The works of art – all 776 in number, representing most genres you can think of – fill nearly every square inch of wall space in the large gallery, from floor to very high ceiling, including at least one piece (the Swamp Thing-like “Bog Man” by Cheyanne Hiott) is actually suspended. The artwork also fills the floor, with just enough space to walk around and admire the spectacle.
Welcome to the Cameron Art Museum’s “State of the Art/Art of the State” exhibition, which is simply overwhelming, in a good way. The exhibit, which opened at the Wilmington Museum on April 9 and will run through September 18, features the works of 776 artists who live in or are native to North Carolina.
Anyone 18 or older who was willing to line up with their piece at a 24-hour event at the museum earlier this month – some, I’m told, waited for hours – has seen their work personally accepted and commented on by one of three guest curators representing some of America’s most prestigious museums: Alejo Benedetti of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas; Dr. Maia Nuku from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and Michael Rooks of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
For many if not most of these artists, this will be their only opportunity to exhibit their work in a museum. Based on a concept by the late art curator Walter Hopps, the artfully curated exhibition – CAM has done similar “State of the Art/State Art” exhibitions in the past, but this is the first since the pandemic – is like a snapshot in time that captures most art styles imaginable.
Artists range from rank amateurs to seasoned professionals, including longtime Wilmington painter Elizabeth Darrow, whose oil on pastel “Go Figure” depicts a young girl doing complex mathematical equations on a chalkboard while her teacher stands proudly stands by.
Some of these parts might not stand up well on their own. But taken together, they create an effect greater than the sum of their parts, a thunderous and ultimately beautiful statement that all art is valid.
And, if we’re being honest, the quality is actually pretty amazing considering that almost anyone can submit work and have it accepted.
There is a dazzling quilt by Ann Harwell, “Old Salem”, which looks like a mosaic by depicting a rural cemetery. Jen Hill’s mysterious acrylic painting “Between, Behind, Beyond” shows a pensive boy whose face is obscured by – or mixed with? – the jaws of an alligator. Duane Abbott’s large “Psychedelic Winged Victory” sculpture is made up of thousands of colored filaments and creates an imposing yet delicate effect.
And it’s just the first three that caught my attention. It’s safe to say that this is a sight you could spend a few hours in or visit more than once.
A number of works are of local interest, including an adorable embroidered portrait of Wilmington’s longtime Jimbo’s restaurant by Rita Bonilla Fash; a black-and-white photograph (“Through the Hublot”) of Battleship North Carolina by Derek Moose; and a color photograph of the geometric entrance to the Wilson Center at Cape Fear Community College (“Cape Fear Frame”) by Kenneth Karpinkski.
Curiosities abound, like Gail Brouwer’s “stuffed” swordfish plush “Marina”; a painted pair of roller skates (“Rollin’ Art”) by Belina Griffin; and a giant portrait of Jimi Hendrix by Harvest Ganong made entirely from non-recyclable plastics.
There are dogs and cats, beach scenes, abstracts, multiple decorated guitars and portraits in all styles.
There’s concept art – Stephen Wozniak’s “Chop Wood, Carry Water” is a pile of firewood next to a bucket of water – and functional, like the beautiful glossy wooden desk (“Alyce Desk “) by Kevin Sisson.
More commentary on the internet’s infiltration into our lives, like Amber Watts’ “ME:’ME'” large-scale meme grid or Timothy Allan Mills’ “Grant Wood on Instagram,” which reinvents ” American Gothic” as a publication on the ‘Gram.
I could go on, because each of the pieces has a story to tell, if you listen. I would rather you spend some time with “State of the Art/Art of the State”, because something is bound to speak to you.
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com.
Want to go?
What: “State of the Art / Art of the State”, an exhibition featuring works by 776 North Carolina artists.
When: Regular museum opening hours until September 18.
Or: Cameron Art Museum, 3201 S. 17th St., Wilmington
Information: There is an additional $5 for the show on top of regular museum admission. Admission is free for those 18 and under.