrate the Triangle's artistic growth, and we can't wait to see what the next 20 years will bring. —Brian Howe


Magnolia blossoms in colored pencil. Oil paintings of the family dog. That's what art looked like in Raleigh before Lump opened in 1996.

Now it's hard to imagine the growth of today's robust and relevant Triangle gallery scene without the cinderblock bunker on Blount Street to seed it.

You won't catch Lump founder Bill Thelen making such claims, however. "Whether that's true or not, I don't know," he says with characteristic humility. "I'm a person who doesn't look back that much. I tend to like to look forward."

But several generations of forward-looking artists single out Lump as the first toehold for work that was otherwise unimaginable in a state that kept sending Jesse Helms to the Senate.

Over two decades of tireless curation, Thelen and his partner, Med Byrd, have hosted hundreds of exhibitions and performances by artists of national renown, including Shepard Fairey, Mark Mothersbaugh, Kymia Nawabi and Barry McGee, while nurturing local luminaries such as Paul Friedrich, Laura Sharp Wilson, Harrison Haynes and Jason Osborne. Many of them will be revisited in this anniversary year, termed "Lumpxx."

Thelen placed a priority on young, underappreciated artists, giving many their first show. It's the kind of devotion to emergent work that gives graduating MFA students a reason to stay instead of fleeing to New York or Los Angeles.

Lump became a connection point in its early years, when few such spaces existed in the Triangle. The fearless anti-commercial gallery and Team Lump artist collective have helped regional artists congregate and collaborate while serving as a model for a new generation of art spaces and organizations.

Amy White, a Carrboro-based artist and sometime INDY art critic who has both shown work at Lump and written extensively about the gallery, says, "Lump connected me to the greater art world beyond the Triangle, and the Triangle to the greater art world. It's that simple."

"It was a beacon in the middle of nothing but galleries that care about whether something matches your couch," says Michael Salter, one of Lump's first studio tenants, who is now an art professor at the University of Oregon. "It launched a shitload of careers. It introduced a serious platform for work that was concept-heavy, in a professional space, with regular programming and intelligent discourse."

"Raleigh thought it was the next Atlanta, but from an arts standpoint it was still Mayberry," Byrd chuckles. "We believe that we've helped bring the cultural bubble to Raleigh."

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