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Visual art

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Visual art exhibitions explore modernity

By Barbara Schreiber

The pleasures and perils of progress are the focus of several exhibitions this season. Viewers can expect a little shock, lots of moving parts, and some flat-out beautiful objects.

Some shows look at halcyon times when we dreamed of unfettered progress; some consider a present in which we are drowning in stuff and relentless activity.

Joseph Herscher, who makes absurd chain-reaction machines from everyday objects, is the focus of “The Dresser” (Sept. 20-Nov. 16, McColl Center for Visual Art).

Herscher, an artist-in-residence at McColl, is inspired by Rube Goldberg, whose cartoons of elaborate gizmos that performed simple tasks lampooned an increasingly bureaucratic and technological world.

Herscher’s work has been seen everywhere from the Venice Biennale to “Sesame Street.”

For “Parodic Machines” (Oct. 24-Dec. 13, Van Every Gallery, Davidson College), artists inspired by robotics have created an array of useless but provocative devices.

Look for David Bowen’s blimps controlled by housefly-activated sensors, Nick Bontrager cardboard walk-through installation inspired by a scene from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Hye Yeon Nam’s robotic arms that wave at viewers when they smile, Matt Kenyon’s self-destructing robot and Fernando Orellana’s machines designed to search for and be operated by the dead.

The exhibition’s curator, Paula Gaetano Adi, will exhibit “Desiring-Machine II” in the adjacent Smith Gallery; in this work, the artist engages in an endless, Sisyphean task, loading coal powder onto one end of a conveyor machine and unloading it at the other.

If you like to gawk at exquisite objects, check out “Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs 1851-1939.”

This blockbuster exhibition (Sept. 22-Jan. 19, Mint Museum Uptown) showcases glass, furniture, jewelry, ceramics, metalwork and textiles from fairs large and small, ending with the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

The Mint’s largest exhibition since the Uptown museum opened in 2010, “Inventing the Modern World” recalls the era in which World’s Fairs promoted progress and industry. Included are works by Fabergé, Marcel Breuer, Michael Thonet, and other groundbreaking designers.

At the opening reception for “Sustain Me Baby” (March 28-June 26, Projective Eye Gallery, UNC Charlotte Center City), you can feed nonrecyclable toys to a 10-foot-tall baby fashioned from trash cans.

This sculpture, Joyce Dallal’s “Receptacle,” is a humorous, scary commentary on waste in contemporary society.

The show also includes photographer Chris Jordan’s “Midway” series, which documents the devastating effects of plastic debris on wildlife.

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