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Public Art

Where’s a King sit?

Downtown Greensboro is in a rush. The controversy over the Elm Street statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a proposed 9/11 memorial makes it clear. Development downtown is bubbling – to the point where people aren’t being consulted and decisions are being made in haste.

At center are Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Downtown Greensboro Inc.’s President Zack Matheny, and sculptor Jim Gallucci.

I’m coming at it the way I approach public art, by asking basic questions:

  • Who are we commemorating?
  • Why here?
  • Why now?


This is what’s been removed for casting in bronze. Bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. at Elm Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Photo from 2013. Artist: Wilbur Lee Mapp

In this regard, Elsewhere’s George Scheer was on point:

A 9/11 monument in this context, at this location, in this current political climate is really unsophisticated. Given the national conversation on the presence of confederate memorials, now is not the moment to move a civil rights monument and replace it with 9/11 memorial. It makes it appear that Greensboro is totally tone deaf.

We don’t need a giant memorial to 9/11 on Elm Street. I get that there were two people who died from Greensboro in the attacks. Maybe there would be a more appropriate way to remember them specifically, and tie the city to that national story. But the time is not now, and the place is not on a revitalized and busy Elm Street.

Green Hill revamps + LASERZ!

Crucifixion, Puccio Capanna, c. 1330. North Carolina Museum of Art.
Crucifixion, Puccio Capanna, c. 1330. North Carolina Museum of Art.

The Green Hill Center announced a rebranding this week. They have a new brand identity, logo, and website.  Gone is “The Green Hill Center for North Carolina Art” and in its place is the condensed and sleek “Greenhill.” It’s good to see they’re evolving and thinking about perception, placement, and how the structure of the organization meets the public. I like the name change a lot, but my initial reaction to the new logo and website is “Meh.” Having gone through quite a few redesigns, I know sometimes the initial reaction isn’t the best, but there you go.

The other big NC art news this week comes from Dr. Warren S. Warren, who teaches in the chemistry and radiology departments at Duke. During a visit to the National Gallery in London, Warren learned that the art world is using imaging technologies that are 30 to 40 years old. (Surprise! The art world is always behind!) So he decided to see if he could use the lasers from his work with melanoma to make images of old master paintings without harming the surface.

Warren and others in Duke’s Center for Molecular and Biomedical Imaging, which he heads, have discovered they can use Warren’s pump-probe laser to create three- dimensional cross-sections of art that let researchers see colors and layers and maybe, at some point, discover the source of materials…

The first beneficiary of the laser is the North Carolina Museum of Art, about 60 miles southeast of Durham. The museum and the school are figuring out together how to make the pump-probe laser work optimally for art conservationists.

The museum’s 14th-century “Crucifixion” by Puccio Capanna was the first painting to get a pump-probe laser exam. It revealed a thick layer of lapis lazuli over Madonna’s mantle, said William Brown, the museum’s chief conservator. Typically, that blue is achieved with a layer of the less-expensive azurite, covered with a thin layer of lapis, which was more expensive than gold at the time, he said.

Hangin’ with Mr. Copper

Photo: JOSEPH RODRIGUEZ/News & Record
Photo: JOSEPH RODRIGUEZ/News & Record

The News-Record has an article about a great project at the EUC Gallery. Here’s the walk-up:

On her daily walk up Glenwood Avenue to UNCG, Harriet Hoover couldn’t help but notice Mr. Coppers Upholstery shop.

Proprietor Franklyn Lewis began each day by arranging his upholstered pieces on the porch and front lawn of his business on busy West Lee Street near Glenwood.

He painstakingly placed each item — a melange of reupholstered antique and reproduction chairs and brightly colored vinyl car and truck seats — to grab the eyes of motorists.

Hoover’s artist’s eye saw it as an sculptural installation.

“I always anticipated, ‘What’s Mr. Coppers going to do today?’ ” Hoover recalled. “It was such a nice surprise.”

Then it was gone.

The school had bought the property Mr. Copper had leased and the shop was closed down after the school and the upholsterer came to an agreement. Hoover is co-director of the EUC Gallery with artist Amy Stibich, and saw an opportunity to use the gallery space as a place for community engagement. I can’t wait to check it out. The show will be up — and ever shifting — through June 30.

Junk bonds for Hollis Simpson’s whirligigs

Photo from Meghan MacDonald
Photo from Meghan MacDonald

The NEA grants I wrote about yesterday also include $59,000 for a sculpture park in Wilson for Hollis Simpson‘s whirligigs. I fell in love with these things during a tour with Juan Logan, who is helping match color with the restoration project.

Wilson is an old tobacco town that has strong infrastructure from busier days but has experienced tough times. Wilson is lucky to have Simpson, whose works attract people from all over. When I was there, a woman from Connecticut drove through on her way to Florida just because she wanted to see the whirligigs. The town is betting on more people like that coming through, having lunch, spending a little dough, and helping to bring jobs back.

It’s interesting to see how the folk art of an old retiree who tinkered in a field with machines and reflectors is now the centerpiece for a kind of town revitalization project. I think of it as investing in junk bonds — because it’s coming from stuff that was actually junk.

The park opens in November.