State of the Art/Art of the State: Breaking Down Art World Elitism

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We hear about art world elitism over and over again. Sometimes it seems like a constant critical mantra or self-congratulatory boast depending on where you position yourself on this appraisal. I myself sit somewhere in the middle of this debate fully understanding the often stifling effect elitism has on art, not to mention the very real barriers it throws up, but I also recognize that scholars and critics of art who spent years studying and developing a discerning eye have some right to be highly selective and even elitist.

Museums in particular often get the most criticism for this attitude– much of it rightly deserved. Just think of the brilliant Guerrilla Girls campaigns or the Yams’ protest of the Whitney Biennial. I fully support these efforts for inclusiveness and re-organizing power structures. Hence why I was so excited to learn about and experience the Cameron Art Museum’s State of the Art/Art of the State exhibition, which opened in September of this year.

State of the Art/Art of the State is a non-juried exhibition where contemporary artists 18 or older living in, or native to, North Carolina were invited to exhibit their work at the Cameron. Artists brought their self-selected work to the museum over a 24-hour period for a marathon-style installation where the only restriction was wall and floor space. State of the Art is based on the art event 36 Hours, an exhibition conceived of by Walter Hopps in 1978 in response to the problems artists faced gaining access to notable curators.

State of the Art/Art of the State at the Cameron Art Museum

State of the Art/Art of the State at the Cameron Art Museum

This problem is still a contemporary issue, but one the Cameron is tackling head on through State of the Art. While the exhibition is not juried, four notable curators were on hand to meet with the artists and discuss their work. Participating curators were: Nora Burnett Abrams, Associate Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver; Peter Eleey, Curator and Associate Director of Exhibitions and Programs at MoMA PS1; Laura Hoptman, Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art; and Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, the Nancy and Bob Magoon CEO and Director, Aspen Art Museum.

657 artists from all over the state participated in this year’s State of the Art/Art of the State exhibition. They represent different backgrounds and ethnicities and have varying degrees of skill level from students and hobbyists to professionals. The first time the Cameron attempted this show was in 2011 with 614 artists participating.

The show is chaotic and overwhelming without question. Paintings are hung right up to the ceiling and all the way down to the floor much like 19th century salon shows. Sculptures and 3-D artworks litter the floor space crowded on pedestals and platforms. It is hard to focus on any one piece, but certain works shine through the hubbub. It is amazing how this happens!

It is hard to say how much of a real impact shows like State of the Art have on art world elitism. Do any of these artists get solo shows or purchases as a direct result of exhibiting at the Cameron or meeting the participating curators? Is it worth the time and effort the museum and the artists put in to making this exhibition happen? I don’t know; it will be interesting to hear how the Cameron evaluates this initiative at the end of the show. I am certain this exhibition has increased the relevance of the Cameron Art Museum to the people of Wilmington and North Carolina, increasing these communities’ stake in the museum.

State of the Art/Art of the State will be on view until February 12, 2015. Do not miss this chance to witness art world inclusivity and a chance to see the full spectrum of art being produced in North Carolina.

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State of the Art/Art of the State at the Cameron Art Museum

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State of the Art/Art of the State at the Cameron Art Museum


Cameron Art Museum: 3201 South 17th Street Wilmington, North Carolina 28412; (910)395.5999.

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