The Blowing Rock Art & History Museum (BRAHM) will open a captivating exhibition on March 20th, guest curated by prominent collectors of contemporary photography Carlos Garcia-Velez, Allen Thomas, and Former Director of The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA), Larry Wheeler. The exhibition, on view through August 21, features works from the prestigious North Carolina private collections of Carlos Garcia-Velez, Allen Thomas, Larry Wheeler, as well as Hedy Fischer and Randy Schull, and Chandra and Jimmie Johnson. TRANSFORMATION is an impressive statewide collaborative effort presenting some of the most significant contemporary photographs of our time, as well as several important works from NCMA’s permanent collection.
As such, TRANSFORMATION is a culmination of photographs drawn from a strong, diverse array of collections across the state of North Carolina–from Wilson and Raleigh, to Chapel Hill and Charlotte, to Asheville and Blowing Rock. This exhibition will be the first of its kind for BRAHM, and it brings together an international group of photographers capturing various social spheres relaying dynamic shifts of a changing world. The curation of renowned photographers, such as Hiroshi Sugimoto, Pieter Hugo, Mikalene Thomas, Vera Lutter, Eve Sussman, and Vik Muniz, highlights transformation with a permanence by emphasizing metamorphosis as a sustained moment of innovation and learning, rather than a fleeting consequence of change. By bridging the gap of conventional and contemporary photographic modalities, TRANSFORMATION seamlessly weaves the past and present, the masculine and feminine, to reveal nuanced realities of our ever-changing world. This spring, BRAHM welcomes visitors to be inspired by the celebration of change in TRANSFORMATION.
Featured artist, Hiroshi Sugimoto, uses this relationship of old and new to inform his innovative practice. In his Lightning Fields series, Sugimoto combines the polarized fields of art and science to produce remarkable works. In facilitating electrical discharges onto silver gelatin dry plates, visual replicas of lightning strikes appear. Silky black tones contrast with white remnants, where light has reacted with the silver, leaving viewers with a stunning image. This method substitutes his customary use of an 8”x 10” large format camera, producing striking photograms as evidence. Sugimoto’s work effectively pushes the boundaries of traditional photography, revealing broader conceptual possibilities in our contemporary age.
Pieter Hugo, a South-African photographer, documents African people and their landscapes. In his series, “The Hyena and Other Men,” (2005-2007), Hugo captures the lives of traveling performers in Nigeria, employing hyenas as their fellow showmates. Hugo flattens the hierarchies of animals to humans, by juxtaposing the hyena next to the performer, suggesting a greater interdependence between both creatures. Poverty exposes a codependency, as the human subject relies on their pet hyena for a living, and the hyena, often regarded as savage, relies on their caretaker for a refuge from hunters. In capturing this unique occupation, Hugo focuses on the political intersections of race, class and identity in impoverished Nigeran people. Complicating assumptions about hierarchies, Hugo raises questions about access in our transforming world.
Brooklyn-based painter and photographer, Mikalene Thomas, shares powerful visual narratives of femininity and race in a modernised world. Her theatrical uses of color and pattern capture viewers, while balancing a focused intimacy to her subject matter. Black women center her photographs, often assuming painterly European positions of adornment, such as the Odalisque. In situating Black women as glamorous focal points, Thomas subverts the patriarchal narrative that prescribes beauty only to the thin, modest, European white woman. Further embellishing her works with rhinestones, Thomas converts the Black figure into decoration itself. Effectively, Thomas transforms the historically oppressed Black figure into one worthy of distinguished praise and adoration. In their exaggerated, self-indulgent postures, her models unapologetically redefine glamour, setting a standard of Blackness as the measure for beauty. By merging layers of gender, race, and identity, Thomas composes images that encapsulate the multiplicities of existence for the Black and the feminine experiences. Her notable work stands as a transformative force for the art world, spotlighting narratives often excluded from recorded histories and challenging the canonical and contemporary representations of Black femininity.
Through works from artists like Matthew Brandt, TRANSFORMATION further investigates the environmental shifts of the changing atmosphere. In his photography, Brandt uses nature as a dominating force to advance the subject matter of his images. In his widely-esteemed series, Lakes and Reservoirs, Brandt makes use of two essential items: his camera and a 5-gallon plastic jug. First capturing bodies of water through his lens, he then captures the lake itself, storing its water in his jug. By immersing the negative into its adjacent lake water, the two materials meet. The integration of lake water onto the negative results in dissolved emulsions, to reveal distinct, color-filled results. The varying levels of contamination within the bodies of water expose different colored results on the final prints. Through the marriage of process and environment, Brandt’s work makes visible the perpetual advancements of pollution and climate change.
TRANSFORMATION explores the boundaries of past and present, traditional and contemporary, and masculine and feminine, through cutting-edge photography. By questioning the tight boxes of gender roles, TRANSFORMATION displays the complexities of queerness as a point of self-discovery and emancipation from the binary. The exhibition imagines a third space of transformation that holds the ebbs and flows of a shifting world. Presenting an invitation to question surrounding realities of the present-day moment, TRANSFORMATION simultaneously encourages audiences with the limitless possibilities of a hopeful tomorrow.
Along with this exhibition, visitors will be able to engage in an extended series of TRANSFORMATION themed online-programming and events. For more information and details on corresponding programs, visit BRAHM’s website at www.BlowingRockMuseum.org or call (828) 295 – 9099.
The Blowing Rock Art & History Museum is located at 159 Ginny Stevens Lane on South Main street in Blowing Rock, NC. BRAHM is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.