Not Merely Decorative

As just the second major show installed in CAM Raleigh’s main gallery, I think it’s fair to say that Deep Surface: Contemporary Ornament and Pattern has been eagerly anticipated.   It’s an exhibition that not only starts to set the institutional tone for what the young CAM now is and will continue to become as a contemporary exhibition venue in the Triangle but it is also a barometer on many other fronts as well.  How effectively for instance can CAM continue to assert its footprint in the territory of bringing dynamic contemporary design to town?  Can the museum successfully follow up on the strong opening pair of art installations that christened their new galleries back in the Spring?  This show makes great strides in providing some answers to those clues (as will no doubt the upcoming show next Spring which will be focusing on digital design exclusively.)

Deep Surface‘s co-curators Denise Gonzales Crisp of NCSU’s College of Design and Susan Yelavich from Parson’s The New School For Design in New York Art have reached far and wide for an appropriate sampling of designers, theorists, and artists and the multi-national flavor of the show enriches while it visually stuns the eye.  The show is organized around six themes every designer (I would think) would love to have in their toolbox at project beginning:  ”Fantasy,”  ”Elaboration,” “Inheritances” and “Amplification” are the fun sounding ones.  There’s also the more pragmatic sounding “Everyday” and “Kit-of-Parts” in there as well but don’t that mislead. Each of the categories explores what the catalog terms “the renaissance of complexity and narrative form in contemporary design that has occurred over the last 15 years.”

A few renowned artists are thrown into the mix- notably Vik Muniz with his Fleur de Lys piece- but make no mistake, it’s a design show through and through.  The curators have brought together compelling pairings and contrasts of artists,  digital fabricationists extraordinaire juxtaposed with architects, furniture designers, masterful typographers,  digital media explorers and textile and fabric maestros.  In short, this is work we’re lucky to even have a chance to experience in person in Raleigh.

The show is bursting  with pieces that delight the intellect as much as the eye and I’d suggest two visits to best experience the full effect at least.  More involved works such as Synchronous Objects, a digitally modeled and animated video exploring the movement and dynamic choreography of a group of dancers executed  in whiz bang manner by Ohio State University’s Advanced Computing Center are of a duration to demand such contemplation in fact. Or spend a little time considering  Studio Dror’s elaborate structural poetics as embodied in their QuaDror lamp and you’ll begin to see what I mean.    The show proves nothing if not the tremendous activity in various design fields in recent years.  Our objects and environments are us after all and the breadth and far reach of design in contemporary life – graphics, fashion, architecture, furniture, product design, web/digital, typography to name but a few- warrants more consideration to consider its impact on our lives these days.   It in fact should command more of our attention.



Deep Surface: Contemporary Ornament and Pattern opens Saturday, September 24th (with a special members preview Friday, September 23rd) and is on view through January 2, 2012.

CAM Raleigh is located at 409 West Martin Street in downtown Raleigh.

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