Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The renovated Nasher Museum invites you to choose your own adventure

Nasher contemporary art curator Marshall Price
shows off a restored 1858 oil painting of
Henry Ward Beecher by Francis Bicknell Carpenter.
Just days before it reopens to the public, the Nasher Museum of Art's Wilson Pavilion looks little like a world-class museum. Closed for renovation since April, the unfinished galleries seem more like the backstage of a burlesque theater, with some of its biggest stars only half-dressed.
Dozens of priceless objects are arranged on padded moving quilts laid over temporary tables, including an astounding assortment of Mesoamerican artifacts tucked between pristine, sock-size sandbags.
"Don't you love all the color?" asks Sarah Schroth, the museum's director. She can see past the dust toward the realization of her vision: sterile white walls transformed by rich hues that imbue thematic spaces with vibrancy.
"Painting the walls just does amazing things for the art. Like that piece," she says, gesturing at a large Mayan figure—an earth-toned incense burner that would have sent smoke billowing from its angry nostrils and chin. Waiting to be installed beside it on the chocolate-brown wall is a bead necklace and ear spools not unlike those worn by today's hipster artisans.
"These brown walls are perfect in here," Schroth adds, with a look of bemused satisfaction. "I mean, in addition to making all this art, [the Mayans] did invent chocolate, after all."
Schroth's excitement is understandable. On Aug. 27, Wilson Pavilion reopens to reveal 5,700 square feet of reimagined display space. Nine distinct spaces, including a welcoming entry featuring never-before-seen Navajo textiles, were designed by curators in collaboration with exhibition designer Brad Johnson.
click to enlargenasher-gallery-map.jpg
    Wilson Pavilion is the largest of the Nasher's galleries. While others have spotlighted marquee names, such as the recent exhibit of late works by Joan Miró;, Wilson has always featured art from the museum's permanent collection. But before the renovation, with fewer walls and space reserved for faculty and student art, only 3 to 4 percent of the Nasher's 11,000-piece permanent collection was available to visitors. Now Wilson will house more than four times the number of objects previously displayed. When the current exhibit ends, many pieces will return to storage so other holdings can take their places.
    While museum exhibits are often designed around a prescribed pedestrian flow, Schroth believes the Wilson redesign will achieve the goal of encouraging visitors to choose their own path.
    "We want visitors to look through a doorway and go to the space that draws their interest," says Molly Boarati, assistant curator of European art. "And when they're done there, they can do it again and again. We want them to build relationships with pieces—old favorites and new ones—so they'll want to keep coming back to experience the museum."
    click to enlargeTom Mole paints boxes that will support pieces from the Nasher Musem's collection as remodeling work is done Monday August 17, 2015 at the museum in Durham - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
    • Photo by Alex Boerner
    • Tom Mole paints boxes that will support pieces from the Nasher Musem's collection as remodeling work is done Monday August 17, 2015 at the museum in Durham
    Because the Nasher is part of Duke, it plays an important role in facilitating discourse among students and faculty. Two undergraduate interns were responsible for staging an exhibit of 18 images by one of the world's best-known photographers—and boldly choosing two in the collection of 20 to edit out. Sharp Focus: Ansel Adams and American Photography, in Wilson's Incubator gallery, is both an inspiring show and a whopper of a résumé-builder. Other displays, intended to challenge planners as well as viewers, will follow.
    More of the Nasher's contemporary collection will be revealed Oct. 1. After its current show concludes Aug. 30, the 3,600-square-foot Brenda LaGrange Johnson and Heather Johnson Sargent Pavilion will be renovated to serve as the permanent home for the museum's extensive holdings by modern artists. Exhibits here will also rotate to demonstrate the scope of the collection.
    Modern art curator Marshall Price will be heavily involved with that transformation. He's already created a dynamic juxtaposition of cubist and self-taught art, otherwise known as folk art, in Wilson's Modern gallery. The apparently coincidental similarities between Picasso's 1960 painting "Tete de femme (Head of a Woman)" and a collection of expressive face jugs made in the 1990s by rural North Carolina potters are striking.
    Image courtesy Nasher Museum
    More impressive, however, is Price's dedication to a portrait of the renowned abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher in the American gallery. While many photos of Beecher exist, Price says there are few paintings, and perhaps no others notated as being "from life," like this one.
    The brother of Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, Beecher posed in 1858 for artist Francis Bicknell Carpenter, who later painted a from-life portrait of Abraham Lincoln presenting the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Determined to include Beecher in a group of three paintings to demonstrate how portraiture changed from the European-style formality of 1812 to this more relaxed example, Price was disappointed to discover it was seriously damaged.
    Following restoration, which Price describes as "the most extensive the museum had ever undertaken," the Beecher portrait is a standout that shows the influential pastor radiating the light of knowledge and faith.
    "It was amazing, like bringing Lazarus back from the dead," Price says. Though the Nasher itself was far from dead, this renovation promises to also give it a new lease on life.
    click to enlargeNasher Museum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Marshall Price, left, and Museum Director Sarah Schroth, right, look over a Mayan ceramic incense burner that will be on display when the gallery opens after being remodeled. - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
    • Photo by Alex Boerner
    • Nasher Museum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Marshall Price, left, and Museum Director Sarah Schroth, right, look over a Mayan ceramic incense burner that will be on display when the gallery opens after being remodeled.


