Tuesday, October 7, 2014

John Menapace at the Gregg Museum, Matheson at the Craven Allen Gallery

The Gregg Museum of Art and Design at NC State University in Raleigh is having a major retrospective exhibition of the work of John Menapace.
Entitled Smokes and Mirrors: Reflections of the Self in Photographs by John Menapace, the show draws heavily on the archive of images and negatives Menapace bequeathed to the Gregg Museum at his death in 2010. 

The Gregg is located at 1903 Hillsborough Street, in Raleigh. This will be the permanent home of the Gregg once construction of new and expanded exhibition space is completed.

For the time being, this show is open by appointment between 9 and 5 on weekdays. One can arrange to see the show by calling 919.513.7244 or 919.515.3503, or by emailing Zoe Starling, the Museum's exhibit manager.

Menapace, who died in 2010, was a native of Pennsylvania who moved to North Carolina in 1956. 

The story goes that in 1955, Menapace bought a second-hand camera to take on a trip to Mexico. He never got to take the trip, but he held onto the camera. 

Menapace began to earn recognition for his photographs in the early 1970's, when he also began to teach photography at Duke University, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and also at the Penland School of Crafts in western North Carolina.

In 1984, the NCMA recognized the importance of Menapace's work by giving him their first show devoted solely to photography.  

He is widely credited with creating a tradition of fine art photographic practice in North Carolina, both through his own work and through the work of generations of North Carolina photographers whom he taught or inspired.

Among the first generation of his students were Elizabeth Matheson and Caroline Vaughan, who along with Menapace were among the first photographers collected in depth by the North Carolina Museum of Art.

This show of his work at the Gregg reminds us that Menapace had an unerring eye for design and composition. One has a very strong sense that in his often complex arrangements of items in an image everything is in the right place. 

Gene Thornton, reviewing a show of John's work in the New York Times, pointed out Menapace's "impeccable taste and a faultless sense of design," transforming "perfectly ordinary bits of landscape - the curved border of a garden pond, a cyclone fence silhouetted against a hazy sea - into elegant semi-abstractions in black and white." 

The Gregg show also offers us a more playful side of Menapace's work, especially in the series of self-portraits which show Menapace posing for his camera while wearing an interesting series of outfits and hats, but always holding his apparently ever-present cigarette. 
Menapace's show is being mounted as part of the CLICK! Triangle Photography Festival, now unfolding in the neighboring cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, NC.

The distinguished Raleigh-based photographer David Simonton will discuss Menapace's work at the Gregg on Thursday, October 23rd, 2014, at 6:00 pm.

Elizabeth Matheson (see image above), one of Menapace's first students, has her own show up now, also as part of the CLICK! Festival, with work from her CUBA portfolio of new work, at the Craven Allen Gallery in Durham. 

Matheson's work is clearly grounded in Menapace's devotion to composition, to the organized display of forms and relationships, although she uses color and engages with people in ways that expand the range of concerns she learned from Menapace. 

Wonderful to have both of them on display during this first CLICK! Festival.

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