The Mint Museum’s rich cache of newly revealed holdings gleams as shutdowns force a reboot.
by Michael J. Solender
Mint Museum chief curator Jen Sudul Edwards faced a quandary earlier this year. A major exhibition she’d worked on securing wasn’t coming together as planned due to coronavirus closures. Artwork for the exhibit, W|ALLS: Defend, Divide, and the Divine, was in crates strewn across the globe in various stages of transport.
Ever-changing logistical and funding challenges related to the pandemic forced Edwards and the Mint’s team to reconsider not only this planned exhibition, but a go-forward approach to engaging and building its audience in the new Covid era. True to its creative mission, the museum is proving nimble at the newest adaptive sport we all seek to master – the pivot.
“It’s a new adventure daily,” says Edwards, who is also the Mint’s curator of contemporary art. Edwards’ latest focus on redefining programming for online consumption, while a matter of necessity, is having the added benefit of increasing the museum’s reach. A recent collaboration that paired the exhibition Immersed in Light: Studio Drift at the Mint and Charlotte Ballet’s Dispersal, part of the company’s Innovative Works series, is one example.The Charlotte Ballet-produced video capturing the performance, a museum tour and artist interviews was picked up in Mexico by the University of Guadalajara, scoring international exposure for both Charlotte cultural institutions.
“The situation is proving to be very dynamic,” Edwards says. “It’s exciting to reach audiences beyond our doors.”
Online explorers at the Mint’s frequently updated website can access virtual gallery tours, artist and curator interviews, and art projects kids can do at home. The pandemic also has accelerated the Mint’s strategic move to create a greater platform for local and regional artists, and has provided Edwards, who joined the Mint last summer, an opportunity to take a fresh look at the museum’s existing collections.
Serving local artists
Rediscovering what’s in our backyards is a movement gaining momentum and is destined to extend well beyond the pandemic. This trend allows the Mint to advance its recent push toward working with the region’s emerging and established artists.
For Todd Herman, Mint Museum president and CEO, it’s an existential matter. “We rely on artists,” Herman says. “If we’re not helping [regional artists] in our own community visualize creating art as a viable profession and paying for their work, we’re not fulfilling our mission.” Look for programming like Constellation CLT, the Mint’s quarterly series showcasing local artists, to become even more prevalent, Herman says.
Charlotte muralists Arko + Owl were featured when Constellation CLT launched in 2018. (In addition, Owl’s murals are part of the current Wedgwood black basalt exhibition at Mint Museum Randolph.) Other regional artists featured in the series include mixed-media artist Nellie Ashford, earth-form manipulator Crista Cammaroto, graphic artist Mike Wirth, painter Katherine Boxall, abstract artist Elizabeth Palmisano and mural artist Brett Toukatly.
The museum has commissioned North Carolina artists Antoine Williams, Amy Bagwell and Stacy Lynn Waddell to produce work for an April 2021 exhibition: Silent Streets will take an introspective look at the disruptive creative process at the intersection of the Black Lives Matter movement, the global pandemic and an election year.
The Mint relishes taking a leadership role in the community, utilizing the museum’s public spaces for collaboration with other cultural organizations, Herman says. “We are part of a cultural ecosystem,” he says. “We’re a convener. Charlotte has an active cultural scene, and many people don’t see below the surface. We want to help change that.”
New Days, New Works
With the pandemic, there’s also a fresh opportunity for the museum to reevaluate its existing holdings. Edwards’ more immediate challenge of the postponed W|ALLS show provided a silver-lining option for her to curate something equally special.
“We started thinking about all the interesting and diverse collections we have,” Edwards says. “We want to share the backstories of their acquisitions and spotlight the donors contributing these works to celebrate their community connections and commitment to inspiring with art.”
Edwards turned to her curatorial team overseeing the museum’s holdings from its Craft, Fashion, and Design; Contemporary American; and Decorative Arts collections to assemble a collaborative show unlike anything they had done before. New Days, New Works, an exuberant exhibition of 80 works, adorns the fourth-floor gallery originally intended for the now delayed W|ALLS exhibit.
“We depend on our donors to help make the collections diverse and ambitious,” Edwards says. “Many have the acumen to assemble collections as excellent and interesting as museum curators would build.”
When state and municipal guidelines allow the Mint’s doors to open — most likely in Phase 3 — visitors will be enchanted by new works, most acquired within the past two years, that represent different voices and geographies than is found in more established works from the Mint’s permanent collection. Highlights to look for include:
Ceilings for Offerings, Spanish contemporary artist Pilar Albarracín’s visually arresting assemblage of hundreds of flamenco dresses hung overhead from the gallery ceiling. Frilly, frothy, bold and bright, these dresses investigate the daring brashness, strength and confidence of the Sevillian women who wear them, associated gender definitions, and the expectations they evoke. A subset of 724 such dresses in the Mint’s collection, the complete grouping is a gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection.
Black Artists on Art, first edition volumes of the revolutionary Lewis and Waddy catalog of contemporary Black artists started in 1969. These gifts by longtime friend of the Mint and former trustee B.E. Noel feature in-depth exploration of Black artists not typically found in mainstream galleries and institutions.
Body Beautiful, an exhibit within the exhibit that includes excerpts from Charlotte artist Carolyn DeMeritt’s photography portfolio Infinite Grace. Featuring portraits of DeMeritt’s longtime friend, Pinky/MM Bass, the portfolio was purchased for the museum collection with a gift from the George and Linda Foard Roberts Charitable Fund. Bass models her nude and imperfect body in close-up black and white in the embroidered gelatin prints. These whimsied photos upon close examination reveal solemnity, introspection and a respect for how anatomy speaks to one’s soul. There is also an installation of Bass’ work, including a gift from Greensboro artist and collector Carol Cole Levin made in honor of Allen Blevins, who introduced the work on view to the curator.
With Side With Shoulder by American contemporary expressionist artist Summer Wheat. Engaging gallery viewers immediately upon entry, this piece, a gift by the Wells Fargo Foundation Women Artists Fund, showcases Wheat’s unique technique of paint extrusion through wire mesh. Wheat’s commitment to telling the stories of women as laborers and makers redefines historic artistic gender representation in ways that make her work resonate loudly today.
With pandemic-related upheaval gnawing at the very fabric of our lives, respite found in exploring the creation and beauty surrounding us brings comfort and reassurance. Charlotteans need look no further than to the Mint for a fresh and welcome serving. SP
Into the light
Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist Summer Wheat created Foragers for the Mint’s four-story, 96-panel lobby atrium. The work, Wheat’s largest project to date, comprises colored pieces of vinyl that exude a stained-glass effect. Todd Herman, Mint Museum president and CEO, calls the project “spectacularly beautiful, with the scale overwhelming and powerful, destined to be a transformative artwork capturing the imagination of museum visitors.”
Wheat is originally from Oklahoma City. She received her MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and has exhibited her work in gallery shows and institutions for nearly two decades. A rising star on the contemporary arts scene, Wheat was named one of “10 Artists to Watch” at the Frieze London art fair in 2017 and has received scores of additional accolades.
The installation depicts the agricultural heritage of North Carolina and is hand-constructed in the craft tradition prevalent in the Old North State. Foragers illustrates planters, harvesters, fishers and beekeepers, all women, long ignored in historic depictions as primary laborers. Wheat speaks reverentially about her subject matter.
“These women are going out in the world and contributing,” she says. “They’re bringing things from the woods, the water and the land. They’re all coming together with this enormous contribution. It’s meant to give one a reflective moment towards that.”
Foragers will be on exhibit through September 2022.