Saturday, September 30, 2023

Art spectacle: 100s of artists, 4 curators, 1 museum

CAM’s State of the Art/Art of the State exhibition features works from hundreds of artists across the state once every three years. Delays due to Covid have pushed it from 2020, but it will officially open for artists to bring their works on Friday at 5 p.m. (Photo by Tom Dorgan, Moonfrog Media)

WILMINGTON — Twenty-four hours, hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of art: Curator Bob Unchester has his work cut out for him ahead of Cameron Art Museum’s “State of the Art/Art of the State” exhibit. Held every three years — 2011, 2014, 2017 — the 2020 event was pushed due to Covid-19 and delayed again in 2021. It will officially relaunch Apr. 1. 

Here’s how it works: Artists from all across North Carolina line up at CAM, starting at 5 p.m. this Friday, armed with one piece of art, to get face time with a renowned curator. Participants will be handed a number when they arrive before being escorted to get a headshot and photo of their art. 

“Then we take them to a little area to do a video interview to talk about their work,” CAM spokesperson Matt Budd said. 

State of the Art/Art of the State 2014. (Port City Daily/File)

The videos are uploaded onto the website for people to get an idea of the work on display. There is also 24-hour programming throughout the event, including music, poetry readings, yoga and a midnight drag show. 

“It’s open to the public, so if you’re not an artist, you can come and just enjoy the spectacle,” Budd said. “We wanted to engage the whole community.”

“State of the Art/Art of the State” was inspired by Walter Hopps, a gallerist and “gonzo museum director,” The Washington Post called him. “He did something similar to this over a 36-hour period in D.C., when he felt that artists were … having trouble accessing curators,” Budd explained.

CAM has brought in three curators for 2022’s “State of the Art”: Maia Nuku of the Arts of Oceania at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Alejo Benedetti of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; and Michael Rooks of Atlanta’s High Museum.

“We chose all of them because they come from institutions that we align with,” Budd said.

Each artist will be greeted by one curator who will provide feedback on the work presented; however, they are not judging the work for entry into the exhibit. Every contemporary art piece is accepted into “State of the Art/Art of the State,” though artists are limited to only one submission, which gets installed on the spot in the Hughes Wing at CAM. The art must be original, no larger than 25 square feet for 2D work and 125 cubic square feet for 3D work (150-pound limit), and ready to hang or install. Artists have 24 hours to join the exhibit before the line cuts off at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Apr. 2.

It’s a monumental undertaking. In the past, Unchester has received upward of 700 pieces to install in a day. It takes around 65 volunteers and 25 CAM staff to procure and place all the 2D and 3D work. Unchester said planning for an exhibit of this caliber can be daunting and exciting, where 24 hours really feels like 36 when accounting for the preparation and procedures that must be put in place to see it through successfully.

“Without any real knowledge of how many works of art may come through the door, we have to plan for the possibility of every inch of our walls possibly being covered, every piece of our furniture being used and every bit of those 24 hours being full speed for staff and volunteers,” he said.

There is around 4,000 square feet of wall space to cover and Unchester can move in additional walls if needed. He also has 50 pedestals, multiple platforms and several shelves to utilize, with 10 dedicated volunteers helping him switch gears as need be. Likely, he said, more helping hands will show up; it never fails that the exhibit becomes a true community endeavor.

“In years before, artists I’ve known in my 20 years here at the museum come to say hello and wind up wanting to assist in the installation,” he said. “People who originally planned to volunteer for a four-hour shift wind up staying all night long, and staff often want to jump in and lend a hand.”

The completed exhibit will feature paintings, photography, sculpture, multimedia, video and performance art, and more. “So if we need to bring extra equipment into the space to help with the artist’s vision, we are always prepared to do so,” Unchester said.

Budd said as part of its early promotion to draw in artists, the museum did a call for pictures of possible entries. It received 120 in a few days — just a small precursor to what he expects to see come in Friday. But artists must show up in person to have their art entered into the exhibit, he clarified. 

“I’m seeing all kinds of work — and I think that’s the point of this, too, because it shows the whole breadth of what’s going on now in the world, the state and what people are responding to coming out of a pandemic, what their works are representing in their life.”

The end result melds into one “cohesive art piece,” Unchester said. In that regard, the space itself becomes a work of art.

“And thanks to everyone involved,” he added. “To see that kind of community collaboration is really what ‘State of the Art’ is all about.”

A full schedule of events from Friday, Apr. 1, through Saturday, Apr. 2, can be found here; a $10 donation is recommended.

The exhibit will officially open to the public on Saturday, Apr. 9, and remain on display until Sunday, Sept. 13.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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