Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, the North Carolina Museum of Art houses hundreds of collections spanning centuries, dating as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. While free student entry is a perk, its collection of ancient marble sculptures and 16th-century oil paintings is a major selling point for me. From Volaire to Stella and Owunna, here are some of the major highlights from my experience at the NCMA.
The same day I attended the “A Modern Vision” exposition from the Phillips Collection, I looked at some of the more permanent installations at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Each room housed monumental paintings and sculptures from worldwide history dating as far back as Ancient Greece. From Volaire to Stella, here are some of the highlights from the trip.
Even though I attended the museum during my school’s mental health day, I found myself carrying the mountain of essays and exams that awaited me in my mind. As I continued through the exhibit, I was drawn to a pair of looped videos displayed on the wall. Blue particles danced around the screen as symbols appeared, alluding to Dogon mythological figures like the androgynous god Amma and their creation of the world.
It was here that I became entranced by this loop for a while, and slowly I let go of those aforementioned stressors. After looking at the piece, my eyes trailed to the description, and I learned that these two digital art pieces were NFTs. The works Amma’s Womb and Amma Opens Their Eyes were created by Mikael Owunna in 2022. I understood the potential for these kinds of pieces in the art space, but this was the first time I knew what I was looking at. Its price came from blockchain technology, but its value lies in the craftwork.
I have enjoyed art for most of my life. However, I have yet to go to many art museums quite yet. Luckily, my friend told me to prepare for a “Jesus and Mary room.” I knew there would be biblical illustrations, but I was not ready for the section and a half dedicated to the museum’s comprehensive collection of Jesus and Mary’s portraits dating back to medieval times. Dozens of paintings of the pair were placed to show just how these depictions have changed as art techniques and biblical interpretations adapted throughout history. The pictures do not do these walls justice, but I highly recommend checking this and much more of the museum’s Italian collection.
A piece that continues to appear in world history textbooks, Pierre-Jacques Volaire’s The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (1777) depicts the historical downfall of Pompeii in 79 AD. In the painting, Mt. Vesuvius burned so brightly that it’s a light muted the sun’s reflection of rays on the moon. As people scurry for some semblance of safety to the lake, molten rock shoots out every which way, its ashes casting shadows that not even the scars could penetrate. I went into this part of the museum with light research on what the exhibitions had to offer, but seeing this in person was a total surprise.
These pieces were incredible to see in person, but one in particular stuck out to me towards the back. New York-based artist Frank Stella was known for his impact on the minimalist movement with his clean, abstract figures. President Barack Obama awarded Stella with the National Medal of Arts in 2009. His 1970 work, Raqqa II, rested on the wall as one of the museum’s more permanent installations. Even in more comprehensive images of the museum’s contemporary collection, his retrospective piece takes center stage, even from the background, amongst other influential modern works like Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue Panel (1980) and Louise Bourgeois's Spiral Woman (1984).
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