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Saturday, Oct 20, 2007

Private collectors lend their modern treasures as Mint museum starts a quest for living artists


"I was mesmorized" said Dana Davis about a video of a young girl swimming by Janets Biggs. Davis owns the video and has loaned it to The Mint Museum for a major contemporary art show with some of the work loaned by members.

It was not the best moment for buying a work of art.

Dana Davis was rushing to get to the airport to catch a plane from New York home to Charlotte when a gallery owner beseeched her: Watch this video. "It's only four minutes," she said, shaving the length by a minute to perhaps make it more palatable.

Davis stopped and looked at Janet Biggs' "Airs Above the Ground," a film of a young woman swimming underwater. "As I watched it for the fourth time, I found I was calmer," Davis recalled. "I was responding to colors, the light on skin under water. I was just overwhelmed."

Davis and her husband, Rick, made the purchase. Now people in the Charlotte area can see if their reaction matches hers. Biggs' video is one of 73 works by 62 artists in "Contemporary, Cool and Collected," a major exhibit that just opened at the Mint Museum of Art.

The first contemporary show gathered from private collections to be shown in the big galleries, it covers about 40 years -- works by well-known artists such as painter Susan Rothenberg, video pioneer Nam June Paik, sculptor Anthony Caro and photographer Richard Avedon.

Curator Carla Hanzal gathered loans from collectors living within a 360-mile radius of Charlotte. The idea was to demonstrate that collecting contemporary art happens in a part of the country generally credited with conservative tastes.

"Contemporary Cool" also is a coming out of sorts for the Contemporary Coalition, a new Mint group formed to support those collecting art made by living artists -- and perhaps get members to donate art to the museum.

A delicate dance

Contemporary art helped bring Tom and Susan Kanes together.Friends in New York who knew they both liked art introduced them. That was 12 years ago, and Tom had already been collecting for five years, checking out galleries for the modernist art he loves.

The couple, now in Charlotte, loaned prints by Sam Francis and Joan Mitchell and a painting by Hans Hofmann to the Mint show.

They joined the coalition to spread the word. "To the extent we can promote (contemporary art) in the city, it's a great thing," said Tom Kanes.

Formed in January, the group has 12 couples and two individuals who paid $500 each to join. The group helped finance the exhibit catalog.

Besides supporting contemporary art, coalition members and others who've made loans may one day give art to the museum.

"That's a process that takes years," said Hanzal. "You don't just say to someone, `Wow, great piece. Can I have it?' "

She mentioned one collector who has loaned a work but can't quite let it go. "It's easier to give money," she told Hanzal.

But identifying collectors and borrowing their work, as was done for this show, can start the delicate dance. That's important for any museum, but especially for the Mint. It has little money to buy art but wants to add to its contemporary holdings as it prepares to move into a new uptown home in 2010.

Something blossoms

Carla Hanzal put almost 3,000 miles on her Ford Focus this summer as she drove through the Carolinas, Virginia and northern Georgia looking for contemporary art.

"It was sort of like a treasure hunt," she said.

Most of the collectors she knew. Some she was told about and visited to investigate. She made some happy finds -- the Rothenberg painting in Asheville, the Nam June Paik video in Norfolk (at 333 miles, barely within her 360-mile limit).

"The perception is the South is conservative and that's not the way it is," she said.

Joie Lassiter largely agrees.

For 10 years she's operated a contemporary art gallery in Charlotte and she's seen a change. "The comfort level of the public with contemporary art has grown," she said.

The reasons why?

"Hugh McColl started an amazing ball rolling," said Lassiter. In 1999, the McColl Center for Visual Art, which gives fellowships to artists and hosts exhibitions, and the Mint Museum of Craft + Design, opened. Both were financially supported by Bank of America when McColl was its chief executive.

Responding to surveys that showed a desire for more contemporary art, the Mint Museum in 2002 hired Hanzal as contemporary curator after leaving the position open for several years. Galleries such as Lassiter's, Hodges Taylor, Jerald Melberg and Center of the Earth continue to champion living artists.

"A pretty nice conversion of energy from different people and different places came to a critical mass," said Lassiter. "We've all made something blossom."

But the picture is not entirely rosy.

There's more collecting, but not necessarily on the level seen in the Mint show. "That kind of critically acclaimed art is difficult," she said. "It's work that requires more openness to approach the work and to step forward and acquire the work."

Of the 22 individual collectors who've loaned work, seven are from Charlotte.

But the interest in contemporary art may continue to grow.

A thread connecting coalition members is passion. And that's the kind of emotion that can spread.

"You have to fall in love with it," Tom Kanes said of art. "If art doesn't make me feel good, it's not doing what I want it to do. It's passion and the passion comes from enjoying it."


Why do you collect art? Zach Smith: "I've always collected something, starting with matchbook covers when I was a kid. We collect art just because we find abstract art stimulating."

What kind of art do you collect? Painting, prints and crafts. "We're motivated by color. And we find things that we really like."

How did you get started? "Emily's mother was collecting abstract art in the 1950s, so I've seen it for a long time."

Shown with: "Bahama," by Charles Arnoldi. From a series of paintings with fragmented arcs of bright color.


Why do you collect art? "I'm a frustrated painter in the sense that if I actually did have time I'd probably be a mediocre painter. So my collecting focus started with painting."

What kind of art do you collect? Paintings and sculpture. "I'm not the one who's looking for big names on my wall. I'd prefer to have 10 emerging artists."

How did you get started? She taught a class using a painting by the late Maud Gatewood, an N.C. artist. Then she bought a Gatewood painting through the Hodges Taylor Gallery, "Magdalene's Southern Tour," which still hangs on her wall.

Shown with: "Airs Above the Ground," by Janet Biggs. This video of a 14-year-old synchronized swimmer lasts a little more than five minutes.


Why do you collect art? Tom Kanes: "The joy of collecting, the joy of having access to it. And it's very inspirational. The nice thing about art is you can get something different from it all the time."

What kind of art do you collect? Paintings and prints. Mainly Abstract Expressionist work from the 1950s. "Lots of color usually, lots of color and texture."

How did you get started? Began collecting with a friend. "We basically hit every (Abstract Expressionist) gallery and we found artists we liked. It was fun, but also work; you had to educate yourself on each artist."

Shown with: "Blue (#9)," by Hans Hofmann. This abstract painting by an early Modernist master juxtaposes bright colors


A major Mint exhibit gathered from passionate collectors looks at 40 years of art.

WHEN: Through Dec. 30. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: The Mint Museum of Art, 2730 Randolph Road.

ADMISSION: $6; $5 for those 62 and older and students with an ID; $3 for children ages 6 to 17; free for members and children 5 and younger and 5-10 p.m. Tuesday.

DETAILS: 704-337-2000; www.themintmuseums.org.

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