Local Arts

Local artists get a platform of their own at the Mint’s ‘Constellation CLT’

Three paintings by Nellie Ashford. From left, Juke Joint, 2018; Generations: A Family Reunion, 2018; Generations, 2016.
Three paintings by Nellie Ashford. From left, Juke Joint, 2018; Generations: A Family Reunion, 2018; Generations, 2016. Brandon Scott

Crista Cammaroto can now be placed in a category with Andrew Wyeth, Robert Motherwell, Annie Leibovitz and other luminaries of modern and contemporary art: The Charlotte artist’s work will soon be featured at the Mint Museum, which includes in its permanent collection works by those masters.

Cammaroto – environmental artist, curator, art professor, photographer, sculptor – is the third artist featured in the Mint’s Constellation CLT series, designed to give exceptional local artists – usually emerging or mid-career – a wider audience.

And an impressive addition to their resumes.

The title, Constellation CLT, refers to the ubiquity of local art: It’s all around us. The Mint website devotes a page to each Constellation CLT artist, and each gets a map showcasing everywhere in the area you can find his or her works. The pins on the maps are like stars forming constellations.

“I was jumping up and down when I found out I’d been accepted,” Cammaroto said. “This is such a big honor. The Mint … commands such respect. This is going to open doors for me outside the region.”

The idea for the series, which premiered last fall, was hatched by Jonathan Stuhlman, the Mint’s senior curator of American, modern and contemporary art, and Adam Justice, the Mint’s former assistant curator. (Justice is now director of galleries for UNC Charlotte Center City, a position Cammaroto used to hold.)

“We wanted to be more engaged with the local arts community,” Stuhlman said.

There’s no formal application process – at least not yet. Artists have been hearing about the program and contacting the Mint to express interest. Happily for artists, the Mint gives them no parameters.

“They’re free to create whatever they wish,” Stuhlman said.

The first featured artist was actually a pair of artists – a young husband-and-wife team, said Stuhlman. ARKO + OWL produce large-scale murals. “We were thinking they’d do one big mural,” Stuhlman said. “But they came in, looked at the space and wanted to do three or four. We loved it.”

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ARKO + OWL: Here concludes what we began. Just like this moment eternity stretches before and after so take the time to explore your mind, 2018, approximately 10 x 14 feet Mint Museum of Art

Stuhlman has told artists they can provide existing work for their Mint showcase, yet the artists chosen so far have made new work.

“It’s an honor for us to be at the Mint,” said Cammaroto. “Any of us would step it up for the opportunity.”

Choosing ARKO + OWL first sent a message: The Mint wants to be seen as having a broad definition of art.

“Street art is not typically embraced by the high art community,” Stuhlman said.

The next featured artist was Nellie Ashford, a septuagenarian self-taught folk artist who attended a segregated, four-room schoolhouse in Mecklenburg County.

Ashford began getting serious recognition in her 50s. her work has been exhibited at the Levine Museum of the New South and the Harvey B Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture, and she was recently awarded a commission for the new terminal at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

A permanent record

Cammaroto, whose 2-D and 3-D work will be on view at the Mint uptown beginning March 30, seems a perfect candidate for the series. Her large-scale art is all about, she said, “place-making and bringing people in.”

Her Terra Forma series, parts of which will be on view at both Mint locations, uses natural materials – such as leaves and dirt – to create temporary, site-specific works of art.

“My works have a short life span,” she said.

Here’s where Cammaroto’s photography skills come into play. That’s how she makes a permanent record of her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it art.

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Spiraling Scales, 8 ft. diameter, lamb’s ear, impatiens, sunflower seeds, morning glory leaves, lily leaves, daisies, paprika, earth. Aug. 4, 2017. Crista Cammaroto

She intends to involve the community in her artmaking at the Mint on Randolph Road. (Dates are still being finalized, but the Mint is targeting May or June.) “I want to let people play in nature. There will be chances for the community to place berries in a circle, for instance or dip dirt balls in turmeric to make them yellow and then place them within the sculpture.” Dirt balls? This is art for the people.

Cammaroto is accustomed to creating art and seeing it destroyed – or at least reimagined – within days or even hours. Her art celebrates the process more than the final product. At her Mint event, she’s planning to build a “mother piece” from natural materials and then allow the audience to deconstruct it and build smaller pieces out of it.

“My work is all about reigniting the audience’s relationship to nature and the ecosystem that sustains us,” she said.

The Mint debut has spurred her focus. “I’ve been an artist for 30 years and an educator and curator for 15. And I haven’t allowed myself to be so full-time in my own art since grad school.

“This series is something very different for the Mint,” Cammaroto said. “They’re known for being very premeditated. This is the Mint being courageous, but in a good, calculated way.”

Visit mintmuseum.org/constellationclt. Cammaroto will lead a family-friendly art-making event at The Mint’s uptown location for Earth Day on Sunday, April 28.

This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

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