Year in review: In Triangle visual arts, 2014 was the year of the contractor | Visual Art | Indy Week

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Year in review: In Triangle visual arts, 2014 was the year of the contractor

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As soon as you walk into Flanders Gallery at its new location next to Lump, you can tell the game has changed.

Since 2009, Flanders' spacious, immaculate home in Raleigh's warehouse district made it feel like an art space in New York or Chicago. But it moved out in November because of development around the new train station, says owner Kelly McChesney. Now, with perhaps a quarter of its old footprint, it has transformed into a project space rather than a white-wall gallery. It's quite possibly the better for it.

You literally rub shoulders with other patrons to see Sabine Gruffat's video work in the new space's debut show (through Jan. 2). Conversations happen that wouldn't have in the larger former space. And then you step through an open doorway into Lump to check out Tyler Wolf's work. This closeness breeds community.

In the visual arts, 2014 has been the year of the contractor. Downtowns throughout the Triangle are under furious construction and renovation. Call it what you will—renewal, gentrification, urban development—but, as much as startup culture likes to brand itself creative and associate itself with the arts, entrepreneurial firms tend to chase artists and art organizations out of the spaces they've reclaimed from ruin. Rents quickly escalate to what the market will bear.

Choosing to see displacement as an opportunity rather than a problem, McChesney is excited about co-programming with Bill Thelen of Lump, which has been in its Blount Street location for 19 years. Even if other spaces haven't taken the plunge that Flanders has, they have ample reasons to consider doing so.

For instance, what will the opening of Durham's 21c Museum Hotel mean for the downtown galleries literally in its shadow? It's a good sign that 21c recently hired Jeff Bell away from CAM Raleigh to be its museum manager. Gallery owners I spoke with are guardedly optimistic that the hotel's gallery will symbiotically fit into the scene. They're much more concerned about the impending City Center skyscraper development across the street.

If artists and directors aren't packing up and moving, they're looking to stage art in nontraditional spaces and in unconventional ways. Storefront installations happen throughout the year in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh under the auspices of the Open Art Society, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership and Beautifying Emerging Spaces Together, respectively. SiteWork, a Raleigh organization that fosters installation projects, began through an association with the Hopscotch Music Festival but is expanding to present work year-round.

Gallery space is being carved out in private businesses such as Durham marketing and consulting firm The Republik, which has shown Luis Franco's graphic work this fall, and commercial businesses such as Raleigh boutique Edge of Urge, in which the new co-op Peregrine Projects has hung paintings over racks of blouses and jewelry. But these aren't the strangest bedfellows—Chapel Hill's FRANK Gallery and Durham's Pleiades Gallery have used hybrid commercial/fine art models since they opened their doors.

One space to watch is emerging from the dregs of Durham's punk Anti-Mall, which closed in 2007, at 305 S. Dillard Street. Originally a fruit and produce wholesale warehouse, the raw, unrenovated space has hosted the Duke Performances commission of William Tyler's Corduroy Roads as well as choreographer Nicola Bullock's Undone. Owned by photographer Tim Walter, who uses parts of the sprawling building as settings for shoots, the space was recently taken over by artist Kai Barrow for a large-scale, pop-up installation entitled Ecohybridity (Love Song for NOLA). Walter's long-term plans are undetermined, but it's easy to imagine the huge building as a hive-like arts center housing studios, galleries, performance space, offices and residences.

That kind of community thinking is in the air. There's enough going on that Raleigh, Chapel Hill/Carrboro, Durham and Hillsborough don't need to stay out of each other's way by piling all their openings onto their designated Friday art nights. Critical mass means that shows must happen faster and more frequently to meet the demand. Open studios and one-night pop-up shows have multiplied this year, becoming as essential as established galleries. Anyone who snorted at the strict adherence of Durham's Carrack Modern Art to two-week shows is eating their words now.

Even large, established studio spaces such as Raleigh's Artspace and Durham's Golden Belt have diversified to remain relevant. Artspace launched a satellite gallery at HQ Raleigh in March, and Golden Belt started a pop-up exhibit series called Off the Radar that makes use of empty studios.

Raleigh's SwitchHouse Studios, co-founded by Jason Craighead and Dave Green in the back half of an industrial building on Boylan Avenue, is the kind of toehold on which neighborhoods transform. And organizations like the Durham Art Guild, re-energized in recent years under the leadership of gallery director Katie Seiz and education and outreach coordinator Laura Ritchie, now has a virtual gallery as well as a new partnership with the Triangle Community Foundation.

All of this activity and movement is breaking down provincial boundaries between the points of the Triangle. Most of the artists and curators I know hit openings in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham on the same night, ignoring old municipal biases. And while small galleries and nontraditional spaces are leading this nimble, borderless charge, large institutions are changing, too, with the North Carolina Museum of Art starting a long-term renovation this spring.

The outlook for local visual arts in 2015 is cloudy and undetermined. But rather than leaving clarification to real estate developers and commercial interests, Triangle artists are making their own futures to an unprecedented degree.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Year of the contractor"

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