    Marshall Price spends a lot of time in galleries and museums. As curator of modern and contemporary art at the Nasher, it's his job to see the most talked-about exhibits and bring back ideas for ways to make the Duke University museum more engaging.
    When he visited the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, he saw something so extraordinary, so bold and electric, that he felt the hair stand up on the back on his neck.
    click to enlarge8.26_fall-guide_visual-art_richard-mosse-video.jpg
      "I don't experience that very often," says Price, who found that Sarah Schroth, the Nasher's director, felt equally compelled to bring Richard Mosse's The Enclaveto Durham for the museum's 10th anniversary. "It absolutely blew me away. Photography in conflict areas creates an ethical dilemma for viewers when they see such extraordinary beauty." The immersive 40-minute video installation about civil unrest in eastern Congo will make its Southeastern debut at Wilson Pavilion Aug. 27 and can be seen through Jan. 10.
      Mosse is an Irish-born photographer who works in Philadelphia and New York City. He uses Kodak Aerochrome, a film stock developed for government surveillance purposes. It translates vegetation and camouflage from earthen greens into vivid shades of pink and purple, creating a surreal beauty amid the chaos of political instability and human crisis.
      While Mosse embedded with groups that participated in aggressive activities, Price says there is no "overt violence" in the film, which will be displayed on six screens suspended from the ceiling. "The suggestion of violence ... is more powerful than actually seeing it," he says. "And the music is absolutely haunting."
      Meet Mosse in an artist talk and opening event at 7 p.m. Aug. 27.
      This post first appeared in print in Indy Week with the headline "Fresh paint"

      Triangle bars explore mezcal culture, but keep it neat

      Dos Perros
      Agave With Arturo, a tequila and mezcal pairings dinner
      7pm Sept. 15
      $68 per person, not including tax and gratuity
      200 N. Mangum St., Durham

      In his four years of tending bar at Durham's Dos Perros, Arturo Sanchez has watched his share of fools slam tequila and throw back tear-inducing shots of smoky mezcal. But aficionados of these agave-based spirits are increasingly bringing refinement bar-side.
      Christian Madezen of The Crunkleton
      in Chapel Hill suggests The Last Word as an
      introduction to the smoky charm of mezcal.
      Indy Week photo by Alex Boerner.
      "People want to experience these spirits much in the way they do fine wine," Sanchez says.
      He swirls an amber pour of Don Julio Añejo tequila in a slender flute to observe its "legs," or the liquid that languorously drips down the glass.
      "You should sniff it deeply to get a sense of the barrel—usually oak—then sip, swish and hold it for five seconds before swallowing to bring all the flavors together," he continues before doing just that. "Now that's what tequila should taste like."
      Celebrity endorsements of tequila, like George Clooney's high-end Casamigos, are helping to remake the spirit's image among those who may have sworn off the stuff after a hangover-inducing experience in college. Small-batch mezcal is finding its place in the craft cocktail revolution, too, thanks locally to Raleigh's Gallo Pelón Mezcalería, the only such bar in the Southeast. U.S. tipplers remain fairly timid about embracing mezcal's smoky charms and sometimes funky aroma, especially straight up.
      But manager Marshall Davis sourced more than 40 choices for the upstairs spot, including Mezcal Vago Elote. The drink achieves its Scotch-like flavor from an infusion of smoked corn. Served in a shallow clay cup with a savory pinch of chapuline (fried grasshopper) salt on the side, a pour will set you back $11. If you've got it to spare, it's cash well spent.
      "Some mezcals smell like burning tires or gym socks," says Davis, whose current favorite is the mineral-rich Mezcalero Batch #5. A rare find, only 636 bottles were produced in 2012 before the maker destroyed the still. Gallo Pelón has two. "To me, and a lot of agave heads, mezcal's weirdness makes it something we really want to try."
      Masking mezcal's earthy qualities with mixers distracts from its essential appeal, agrees Sanchez, who recently returned from a tastings trip to the state of Jalisco, home of the town of Tequila.
      "A lot of people are afraid of drinking it neat, but in Mexico, if you ordered mezcal in a cocktail, they'd think you were crazy," Sanchez says. "A Mezcal Mule is a good introduction for people who aren't sure if they'll like it, but if you really want to appreciate mezcal, drink it straight."
      Chapel Hill's The Crunkleton, famed for its deep bourbon collection, currently has seven mezcals, more than double what you'll find in North Carolina ABC stores. You can even go big with a $53 1.5-ounce shot of Del Maguey Pechuga. The clean flavor comes from triple distillation, including the last-round addition of wild fruits and a raw, skinless chicken breast.
      "I know it sounds strange, but it's a classic technique," says owner Gary Crunkleton, who recently tried a variation distilled with Ibérico ham. "It's always made as the last harvest of the year, a sort of gift to the gods. Once you taste it, you get it."
      Crunkleton bartender Christian Madsen is a particular fan of artisanal mezcal, which he says is affected by terroir, much like fine wine. "Mezcal from the highlands is sweeter, while mezcal from the lowlands tends to be more grassy," he says. "Factor in 40 types of agave, different water sources—you get the picture."

