On a once-overlooked corner in Raleigh’s Depot Historic District, a stony Zen-like garden flanks the entrance to a new vision for the city’s arts scene. A museum has opened in a former warehouse, and with new high-rise condos and a bustling restaurant district nearby, it’s designed to add a new dimension to this city’s sense of self while fleshing out the state’s growing constellation of major museums. Raleigh’s latest addition to North Carolina’s exploding art scene is the new Contemporary Art Museum – also known as CAM Raleigh – which opened in April under the guidance of one of contemporary art’s emerging young stars, Elysia Borowy-Reeder. Borowy-Reeder was imported to North Carolina a year ago after completing impressive tours of duty building contemporary art programs in major museums in Milwaukee and Chicago, including a leadership role on the team that opened the new modern wing at the Art Institute of Chicago. From the 20-foot ceilings to the Spartan display floors, CAM is a breathtakingly spacious place to showcase edgy, emerging or undiscovered art forms through a continual stream of new shows designed to spark introspection, ignite discourse, and as they say in the brochure, “explore what’s now and nearing.” An idea in the making for over 20 years, CAM became real this summer with a lavish gala and an inaugural exhibit by Washington D.C., artist Dan Steinhilber titled “Hold On, Loosely.” Characterized by giant works designed to reflect the human drive to “contain the perishable,” this first exhibit summed up CAM’s role as a museum where new art is a movable feast. A gargantuan structure made from cardboard; a massive, inflated sculpture you can enter; shipping pallets swaddled - or were they strangled? - in plastic. This first show closed in August, underscoring CAM’s unique role as a museum where new artists are seen today, then gone (perhaps to the Mint or the Louvre) tomorrow. “We are not showing Andy Warhol here,” Borowy-Reeder says during a stroll through CAM’s 10,000 square feet of installation space. “We are here to show the Andy Warhols of tomorrow.” Education and community relevance are also essential missions at CAM. The museum’s Third Friday soirees – monthly Friday night parties open to the general public – have become a popular weekend kickoff for the Triangle’s growing tribe of hip, young professionals. CAM Raleigh also offers free admission and community workshops during its First Friday evening events every month. And a packed summer arts camp for middle and high school students was launched this summer with long waiting lists. CAM will also introduce three major exhibits each year in the Main Gallery, plus other exhibits in its Lower Level galleries. A major design show opening September 24 and running through January 2 reflects CAM’s perspective that art is a dynamic force, ever changing and evolving. Called “Deep Surface: Contemporary Ornament and Pattern,” this exhibit showcases contemporary designers from around the world working in architecture, product design, graphic arts, fashion and digital media design, and examines the role that ornament, pattern and design play in our culture. The exhibit has six thematic sections and features 72 works from 42 international designers and artists, including such seminal works as Marcel Wanders’ Knotted Chair and wallpaper by Paul Noble and Vik Muniz for Maharam Digital Projects. “Deep Surface” also highlights the fact that CAM is a partnership with North Carolina State University’s School of Design. The show is co-curated by professors at N.C. State and Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, and Borowy-Reeder is employed by N.C. State. Of greater significance, “Deep Surface” reflects CAM’s ambition to be known as a major international contemporary art museum. Despite the economy and even the vagaries of Washington politics, five major art museums have opened or expanded over the past two years in Charlotte and Raleigh. Last year, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh unveiled a vast new addition to house its permanent collection. And within the past two years, Charlotte has seen an explosion in the arts, with the addition of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Mint Museum Uptown and the Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture, all located at the Levine Center for the Arts in uptown. The CAM adds to this renaissance, CAM filling a niche not fully met by the state’s other art museums. Unlike its larger sisters, CAM was not established to house permanent collections. It will offer an ever-changing experience that reflects the dynamic, constantly evolving definitions of art. “We aren’t here to preserve the past,” Borowy-Reeder says. “We may reference it. But we are here to look forward.” In other words, she says, when visiting CAM, be prepared to experience the unexpected.
‘Time to look and explore'
During the years of planning, one of CAM’s strongest advocates has been Dr. Larry Wheeler, Director of the North Carolina Museum of Art. “It is great to see this come together,” says Wheeler. “CAM has an exciting program and is in the position to do the type of work that a contemporary urban art museum can and should do,” by showcasing emerging art and new, little-known artists. “CAM and the Nasher at Duke University are both important complements to what we do at NCMA,” he added, which like most large urban art museums, involves collecting and showing major masterworks. Together, the three museums offer ample reason for Charlotteans to make a road trip to the Triangle this fall for a tour de force of visual arts. This fall, NCMA continues its mission of bringing the world’s greatest art to the state with “Rembrandt in America,” the largest exhibition of authentic Rembrandt paintings ever held in the United States, and an exciting new Rodin exhibit. “Rembrandt in America” includes 50 works, with paintings by Rembrandt as well as others thought to be by the master when they entered American collections. Opening October 30 and running through January 22, 2012, “Rembrandt in America” will explore the collecting history of Rembrandt paintings in the United States and offer the public a rare opportunity to visualize the evolving opinions of scholars and collectors regarding what constituted an autographed Rembrandt. And on Sept 2, NCMA will expand its world-renowned Rodin collection with the addition of 10 more Rodin sculptures, all on loan from the private collection of Iris Cantor. The sculptures will be displayed alongside the other works by Rodin in the museum’s collection. Two of the works will be installed outdoors in the museum’s new Rodin Garden and eight will be on view in the Rodin Court. David Steel, NCMA curator of European Art, who selected the loans, noted that the new sculptures “represent some of Rodin’s most important and beautiful works,” and are beautiful complements to the museum’s 30 other Rodin sculptures, which were given to the museum by the Cantor Foundation and installed in April 2010. Meanwhile, the Nasher Museum at Duke University will unveil its own exciting collection of fall exhibits including “Becoming: Photographs From The Wedge Collection” with 110 works by more than 60 artists from Canada, the United States, Africa and throughout the African Diaspora that explore how new configurations of identity have been shaped by the photographic portrait within the last century. This show runs through January 8. And through December 4, the Nasher will feature an installation from its permanent collection of works by groundbreaking women artists including Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman and Kara Walker. Whichever museum you chose to visit, you’ll undoubtedly find many surprises. This is an era of wellspring for the arts in the state’s two largest cities. Says Wheeler: “It’s exciting. We hope the public will take the time to look and explore.”
More information: CAM Raleigh: 409 W Martin Street, Raleigh. www.camraleigh.org
North Carolina Museum of Art 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh www.ncartmuseum.org
The Nasher Museum of Art At Duke University 2001 Campus Drive, Durham www.nasher.duke.edu