The North Carolina Art Museum: Part One

On November 1 2014, I visited the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. I had been twice before on field trips and with a friend, but never before had I fully appreciated the beauty around me. The museum recently underwent a major renovation, and the beautiful new architecture is almost as interesting as what hangs on the white-curtained walls.

Back view of the Rodin Garden

Back view of the Rodin Garden. Photo by Melanie Langness.

According to, NCMA is one of the leading art museums of the southern states, and holds a prestigious spot in the top of the national ranks– alongside famed establishments like the Smithsonian Art Museum in Washington D.C.. NCMA boasts a collection of pieces that span more than 5,000 years, a beautiful amphitheater and the nation’s largest museum park. The parkland trails stretch through 164 acres, and are tastefully decorated with outdoor art pieces.

After a quick drive, I pulled into a the flag-adorned parking lot around 2:30 in the afternoon. Noticing they closed at 5 pm, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to see and enjoy all the exhibits, but I was happily surprised at the easy-to-navigate and well thought out layout of the museum.

The museum is split into four distinct sections. The West Building hosts the free, permanent collection– pieces range from Mesoamerican stone figurines to modern paintings. The East Building hosts the seasonal exhibits. I did not visit the current exhibition, “Small Treasures,” as I didn’t want to pay the fee. The large park wraps around the entire campus, and the amphitheater branches off of the main plaza.

I began my journey in the East Building. When I walked through the glass doors, I was transported into a serene, cultured environment. The new, 127,000 square foot building, designed by Thomas Phifer and Partners, was absolutely breathtaking. The soft lighting was complemented by the sunlight streaming through the numerous skylights, and the glass walls adorned with billowy white curtains gave the entire building a surreal feel. It was the perfect place to appreciate art.

The Rodin Gallery by Melanie Langness

The Rodin Gallery. Photo by Melanie Langness

The large open floor plan of the museum makes it easy for any visitor to find their way around and to view every unique piece. I began in the Contemporary Art wing. My favorite pieces were “People on Fire” by Guillermo Kuitca and “Bride” by Beth Lipman.

“People on Fire” looks like a city map at first, but it’s actually a carefully constructed genealogical map. Every box holds a name– the names of those who “disappeared” during the cruel dictatorship Argentinians suffered through in the 1970s. It’s a beautiful memorial piece as well as an impressive work of art.

"People on Fire" by Guillermo Kuitca. Photo by Melanie Langness.

“People on Fire” by Guillermo Kuitca. Photo by Melanie Langness.

“Bride” by Beth Lipman is a sculpture alluding to the layers of a wedding cake or the flounciness of a wedding dress. The glass objects go from being organized in perfect order on the top shelf to becoming broken and shattered at the bottom. I took this progression of order to chaos as an allusion to the dangers of domesticity– family life can seem perfect at first to a new bride, but it can shatter  into thousands of painful pieces.

"Bride" by Beth Lipman. Photo by Melanie Langness.

“Bride” by Beth Lipman. Photo by Melanie Langness.

The Contemporary Wing blended smoothly into the African Art Wing. It was interesting to see the intricate woodcarvings, ornate ceremonial robes and solid stone sculptures from tribes across Africa. I enjoyed the “Sawfish Headdress,” a 20th century wood headdress by an unknown Nigerian artist.

"Sawfish" courtesy of the NCMA.

“Sawfish” courtesy of the NCMA.

My experience at the art museum was too intriguing to limit to a short article. The continuation of this review will be posted tomorrow, November 3, and will discuss the European Wing of the museum.