The North Carolina Museum of Art is a very special place. The alternating white and glass walls of the West Gallery showcase a vast collection of almost any thinkable genre, from ancient sculpture and artifacts, to classic 18th century pieces, to a large Rodin selection, to modern American art. Though much of the collection consists of foreign pieces, the museum has maintained a goal of highlighting the work of North Carolina natives and residents. For the next year, their collection of work by local artists will be housed together in the Museum’s East Gallery as a tribute to that goal, and they encourage visitors to view the works and enjoy the immense talent that has emerged from our state. So on a breezy Sunday afternoon that is just what I did.
Admittedly, even after my many, many visits to the NCMA, I had only ventured into the East Gallery once to see a traveling exhibit. This time, I walk into the gallery and am struck by how quietly beautiful it is compared to the other space on the grounds. The building is older, but immediately presents some lovely pieces within view of the front doors. Starting at the right with a small plaque inscribed with Close to Home is where the exhibition begins. The first two pieces by George Bireline are large and colorful, both abstract, but one described as a representation of the artist’s struggle with mortality. I am confounded on why the exhibit would start with a piece like this, one that is so visually and conceptually jarring, but I continue. As I move on to a series of photographs each made by a different photographer, including David Spear and Alex Harris, I begin to see a running theme in the art present. I move from picture to picture, from face to face, and I find each to reference humanity. All of these artists have ties to North Carolina, but their work spreads out all over the word. Images from Mexico, China, and New York City all flow in harmony by expressing the innate feeling of being human. From struggle, to belonging, to feeling beautiful, all of these emotions are captured in this exhibit. As I move on, this theme continues. A slow motion video piece appears to be a living photograph of a dysfunctional family portrait. As I walk further, I see a bright white neon sign reading “you should have loved me”. Finally I see the piece that struck me most. On one of the walls stood a screen with a web cam attached. At the bottom of the screen are images of eyes that appear to be smoking, and as the viewer walks over, they come up on screen, making them part of the work. Now as an art history person, I could go deep into theory about what that means, but after seeing all that I did during my visit, I find this to be a very poignant and simple message on that universal concept of humanity that remains constant in this exhibit. No matter where we are from, be it across the globe or North Carolina, we share the same emotions just by being human. We see this in art, in the eyes of a subject of a portrait, or even when we look back at ourselves in a work of art.
This compilation of North Carolina artists will remain in the NCMA East Gallery until August 2014, but that is no excuse not to come and view the exhibit as soon as you can. Whether you are a college student, an artist, or just a North Carolina resident, this exhibit is important. It signifies that no matter where you are, you can find inspiration. Whether it be on our beautiful Guilford campus, in your hometown, or far away from our beloved state, we can find beauty and humanity anywhere.
For more information on this exhibit, go to http://ncartmuseum.org/exhibitions/close_to_home_recent_acquisitions/ or visit the NCMA website at http://ncartmuseum.org/ to plan a visit (which you definitely should do).