The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson

THE ART OF
KEVIN BLYTHE SAMPSON

10/7/12

Eureka – Gregg Museum exhibit shows art can be found everywhere - Arts - NewsObserver.com

Eureka – Gregg Museum exhibit shows art can be found everywhere - Arts - NewsObserver.com
Art without artists? Exhibits will make you think and reflect
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Bryant Holsenbeck s installation using plastic is on view at The Gregg Museum of Art & Design, Talley Student Center, N.C. State University.
Bryant Holsenbeck's installation using plastic is on view at The Gregg Museum of Art & Design, Talley Student Center, N.C. State University.
Kevin Sampson s "Wall Street" is on view at The Gregg Museum of Art & Design, Talley Student Center, N.C. State University.
Kevin Sampson's "Wall Street" is on view at The Gregg Museum of Art & Design, Talley Student Center, N.C. State University.
“Art Without Artists”; “Spirit, Fire Shake: Renee Stout, Kevin Sampson, Odinga Tyehimba”; “Streaming: New Art from Old Bottles,” The Gregg Museum of Art & Design, Talley Student Center, N.C. State University, through Dec. 16.

Three exhibitions rolled into one time frame are filling all the gallery space at N.C. State’s Gregg Museum. In one, three African-American artists use myths and spirits to build shrines or talk to the gods. In another, Director Roger Manley has gathered up found objects from private collectors, flea markets, and campus labs, written a thoughtful essay and asks the question, “Can we have art without an artist?” Connecting the two exhibits in the lobby area between the small and large galleries, artist Bryant Holsenbeck, with the help of some 150 students, has assembled about 10,000 plastic throw-away objects into a beautiful and haunting exhibition.

The overriding theme here is what is art and it will test every brain cell you have to come to some sort of agreement with the premise. Giving it a try will open your eyes to the beauty that surrounds us all the time.

The debate about art has probably been going on as long as human beings have been making art, but it became a cause celebre in 1917 when Marcel Duchamp went to a used plumbing store, bought a urinal, placed it on a pedestal and entered it into an exhibition. At the time this repurposed urinal, considered vulgar and insulting, took on a life of its own and artists began to consider art in a new way. Duchamp wrote about it, stating that anything can be declared art if taken out of its original milieu and placed in an art context. He does not pass judgment on its value; that will be up to the viewer and time. In the case of the urinal, it was the idea that was important and, today, a carefully hand built one can be seen at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. (The 1917 one was thrown out in the trash.)

Manley points out using found objects are as old as the Chinese Han Dynasty, 206 BCE-200 CE. Scholars placed weirdly eroded limestone boulders in their gardens as objects of contemplation and meditation. Based on the theory art can be almost anything, the exhibition is wide-ranging and impressive. There are 19th-century firefighters’ respirator masks, pre-Darth Vader, there is a hot water bottle in the shape of a cat, a well-worn fireplace bellows and a tooth brush shaped like a revolver.

Manley also included dozens of found photographs in the exhibition. Again the photographer/artist is unknown. Think about the initial photograph as a piece of reality frozen in time. Then, when it finds a new home, like this exhibit, it has transformative power; the reality is not in the subjects of the photograph but in the associations the viewer brings to it.

“Improvised Chimney Cleaning Device” gave me the most to think about. Without the explanatory text, I could not figure out what it was, this galvanized bucket bored with holes projecting iron bolts of different lengths. In a different setting I would have explained it as an artistic creation merging various materials arranged asymmetrically.

“Spirit, Fire, Shake” features three artists – Kevin Sampson, Renee Stout, and Odinga Tyehimba – who have spent their mature artistic lives investigating their own history which centers on a time when survival was risky and attention had to be paid to both the physical and the spiritual. As these modern Americans live their normal lives, they seek an inner security by paying homage to the spirits and the gods. Sampson, a trained artist and retired New Jersey policeman, began making memorials when a series of terrible misfortunes hit his family. His altars move between the personal and the political. For example, “Wall Street” contains a narrative about death on the tracks. The track guarded at each end by an elaborate cross has a skeleton sprawled across it. Sampson writes that the work is a depiction of what he sees as a concerted attack on and the death of the middle class.

Stout, a trained painter educated at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University, began to explore her spiritual roots in the persona of a fictitious herbalist/storyteller, Fatima Mayfield. Using signs and objects that would be in the herbalist rooms, she explores how the healer/conjurer seeks help from the ancestral spirits in order to guide her answers to those who ask for help.

Tyehimba is retired military, born in Mississippi. Overseas, he began to reflect on the history of race oppression and came to the building of shrines as a way of understanding his African and African-American history. Today he works as a landscaper and construction worker in Durham and builds ritual objects and sacred statuary for the local Hispanic Santeria community. His life goal is to build his own “Rebel Shrine” as a testament to his spiritual journey. After 17 years it is still not complete.

In Holsenbeck’s space she uses plastic throwaways to build a waterfall, a stream, and a bamboo forest. Her story is simple. Plastic is only 60 years old but is polluting all the oceans and seas of the world. What we must do, she told me, is to stop the manufacture of single-use plastic. Her installation is beautiful; the message is tough, limit our use of plastic and raise our voices about how it is manufactured.

These exhibitions raise a lot of questions with no easy answers.

(Finding parking on the State campus is not easy; the weekends are your best bet.)

Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at blueg@bellsouth.net or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, P.O. Box 2092, Durham, NC 27702.

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