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Treasure of a Museum in North Carolina

Bill Blass, Day Ensemble, 1997-98; wool-blend tweed, fox, muskrat

Last month I visited the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, mostly to view Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Flair, open until January 21. This exhibition explores the 50-year history of the Ebony Fashion Fair (1958–2009), an unparalleled charity fashion show event that redefined the concepts of beauty, style, and empowerment for African Americans. A spectacle of glamour and performance, the traveling fashion show grew out of the pages of Ebony magazine (first published in 1945). Similar to the publication, the fashion event provided transformative images of African Americans as beautiful and successful. The NCMA exhibition features 40 outfits along with vintage videos of African-American models, who look like they are having a ball displaying the clothes.

Emanuel Ungaro, Evening Dress, 1987-88; silk satin, taffeta

Pierre Cardin, Evening Dress, 1988-89; synthetic knit, plastic sequins

Yves Saint Laurent, Evening Dress, 1979-80; silk taffeta, satin




Patrick Dougherty, Out of the Box, 2009; red maple saplings

I also experienced several wonderful surprises in the museum, including Patrick Dougherty’s vast fiber sculpture that covers the entire long wall of the dining area. This installation is so overwhelming that I had to sit with my back to it so I could manage to eat my lunch. The piece swirls and dips, dominating the space like a series of giant nests, dwarfing museum visitors. The NCMA owns a quilt-related work by Robert Rauschenberg created more than two decades after his famous Bed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In Credit Blossom (Spread) the artist incorporated a worn antique sampler quilt as the central image in a piece concerned with time. Andrea Donnelly’s solo exhibition titled We’ve Met Before consists of several subtle references to the human body. This North Carolina native describes her aesthetic approach: “Cloth, in its infinite and varied significance, is deeply linked to our histories and emotions through the body. Whether it’s woven to hang on the wall or to grace the neck and shoulders, I make cloth that creates connection.” One final treat at the NCMA is one of the best “tapestries” by the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui that I have ever seen. The warm hues and rippling surface of Lines That Link Humanity are true to its title. This monumental work, viewed upon entering the museum, draws visitors to it like a visual Pied Piper.

Robert Rauschenberg, Credit Blossom (Spread), 1978; solvent transfer, quilt, other fabrics on paperboard applied to gessoed wood panel

Andrea Donnelly, Temporal Cartography #3, 2017; cotton thread, textile pigment

El Anatsui, Lines That Link Humanity, 2008; discarded aluminum, copper wire (produced in a workshop using student assistants)

El Anatsui, detail of Lines That Link Humanity



4 Responses to “Treasure of a Museum in North Carolina”

  1. Mary Bunte says:

    I had the pleasure of seeing the Ebony Fashion Show exhibit at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC last summer. It was breath-taking as well as filled with humor. I loved it!

  2. I

    thanks for letting us know about this. I may go, if I don’t go to India

  3. Sue Kaufman says:

    Thank you Sandra, that was a very interesting read!

  4. Kim Baird says:

    The Ebony exhibit was put together by the Chicago History museum. I saw it there, and again in Minneapolis. Great job!

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