Is it too hot for art in the summertime? When it comes to literature, summer is the time to put away the Toni Morrison and pick up the Terry McMillan, so why should the other arts be any different? Traditionally, museums find it more difficult to draw people to exhibits during the sultry months. But the North Carolina Museum of Art has become one of the Triangle's most reliable venues for modestly-priced and classy entertainment for young and old alike.
Like many cultural institutions, the NCMA has found ways to broaden its audience and to bring in entire families. Walking, picnicking and contemplating are all encouraged, and the museum concession stand sells beer and wine during the outdoor events (no alcohol from outside, please). Outdoor movies and concerts have been the mainstay of their summer offerings, but now the museum is encouraging people to explore the art of the semi-wooded pastures surrounding the museum.
In recent years, the museum has been developing land left over from the former site of the Polk Youth Correctional Facility, which was demolished to leave a bequest of 160 acres. Meanwhile, a pedestrian bridge that provides a link to Raleigh's greenway system, including Umstead State Park and Cary's trails, was completed. In addition to boosting the area's quality of life, the improvements are intended to serve as outreach for the museum. "We hope people who are not normally inclined to visit museums will be enticed by the park," says Linda Johnson Dougherty, the museum's curator of contemporary art. "We're commissioning works here that have relationships to the environment."
On the museum grounds alone there are several miles of walking trails, along which the museum's collection of site-specific art is growing. There are now close to a dozen outdoor sculptures along the walking paths, including older pieces like a Henry Moore construction entitled Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge and a whirligig from celebrated Smithfield artist Vollis Simpson called Wind Machine. More recent additions to the landscape are a pair of sculptures that complement the setting: Trail Heads (2005), a set of large, nest-like edifices made of swirling saplings by Chapel Hill artist Patrick Dougherty (who is married to Linda Johnson Dougherty), and Crossroads (2005), a 20-foot-high sentinel of glass tiles, carnelian stones and crushed bricks that were salvaged from the demolished reformatory by artist Martha Jackson-Jarvis.
On weekends, most perambulations through the museum's gallery al fresco will terminate at the Joseph Bryan Park Theater for the museum's popular outdoor entertainment offerings. Beginning this Saturday night, June 3, with a screening of George Clooney's surprise hit Good Night, and Good Luck, outdoor entertainment will draw thousands to the Museum throughout the summer. As usual, the series, organized by George Holt, the museum's performing arts and live programs director, and Laura Boyes, a regular Indy contributor, will mix the best of last year's blockbusters, art house hits and a few well-chosen curveballs.
In what may turn out to be the summer's most romantic weekend, the Museum will show Pride and Prejudice on back-to-back nights, June 9 and 10. Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit will also get the two-night treatment June 23 and 24, and both screenings will be preceded by 45 minute performances by the Winston-Salem modern dance troupe alban elved (who will also take the stage solo on June 22). Among other summer movie highlights, we'll get to feel the night summer breeze with the lonesome cowboys of Brokeback Mountain (July 15), listen to a meditative Neil Young in Neil Young: Heart of Gold (July 21), see Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do their Johnny and June in Walk the Line (Aug. 5) and see what Gore Vidal revealed was his favorite movie of 2005, Woody Allen's Match Point(Aug. 11). Also in August are two exceptionally well-chosen oldies: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (Aug. 12) and David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (Aug. 18).
On the live music front, the season kicks off June 16 with the annual Celtic Wonders concert featuring Liz Carroll and John Doyle and the French Canadian combo Le Vent du Nord. On July 12, look out, because the California multi-cult sensation Ozomatli will take the stage. It's a rare trip east for these guys, and they're known to raise the roof in their shows. "It's the highlight of our season," Holt says. "I've been trying to book them for several years. They're a high-energy, socially conscious group." Another world music star will alight on Aug. 4: Mali native Salif Keita, and his ensemble. A pair of Texans will stop by for a few tunes: Delbert McClinton on July 22 and Austin singer-songwriter Patty Griffin on Aug. 19. Fans of alt-rock, don't despair, because the big night is Aug. 16 when Jeff Tweedy comes to town, sans Wilco and Jay Bennett.
On the weekend following Labor Day, Sept. 8 and 9, the outdoor calendar will come to a close, fittingly, with a pair of shows by the celebrated troupe Paperhand Puppet Intervention. This will be a version of their popular annual show at Chapel Hill's Forest Theatre.
And finally, in the midst of all the outdoor entertainment at the Museum, a large and fascinating private collection will be on view through July 16. Common Ground: Discovering Community in 150 Years of Art was organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and it's culled from the collection of Julia J. Norrell, a D.C. lobbyist. Consisting of mostly Southern subjects, this enormous show of 150 works features pieces by photographic luminaries Mary Ellen Mark, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, Lewis Hine and Ansel Adams, and many more. The photos go back to the 1850s, and most of the subjects are marginal members of society, from Jim Crow-era African Americans to impoverished Appalachian whites to present-day prisoners and white supremacists. There are powerful works on canvas and wood by African-American artists like Jacob Lawrence, Whitfield Lovell and William H. Clarke. One of the most elaborate and moving pieces in the exhibit is a series of portraits of Louisiana prisoners wearing Mardi Gras costumes. This installation, called One Big Self, is the work of Deborah Luster, and she reproduced her portraits on metallic sheets that include engraved information on the reverse side. The portraits, which can be handled by viewers, are stored in a custom-built filing cabinet that is intended to evoke Kafka-esque bureaucratic oblivion.
Although Common Ground leaves town midway through the summer, when the weather cools in the fall, the inside art will assume its accustomed place of prominence. Look for a big exhibit of Contemporary north Carolina photographY--most of the artists are from the Triangle--to open on Sept. 3, Labor Day weekend. And then, in October, the big boy arrives: Monet.
The North Carolina Museum of Art is located at 2110 Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh. Information about summer programs can be found at www.ncartmuseum.org, or call 839-6262.