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The Big Picture

Conservative trends--with notable exceptions at N.C. State, UNC and LUMP--usher in the fall


A fall preview is always a daunting assignment. Due to space constraints, we'll apologize in advance for hitting just the major shows, museums, galleries and commercial venues with noteworthy offerings. Later reviews will fill the gaps missed. But be forewarned: Thus far, the fall's offerings feel, on the whole, a bit conservative.

But before we start, the most intriguing of the region's Sept. 11 memorial art shows is also the briefest. Duke's Center for Documentary Studies becomes an audio gallery Sept. 11-14 for Looking Back: 9/11 Across America, a haunting series of spoken remembrances recorded and collected by the American Folklife Center.

The North Carolina Museum of Art remains the single most important art institution in the Triangle. But the privilege of viewing the collections was likely less taken for granted when budget cuts this summer forced the museum to close on Tuesdays and cancel extended Friday hours. With a new museum building--and a major fundraising campaign--in the works, will those hours stay sacrificed?

Through Dec. 1, a group of recently restored plates are on view from a double-elephant folio edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America. Their monumental scale--each plate measures over 38 by 25 inches--and their gorgeous landscape settings reminds us of the herculean task Audubon set for himself in the early 1800s. With this exhibition, the museum launches a campaign to restore the rest of the collection.

On Sept. 20, the museum will install in its Modern and Contemporary Gallery a major untitled late work by Gastonia native John Biggers, a celebrated painter who died last year. A sophisticated synthesis of images from the American South of his childhood and the majesty of West African culture as he experienced it, Biggers' luminous canvases stand as profound achievements.

The museum's major fall show, Art in the Age of Rubens and Rembrandt, runs Oct. 13-Jan. 5. This four-part exhibition highlights the museum's rich holdings in Dutch and Flemish art and gives Northern European art curator Dennis Weller free rein.

According to Weller, the central section, Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age, is the first exhibit ever devoted to Molenaer in the world. Better known perhaps as the husband of accomplished painter Judith Leyster, Molenaer's work forms a kind of bridge from Breughel to Jan Steen. Weller observes that the variety in his subject matter and his skill in rendering them is remarkable. It took Weller four years to locate the 35 paintings that comprise the exhibit.

The museum's Rembrandt etchings will be assembled for the exhibit with a selection of Dutch religious paintings, and a permanent, full-sized replica of a 17th-century Flemish kunstkamer, or "art room," will be built within the museum.

Before that, N.C. State University's Gallery of Art and Design will feature two first-rate contemporary design shows, Sept. 12-Dec. 18. One room features a survey of beautifully designed functional furniture made with unconventional materials by U.S. and Canadian artists: a vellum-covered bentwood chair, a blue, raw silk-upholstered divan which becomes a river carrying a fallen log, and a grouping of upholstered furniture delightfully imagined as "Mammals at Play."

Next door, six artists manipulate incredibly intricate weaves in a show of contemporary textiles produced by digital technology. The artist's work rivals the delicacy and layering of the brush, making many of these works equivalent in impact and scale to contemporary painting.

Dark Jewels, a show of Chinese brown and black-glazed ceramics loaned by Durham collectors Herbert and Eunice Shatzman, dominates the Ackland Art Museum's fall schedule, Oct. 13-Jan. 5. Elegance and a certain timelessness characterize this grouping of 70 amazingly modern-looking objects--all made between 960 and 1368. The effect makes them ideal for quiet contemplation.

The Allcott Gallery in UNC's Hanes Art Center, a small space that packs a lot of punch, showcases Theft in the Doll House, a controversial photo installation by visiting artists Jill Casid and Maria DeGuzman. A Sept. 19 lecture, "Para-Economics of Desire: 'Dead' Technologies and Queer Feminist Practice," opens the exhibit.

The North Carolina Central University Art Gallery is important for its representation of African-American artists in this area. Three shows are currently scheduled: Amazing Grace: Lithographs of Joseph Norman (through Oct. 4), Regional Perspective, a curated show of Triangle artists (Oct. 11-Dec. 6), and Durham's Finest, featuring originals from Durham public school students. Norman's lithographs employ elegaic iconography and sweeping line to powerfully address themes including the Negro Baseball League, lynching and inmates on death row. While he unflinchingly takes on shameful racial episodes past and present, Norman also revels in the joys of the natural world in a delicate suite of entwined trees images inspired by Germany's Black Forest.

Duke University Museum of Art's most daring offering for the fall appears to be Reinserting Myself into a History: Academic Eye III, works by Tammy Rae Carland curated by Cathy N. Davidson, opening Sept. 26. Featured will be pieces from her "Lesbian Beds" series, which Davidson describes as "powerful landscapes of tantalizing, if abstract, desire."

North Carolina artist Willie Little's multimedia Juke Joint remains at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies. Based on childhood memories of his father's grocery that nightly was transformed into a speakeasy, the exhibit features a recreation of the store's interior, along with dressed mannequins representing characters which populated it. Little's audio storytelling completes a convincing evocation of an African-American childhood in Pactolus Township in the late 1960s. The center will host a fish fry and blues concert by Cootie Stark in conjunction with the exhibit Sept. 27.

Local nonprofits like Artspace foster talent by showing local and regional artists throughout the year. The intricate wood engravings of South African-born and Alexandria, Va.-based artist Rosemary Feit Covey open at Artspace Sept. 28.

Currently, a number of commercial galleries which play a major role appear to be playing musical chairs as well. Durham's Tyndall Gallery, which opened a show of painter Jane Filer's magical worlds this month, will move to Chapel Hill's University Mall in October, when it hosts local favorite Jacob Cooley. There it joins Fine Art and Animation Gallery, which has relocated from Carr Mill Mall. Green Tara Gallery's truly outstanding ceramics and Latin American art moved this summer to Eastgate Plaza. Its neighbor, Somerhill Gallery, has Tim Ford's insightful portraits and Barry Roal Carlsen's mystic, narrative nightscapes through Sept. 27.

Raleigh's Lee Hansley Gallery continues its unwavering commitment to the academic modernist aesthetic with a 30-year survey of the work of Howard Thomas, running today through Oct. 16. A concurrent show features the pendants of fellow UNC-Greensboro professor Gregory Ivy.

On the opposite end of the spectrum would be Raleigh's LUMP, which held a sold-out showing of postcard-drawings by former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh--with the artist attending--last Friday night. Their next coup: too-hot grafitti artist Barry McGee in November, with "Onion Head Monster" creator Paul Friedrich in December.

Finally, UNC-Greensboro's fine Weatherspoon Art Museum offers a selection of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints through Oct. 13, and Floating World Redux, featuring contemparary Japanese artists Yasumasa Morima and Gajin Fujita, through Oct. 27. A selection of contemporary textiles from Tokyo's NUNO studio closes Nov. 3. Worth the drive. EndBlock

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