      How to buy mezcal and tequila in the Triangle and how to use it

      When shopping for tequila, our experts recommend only buying brands with the “NOM” designation on the label, which confirms production at an authorized Mexican distillery. Certified mezcals will state use of espadin agave, too. Monte Alban should be left on the shelf. For a decent drink, Dos Perros’ Sanchez recommends Fidencio for its lean body and fruit finish. Price, though, considers Del Maguey Vida the best local option. No matter what you choose, skip any bottle that boasts a worm, rattlesnake head or similarly nasty additive. Crunkleton says that Oaxacan producers, who “create their own distillate to honor their distinct community and culture,” never demean their product with crass marketing ploys.
      And if you can’t resist the urge to use mezcal in a cocktail, try these easy-to-make drinks at home.
      SKINNY DIP (ARTURO SANCHEZ, DOS PERROS): Muddle five lime wedges in a shaker, then add 1.5 ounces of silver tequila, .75 ounces of orange liquor and ice. Shake and pour into glass rimmed with smoked paprika, ground chiles and coarse salt.
      SPICY PEPINO (CHRISTIAN MADSEN, THE CRUNKLETON): Muddle a slice of cucumber in a shaker, then add 1.5 ounces mezcal, .75 ounces of lime juice, .5 ounces of simple syrup and dashes of cayenne and salt. Shake and strain into ice-filled glass rimmed with salt. Garnish with a cucumber slice.
      SMOKY PALOMA (MARSHALL DAVIS, GALLO PELÓN MEZCALERIA): Muddle a slice of habanero pepper in a shaker, then add 1 ounce of mezcal, 1 ounce of reposado tequila, 1 ounce of fresh grapefruit juice, 1 ounce of cane syrup and .5 ounces of fresh lime juice. Shake, then strain into a glass. Top with soda water.
      This post first appeared in print in Indy Week with the headline "Upstairs, down South"

      Pittsboro's Fair Game takes three medals at Asheville contest

      Photo courtesy Chris Jude
      Not surprisingly, the annual wine competition at the Asheville Wine and Food Festival is dominated by established producers, stretching from the Yadkin Valley to the western mountains. It was something of a surprise, then, when Pittsboro's Fair Game Beverage Co. scored a trifecta on Saturday, taking home gold, silver and bronze medals for its fortified wines. 

      Not bad for a company that only introduced its first bottle in June 2014.

      "We competed at the State Fair last year, where Ferris won a silver medal," says Chris Jude, referring to the winery's full-bodied red blend. "And this year, Asheville gave it the gold."

      Judges also recognized Fair Game for its Tipper Scuppernong, which earned a silver medal, and the Tipper Peach, which won a bronze.

      "I see our wines as unique and different from what's going on in North Carolina," Jude says. "Customers tell us it's like nothing they've seen before. It's been a great reception from the restaurant community, and now, to get that from the wine community, is just great."

      Jude says Fair Game was greeted warmly by some of its better known competitors, including one that he especially admires, Jones von Drehle Vineyards of Thurmond.

      Fair Game was the only Triangle winner in the wine competition, but it was joined by TOPO of Chapel Hill and Crude Bitters of Raleigh in Elixir, the event's cocktail competition. Three of eight participants used Fair Game's Apple Brandy as an ingredient. (Fair Game suggests several tempting cocktail recipes on its website.)

      This spring, Fair Game introduced an Apple Brandy, along with its sorghum-based No'Lasses. Jude hopes to add another option this fall. He protectively describes a "vodka infused with a secret ingredient." A new batch of Tipper Apple, a cider-based wine aged in bourbon barrels, will be bottled for sale, too.

      "We might have a new rhum agricole, too, which we've been working on for a year," he says. "Thanks to the new law allowing sales of spirits at distilleries, it's one of the things we look forward to offering to customers on site."

      This post first appeared in Indy Week.