SI Jaume Plensa NCMA
SI Jaume Plensa NCMA

I find myself visiting the North Carolina museum of Art. I witness a fresh approach to what a museum should be and how exhibitions should be organized. Comprising a huge sculpture park featuring a community beehive, built with public money and corporate donations, the NCMA in Raleigh feels fresh, vast and complete both as far as the space is concerned and for the richness of its offer. The reason for visiting was an exhibition centred around Georgia O’Keeffe, Beyond, which included a few of her paintings on display compared with current work by emerging artists. The result is interesting; some of the new work on display is quite naive and unengaging but the approach is fresh and most importantly the exhibition convey how inspiring a character O’Keeffe actually was.

Through the different sections we feel her presence not only through her artwork, but through her thoughts, her statements printed in large characters throughout, her voice. My personal highlight is a vast room displaying a 180 degree footage of her beloved, terracotta coloured home in New Mexico, and of the desert surrounding it, while the voice of O’Keefe herself tells us her story, her love for the desert and how she should not really talk about it as that might make more people interested in the area and that is not really her purpose, she wants it to herself!

She explains her love for the bones found in the desert, they are the only object that can be picked in the desert, there are no flowers, she tells us how to her they feel so alive and alive they become, immortal in her paintings. The room was magical and didactic at the same time demonstrating where her inspiration came from, pinpointing the exact spot in the desert that she has painted. A simple but effective way to bring new life to art by exploiting a multimedia approach, whereby most museums just put a tablet at the guest’s disposal and pat each other on the back.

My visit to the NCMA continues through so many artefact in the permanent collection, definitely acquired and organized so as to teach the local students about ancient civilizations without having to board a plane to Europe, but I was particularly impressed by the many unusual contemporary artists on display, hailing from Cuba, Jamaica, Ethiopia, so much more exciting, vibrating with colours and life and death. Particularly poignant Isla (Tierra Prometida) by Yoan Capote a painting depicting the sea from the Cubans’ point of view. A three dimensional sea full of fishhooks and nails, depicting the greyness of the sea, the danger, dividing and uniting, a sea of promise, a sea of death…

Just as fresh and playful and amazing appears to be a walk in the large sculpture park. Though I could not cover it all, it was wonderful to see kids interacting with the sculptures, namely the popular Gyre by local artist Thomas Sayre, 3 huge rings rising from the sand and made from the soil in the park, dug on the spot, and concrete, creating a wonderful game of shadows in the scorching Indian summer sun. And the British Nigerian Yinka Shonibare’s colourful Wind Sculpture II, an elephant trunk, a hand pointing to mother earth, a pattern imagined in Nigeria, created in the Netherlands, ending up as a sculpture in North Carolina addressing our global interconnecting selves, inviting us to see beyond barriers and fully embrace our mongrel true status: we are all the children of different cultures mingling and mixing to create our complex selves.

Finally I couldn’t but mention Jaume Plensa’s Awilda & Irma, a mother and a daughter gigantic heads nested at the side of the museum, frowning in important conversations. Immediately the features, the shapes of the head made me think of Mandela and De Klerk negotiating the end of apartheid. When reading  about the actual inspiration about the artwork, I felt slightly disappointed at first, but then again it made so much sense, after all interpretation is free, this is what I saw Mr Plensa.

Pity I was so enthralled by the park and its sculptures and the autumn colours that I missed the Mariachi band’s playing in the amphitheatre…

North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, November 2018

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