Art critic Blue Greenberg has written about exhibitions at Duke for four decades, since the museum was tucked inside a former science building on East Campus. She wrote about the new building opening in 2005 for The Herald-Sun, and she’s covered just about every exhibition in the 13 years since. After graduating from Duke with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, she earned a master’s of fine art degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and taught art history for 25 years at Meredith College.
What is your favorite work of art from the former Duke University Museum of Art? There was all this Russian stuff. For the first exhibition, they had this enormous orb, with all kinds of little people and things inside (a 12-foot-high sculpture from 1990, Portrait of an Unknown Person or Peter Carl Faberge’s Nightmare by Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin). It was the first time most of us around here had seen contemporary Russian art. But the former director was fighting an uphill battle, because nobody knew anything about it, and nobody had written anything about contemporary Russian art. And most of these people were poverty-stricken artists, who had left Russia with works of art rolled up, you know, and they were almost giving it away. I think that was a very important exhibition for me to see.
Over these decades, what have you tried to do in your columns
for readers? What’s your goal? Oh, my goal was always to promote the artists! I hoped that somebody could go and see what I wrote about and see if they agreed.
Who is a local artist you’ve enjoyed watching? Nancy Tuttle May! She’s an abstract painter and she’s been around as long as I have. And she’s a single mother. Raised her kids on her art.
Why is art important? I think a life without art is so bare. And it doesn’t always have to be the visual arts but some part of art has to be there. Or it’s so dull, so boring. And maybe it covers up the rough edges a little bit. Maybe it makes people kinder.
What was your biggest “aha moment” with art?
Just recently I was in Japan and saw two contemporary painting exhibitions in Tokyo, both on the subject of the atomic bombing at Hiroshima. Each artist was a young child in 1945. Their work began realistically but soon turned abstract, one with strident lines in many colors and the other in great sweeps of color. I was deeply moved and understood what they were trying to say. I thought, there is no way a painter can depict the effect of the bomb in realistic terms. Abstraction, an invention of the 20th century, is a gift for the artists who use it and the viewers who see it.
As told to Wendy Hower, Director of Engagement and Marketing, for the Nasher Museum Spring-Summer 2018 magazine.