Contemporary art right now

OTERO, Laughing Clouds, 2011_9

Angel Otero, Laughing Clouds, 2011, collaged oil paint skins and resin on canvas, 86 1/2 x 74 x 3 in., North Carolina Museum of Art, Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest)

by Larry Wheeler, director, North Carolina Museum of Art

Art collectors of the world gather each year at several contemporary art fairs: Art Basel in Miami in December, the Frieze Fair in New York in May, and the Armory Show in New York in March. These fairs are several among many international expos of the latest visual creativity of our time. Each fair represents hundreds of art dealers and many hundreds of artists both familiar and little-known. In other words, there is always a lot to see, and it is seen by tens of thousands of collectors and interested voyeurs. These gatherings are meccas along with the auctions, of course, of the fattest sector of the international economy. Truly.

Those of us from the Raleigh area who enjoy these experiences in these fascinating cities tend to travel in loose packs. (I call it my art posse.) There is always a North Carolina party for artists, dealers, other art world celebrities, and us. We try to generate a lot of excitement about the art scene in the Triangle.

The Armory Show in March was my most recent adventure. First, let me explain that the Armory Show is not at the Park Avenue Armory, as most people assume. It is now way over on the Hudson River in two gigantic exhibition halls on Piers 92 and 94. The original Armory Show in 1913 is probably the most famous exhibition of modern art ever held. It included avant garde artists like Marcel Duchamp, Robert Henri, Fernand Leger, August Rodin, and Henri Matisse. The art world was outraged and confused. Nevertheless, the work was acquired by the new collectors of America, particularly in New York, and led to the creation of the Museum of Modern Art in 1929.

The Armory Show of 2014, a hundred years later, shows new art that is still confusing. What are the artists thinking? Expressing? As in every fair there seems to be groups of artists exploring the same ideas in similar ways. Ten years ago video, photography, and digital-based creativity were dominant. Such were the impulses, the intellectual energy of the time. Then came the 3-D movement with much gathering around conceptual installations and assemblages of objects. So what is happening now? And who is hot?

To compare notes and to get to the heart of the matter, I consulted with my friend Carlos Velez, a periodontist in Raleigh and the most astute collector of contemporary art I know. He and I agree after many fairs and much looking that many of the best artists today are concentrating on the process of making the art rather than the final product. This conceptual process has become the new art movement. A recent show at a New York gallery referred to this as “Ain’tings” as in “They ain’t really paintings,” even though they were done on a traditional canvas.

Jacob Kassay was one of the first of the recent artists to explore the new processes. He electroplates a canvas with silver, creating beautiful, ethereal pieces of work. A Kassay can fetch six figures today. Lucien Smith creates gorgeous “rain paintings” by spraying paint onto the canvas with a fire extinguisher. Remember Jackson Pollack? Nic Deshayes takes aluminum rectangular pieces and dips them in a chemical bath to create a fantastic tapestry of colors. Ayan Farah uses textiles and chemicals to create beautiful see-through pieces that expose the underlying canvas frame. Nicolas Pilato makes “concrete canvases” that he dyes and embeds with pieces of pottery, ending up with a beautiful abstract composition full of movement. A painter I liked a great deal at Armory is James Krone, who paints on the back of linen, say pure black, and lets it gradually seep through to the front. Lovely.

Scott Reeder, who lived part time in Raleigh and exhibited at Flanders Gallery, and Angel Otero, who exhibited work at CAM, are of the new movement, as well. Scott sometimes attaches pieces of pasta to a canvas and then paints over them while Angel pours oil paint on glass, lets it dry, then peels the pure paint away and attaches it to a backing. The North Carolina Museum of Art acquired one of his works (shown opposite) that is currently on view.

OK. There are artists who still make great paintings we would identify as paintings in the traditional sense. Anthony Goicolea, whose work, primarily digital-based photography, was shown in an exhibition at NCMA in 2011, is making fantastic fantasy landscape paintings. They were scarfed up immediately at the Armory.

Mickalene Thomas, who recently spent the weekend in Raleigh for a lecture at NCMA and whose Three Graces anchors a large gallery at the museum, is making remarkable new work, less about the portrait and more about the process of making the painting – deconstructed with jewels, of course.

So there you have it. New times. New art. New artists. Do your research. Look around. Trust your eye. Take a chance. And buy.