While this year felt like one long punch in the mouth, lots of great local art hit back.
Several large group exhibits showed countless ways that artists are responding to contentious political times. At Raleigh’s Pink Building, FUHB2: NC Artists Respond to House Bill 2 was aggressive right when we needed it. It included Stacey L. Kirby’s bathroom installation, “I AM,” which became part of her ArtPrize-winning installation in Michigan later in the year. At Visual Art Exchange, Black on Black gave crucial space to artists of color and may have future iterations in 2017. At the Nasher, Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art contextualized the issues raised in FUHB2 and Black on Black.
Many solo shows also stood out for activism, outrage, and defiance. I’ll never forget Antoine Williams’s “Those Other People (For Freddie Gray),” a trio of hanging sculptures from which seat belt straps dangled almost to the floor of the Artspace lobby. André Leon Gray’s one-room show at 21c Museum Hotel, A Nation Under Our Feet, was just as intense, especially one piece that mimicked the presidential seal in tar. In a Raleigh storefront, Lincoln Hancock’s interactive light installation, “Flag,” took a subtler tack to question identity and authority. Other notable solo shows included William Paul Thomas’s Thicker Than Mud at the Durham Art Guild’s Room 100, Lien Truong’s America, America and al maghrib ghareeb at The Carrack, and Gesche Würfel’s Oppressive Architecture and Thomas Sayre’s White Gold at CAM Raleigh.
Performance art gained momentum this year. Some of the best included the intense mess of “Mattress Power,” an installation and video by Charles Chace, Ginger Wagg, and Jesse Paddock at SPECTRE Arts, and the hilarious, edgy spectacle of “Consensus Reality” by Gabrielle Duggan and Neill Prewitt at the Carrack. It made me write “Talking Heads circa 2016” in my notebook.
I have vivid memories of street theater at protests this year, especially of Durham Artists Movement members in front of the Durham Police Department, expressing authority’s menace and absurdity without parody. Street art stood out, too, including posters with the word “HATE” on a demonic Trump and records fastened to trees and fences in Durham, painted with remembrances of police-violence victims such as Jesus Huerta. Choreographer Stephanie Leathers’s performances around Durham construction sites also stood out as necessary moves in gentrified territory.
The most fun art night of the year was the first (and, I hope, annual) Monster Drawing Rally at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Scads of artists worked shoulder to shoulder on original drawings, which were then sold to giddy, salivating crowds (I took home great works by Tedd Anderson and Celia Johnson). Other exciting new arrivals on the scene included Don’t You Lie To Me!, an artist-interview podcast by Jeff Bell and Warren Hicks; Tether Projects, Rusty Shackleford and Julie Rudder’s ongoing series of artists’ flags in front of SPECTRE Arts; and the ART& community space at the Ackland Art Museum, which commissioned murals from Stacy Lynn Waddell, Heather Gordon, and Derek Toomes. Next year is shaping up to be another round of bare-fisted combat. At least we have a full complement of artists, curators, and institutions willing to swing the bat for us.
This article appeared in print with the headline “The Agitators.”