Uncharted Territory: Lump Gallery at 25 Years

Blount Street gallery Lump offers thought-provoking contemporary art and interactive virtual and in-person exhibits.
by Colony Little

The Lovers by Joy Tirade, image courtesy Lindsay Metivier

Between an abandoned building and a Baptist church on Blount Street, a matte-gray building stands out from its downtown neighbors with four fire engine red letters that read LUMP. For the inquisitive, the windowless cinder block structure draws visitors like a magnet—while a more cautious person might find the steely warehouse about as inviting as a single red balloon peeking out from a sewer grate.

These dichotomous conceptual metaphors lie at the heart of this independent, contemporary art space. The non-commercial gallery offers bold, cutting edge experiences that challenge, confound and engage its viewers.

“There’s something unique about the smell of an art gallery when you first enter,” says Lump director George Jenne, “It’s the alchemical odor of freshly handled material. It’s discomfiting and familiar, at once.”

But what happens to an art space that cannot directly engage its audience? Lump addressed the disruption of the pandemic by introducing two unique forms of digital programming that embraced and adapted to the physical limitations of viewing art in person, while remaining true to their commitment to presenting unconventional work that challenges artists and viewers in unexpected ways.

Lump opened in 1995, quickly developing a reputation as a creative hub for avant-garde artists, both within and outside the Triangle. For Raleigh Denim Workshop co-founder Victor Lytvinenko, the gallery is a transformative space: “The work and exhibitions I’ve seen at Lump gallery feel like they take a can opener to my brain, open it up, and remind me not to get stuck in my own ideas about what things could or should be.” Lump’s artistic programming merges conceptual and performance-based works, offering group shows and cross-medium collaborations that are at the essence of the gallery’s eclectic programming.

La Donna del Lago by Leann Shapton

“There’s a community rooted there,” says artist Lindsay Metivier, “but the vision for what they present doesn’t seem to be limited to solely who they are or what they’re compelled by.” Metivier, who recently installed a photography show called Home Range, reinforces what the space means to artists here in Raleigh: “While it’s not explicitly a radical space, there seems to be a genuine interest in what artists have to say regarding what it means to live here, in North Carolina, during a time of rapid, urgent change.”

The gallery turns 25 this year, and is uniquely positioned to speak truth to chaos through its makeshift news studio dubbed Fäque Knews. Artists are invited to use the space as they see fit; performances, manifestos, magic tricks and sonic soundscapes are captured on video and linked to Lump’s site via Vimeo.

While Fäque Knews attempts to poke fun at the absurdity of the modern day news cycle, it also offers artists a cathartic release from the maniacal hold that the media has had on our collective psyche. Some Fäque Knews videos flirt with whimsy, like a time-lapsed video of a farm that features a spontaneous cavalcade of animal visitors who pass the camera’s lens, while other videos walk the dangerous line between the spoken word and crisis, as seen in Ginger Wagg’s disturbing, yet captivating piece called It’s Not Unusual. In it, the artist unpacks items from a large trash bag and delicately places a series of ping pong balls on a table, then her tone shifts toward urgency, her words stifled by the ping pong balls, through a breathtaking, anxiety-inducing performance.

You’ve Reached the Office of Stuart Ullman by George Jenne

Alternatively, for those who have come to the unimaginable end of their Netflix queue, team Lump presents unique content to cure streaming fatigue and expand one’s world beyond quarantined walls through their online Hit List series. Hit List is divided into three categories, Flick, Paperback and Sound, which offer visitors a diverse selection of curated films, books and albums that have become important creative guideposts for Lump’s artistic contributors. As Jenne describes, “I saw the stasis that we’ve been forced to endure for the past few months as an opportunity to absorb inspiring works in huge greedy gulps. Hit List is a guide for that. It’s also a way for contributors to share in the art that gets them excited.”

The weekly selections are presented alongside the team’s memories and musings over their picks. Consider a nostalgic walk down memory lane by musician Devon Tuttle, who reminisces over their summer job at a go-kart track: “The wages were low, the days were slow, and I was way into it—a mostly pleasant haze of gasoline fumes and ennui.” The soundtrack of this summer experience was a rare album called Chaos by the band Wicked Witch. Reading Tuttle’s story while playing a synth-infused, jazz funk track called Vera’s Back took me back to some of my own, not-so-epic adolescent memories. 

An image from Lindsay Metiver’s Home Range exhibition

The gallery recently reopened its doors with shows by N.C. photographers Lindsay Metivier and Warren Hicks that will feature work on view in the gallery and online specifically formatted for a digital viewing experience. Safety measures in accordance with the state COVID-19 guidance have been implemented including requiring masks and providing hand sanitizer for visitors. Jenne is cautiously optimistic. “We will severely limit the number of people allowed inside the space to view the work. Hosting gatherings is suddenly a tricky calculus that I don’t think anyone has come close to solving, so we’re taking it slow.” Metiver and Hicks’ shows have been extended to November 8, while a new group show titled Opulence Decadence curated by artist William Paul Thomas is planned to open with an outdoor reception on November 20.

The uncertainty of our present times behind that tricky calculus has both fueled and hindered the art created during the pandemic, yet Lump’s ability to adapt their programming to the evolving times created a unique opportunity for artists to use video and other media to draw new viewers to their work. This nimbleness and adaptability makes Lump uniquely positioned to continue to bring art to those who are willing to create and venture into uncharted territory.