In the Galleries: Histories, public and private, in Charlotte

‘Looking Forward/Looking Back’

If you’re visiting the Levine Museum, check out this display of plans for public art in phase one of the Charlotte Area Transit System’s CityLYNX Gold Line.

For the 12 passenger shelters along the streetcar line’s first 1.5 miles, New Orleans artist Nancy O’Neil – who describes her work as “research-based glass collage” – has designed vivid windscreens incorporating photographs, maps, postcards and other documents from adjacent communities.

The streetcar is a nostalgic project in a city that tears down everything. These engaging collages show what we have destroyed, what we have kept and what we aspire to be. The wall text characterizes them as “a permanent city-wide family album,” but in a sense they will also be historical markers.

Levine Museum of the New South; www.museumofthenewsouth.org; 704-333-1887; through March 30.

‘Connecting the World: The Panama Canal at 100’

This show examines the Panama Canal as an artistic subject, technical wonder, tourist attraction and general object of fascination. It seems less like a unified exhibition and more like four separate but thematically linked efforts.

At its core are works by American artists who traveled to document the canal’s construction – primarily Joseph Pennell, Jonas Lie and Alson Skinner Clark – as well as other art depicting that era’s industrial landscape. Frederic Edwin Church is the source of some of the exhibition’s most beautiful works, including two note-filled preliminary drawings.

Many of the canal paintings are drenched in golden light, providing a literally and figuratively sunny view of the canal’s construction. A major departure from this boosterism is Edward Laning’s “T.R. in Panama,” which reveals the cold reality of worker exploitation.

In addition, the exhibition features two major commissions: an installation by internationally known artist (and North Carolina resident) Mel Chin and a short story by Anthony Doerr, author of the acclaimed “All the Light We Cannot See.” Also on display is a 3-ton steam shovel bucket used in the canal’s construction.

The exhibition’s single most compelling aspect is Chin’s “SEA to SEE.” Created in collaboration with data scientists, designers and other creative minds, this conceptually and technically complex installation plunges the viewer between two large, globe-like projection screens, one with digital animations of the Pacific, the other of the Atlantic.

“SEA to SEE” is not about the canal as an engineering marvel; it is about the canal as a destructive force. It is mysterious and unnerving, as the viewer is surrounded by environments that the canal, a gash in the land, has disturbed.

Mint Museum Uptown; mintmuseum.org; 704-337-2000; through Feb. 1.

‘The Boxing Gym’

This thoughtful, sobering exhibition by Charlotte artist and writer de’Angelo Dia explores the rise and fall of a black athlete, as well as the public’s desire for tales of glory and subsequent humiliation.

The show’s centerpiece is a series of nine black and white photographs, set (as the title indicates) in and around a boxing gym. In the first three, the boxer – portrayed by New York-based artist Shaun El C. Leonardo – is graceful and powerful. But he is hesitant in the fourth, and blurred and coming apart in the fifth. In the remaining images, he is passive and broken; his punching bag/alter ego lies on the floor.

Two poems, presented as large wall texts, bookend the photographs. The first poem is cautious, but hopeful; however, the second poem brings awareness that, in boxing, the protagonist has engaged in “the slaughter of myself.”

Ross galleries, Central Piedmont Community College; blogs.cpcc.edu/cpccartgalleries; 704-330-6211; through Dec 18.