I have spent an internship there putting together games for kids in the Education department back in 2004. The last time I visited there? 2007 (I think). It has changed a lot since I last visited there.
For the first time, its permanent exhibit that starts with the Ancient Americas and ends with English portraiture, it feels like a mature museum. Furthermore, you start with Pre-Columbian art, than African art, than Asian art before you come to the European eras of art. A rather clever change to the usual “stick the non-Western art in a tiny space.” A common complaint I learned during my undergrad years. If you visit this lovely place, I recommend taking one of their free maps. Without one, you will not walk around in a linear fashion. On the plus side, the wall color schemes do not overpower the artwork, but complements them in a subtle way.
Regardless of culture and era, furniture, clothing, and textiles also feature throughout the whole museum. Makes sense, because North Carolina has roots in the textile and furniture industry (the buildings that I drive by when I travel around attest to this). One of the current exhibits called The Art of Influence: Haute Couture and Luxury Fashion 1947-2007 devotes itself to shoes, clothing, handbags, and old Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar adverts from the forties and fifties. They featured the heavies of the fashion industry even those not even in the know in this show. Companies such as Versace, Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel feature clothes that range from the exquisite to the mediocre. Some lesser known fashion designers such as Hanae Mori and Nettie Rosenstein had their place.
However, what’s a Southern museum without a pottery exhibit? The North Carolina parts define themselves largely by families of potters. Such as the Webster, Fox and Moravian Jugtown families. The Moravian part gave me a sense of pride because I have roots there. They do feature the big companies such as Wedgwood. China, Japan, England, America, and some parts of Europe pepper throughout this show. For the huge Chinese (BC 206-AD 1279) exhibit, they title the pottery by emperors that reigned when artists created the works. They do mention the eras (Tang, Song, and Wei). This show featured, in my opinion, the best pottery. My favorite came from Chongzeign Reign from 1628 to 1644. I also enjoyed one piece of pottery from Wanli-late Ming period. I found pierced work beautiful and delicate, as most Ming works displayed here were.
These works featured also act as a historical window to the past such as the “Figure of a Semitic Merchant” from 618-907 AD. Another good one came from the Yongzheng “Tea Dust Glass Vase” dated from 1723-1735. It looked like multiple vases joined to make one. Another favorite comes from Reign of Kangxi from 1662 to 1722. The wine pot and cover displayed resembled bamboo. I also enjoyed looking at pottery from the Qianlong reign from 1736 to 1795. Titled “Reticulated teapot and cover red stoneware” it has the image of Eight Buddhist Symbols of Happy Augury. Lastly, I enjoyed the whimsical delight of the Blanc de chine with reptiles crawling all over the wine pot.
The 17th-20th century Japanese exhibit features mostly plates and cups with an incense holder carved into a cat. However, the general color scheme feels so kitschy. Another standout for me came from the European redware section that showcased pottery from 1700s. The red color schemes of these wares felt so warm and inviting. The museum divided the dominant English (1600-1700s) section by companies and regions. Regions such as Staffordshire, Whieldon, and Bristol had huge collections devoted to them. Companies such as Wedgwood celebrated their variety from pottery with designs that hearkened back to the red and black paintings of the Classical era. Regarding Bristol, I recommend looking at their armorial plaques. The artist carved the decorative porcelain flowers so fine it looks like it came from paper material. This pottery exhibit also features a diorama of well dressed English patrons with a mural behind them. They look like they are observing their fine collection of pottery that they have collected over the years.
If you start at the beginning of the permanent exhibit, you begin with the Ancient Americas. For as long as I can remember, the Mint has always had this show. This large section has work from all over Central and South America. However, the labeling may confuse people, because they veer from labeling something from a tribe such as the Olmec or Mayan. Then they label a work from a certain country such as Ecuador, Guatemala, Escuintla, Teotihuacan, and Mexico. They also feature art from other places/ethnic groups such as the Colima, Nayarit, and the Jalisco. I recommend checking out the Moche valley section with their animal pots such as a “Crab effigy vessel” and a “Frog spout bottle.” Finally, I loved the painted pottery of Chavin and the Paracas.
The Spanish colonial section of the museum has a lot of sculpture and paintings of saints, mostly of Peruvian origin, with the occasional Colombian and Ecuadorian piece. All of these artworks from the silver crown to the sculptures of Christ in his bloody last days had no names.
The contemporary Mayan section featured clothes of huipils and trajes by Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel Mam. Further down had displays of performance masks of Mexico known as the Moros y Cristianos. According to the caption box, the Michoacan masks represents the 17th-18th Africans who mediated between spanish and indians. I must say, I enjoyed that little remembered piece of history. They also had the most delightful devil masks. In another room contained works by members of the Pueblo and the Hopi. They had many excellent artists such as Jacquie Stevens, Andrew Padilla, Virgil Ortiz, and Louis Naranjo.
The African art section has its own small room. Despite the size, each piece comes from a tribe from the continent. The Ashanti, Yoruba, Djenne, Bankoni, Bura, Igbo, Nupe, Dakakari, Yaka, Kuba, Burkina Faso, Mende, Jola, dan, Bassa, Edo, and Bamana all have a place. Furthermore, all works came from the late twentieth century.
One especially quirky and funny exhibit comes from The History of Platform Shoes. Mostly coming from North America and Japan, they shoes displayed as early as the 1930s. For a visual aid next to the Asian section, they displayed two modern woodblock prints by Utagawa Kunisada and Utagawa Kuniyasu. The Japanese shoes start with the tiny Geta to the recent sandals. From high fashion to the fetish, they exhibited a pair of thigh high boots to “honor pole dancers everywhere.” Shoes from the Goth subculture also have their own section. More high fashion displays from the past come up as soon as a visitor leaves the room as encounters Chinese robes in a hallway from Manchu Qing Court that from 1644 to 1911.
In the Renaissance section, they dedicated this space to artists even I, someone who has taken a lot of art history courses and visited Italy, did not know about. I do recognize some names such as Domenico Morone and Ridolfi Ghirlandaio. They also have a painting by Cosimo Rosselli, who according to the caption box, painted the Sistine Chapel besides Michelangelo.
The Baroque section also has a lot of artists who do not receive a lot of attention that say, Caravaggio or Annibale Carracci does. Artists such Domenichino, Valero Costello, Domenico Mondo, Francesco Guardi, Francesco del Rossi also decorate these walls.
The Dutch and Flemish Renaissance/Baroque room features artists ranging from the obscure to the very well-known. One painting I liked came from an artist with the name Bruges master of 1480 with the painting Portrait of a Donor/A Skull in a Niche. This section does contain a Rembrandt sketch, and a painting by the School of Peter Paul Rubens, with his small painting entitled Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist. The subject here ranges the genre painting to Greek myths.
The last room goes by the label, The Golden Age of English Art. This space consists mostly of portraiture patronised by people who could afford it. They do have some prints by artist James Gillray who satirized King George III. Furthermore, since Charlotte has the nickname, ‘The Queen City’ this space has Allan Ramsey’s large portraits of Queen Charlotte and King George III. One standout piece comes from a sedan chair that has an Angelica Kauffmann painting. Regarding the color scheme of the museum, each space has a color that complements the works, and does not overtake them.
(Check out the tag section for more artists who have a space in the Mint.)