People  outside Raleigh might not know that a new museum has opened there.  I had heard vague rumors in the Charlotte area, and was in town overnight, so I went for my first visit to CAM Raleigh. 

 Catching a glimpse of the building I was immediately glad I’d set aside the time to explore this new museum.   Raleigh is unlike any place else in North Carolina.  Because of the powerful presence of its architecture and design schools, it is loaded with brilliant visual experiences.  It might be as simple as the typeface on the menu you’re studying, or the choice of a particular piece of hardware on a door.  Everywhere you look there is visual sensitivity, engaging detail,  funky juxtaposition and imagination in evidence.

 So I’m standing there, engaged with the canopy over the glass vestibule of the museum.  I’m noting the funky juxtaposition of this glass box and lacy metal cloud canopy with the softened-by-age red brick building it’s attached  to.  And I haven’t even seen the art yet.  It’s a façade that sets me up for the excitement inside.  It’s a let-your-mind-float welcome. 

 Once inside the visitor is greeted by museum employees who are clearly engaged by the art.  They are likewise welcoming, and well-informed.  I surprised myself with the number of questions I came up with which then spawned a couple of great conversations.  They were keen observers of the artists’ processes, and were able to deepen my appreciation for what I was seeing.

 The inaugural exhibition features two artists—Naoko Ito, based in New York, and Dan Steinhilber, based in DC.   Ito’s work is a distilled reaction to the natural world, titled “Urban Nature”.  It has a spare, poetic feeling, and focuses on the truncation and controls we as humans exert on the natural world. 

 Steinhilber’s work is also poetic and wildly playful.  He has created “paintings” using plastic wrapping materials, and constructions using coat hangers and cardboard boxes.  But the show-stopper is an environment he dreamed up.  Operative word: dreamed.  Once inside, you are in a dreamscape.  You might possibly be walking somewhere out in the Milky Way.  You could be snorkeling in a huge reef with the sun filtering through the water.  You could perhaps be in an opulent tropical garden. 

Get this:

The Process—take a football field’s worth of white plastic greenhouse covering.  Next, you will need a lawnmower and a bunch of post consumer colored plastic shopping bags.  Run over the bags with the mower to “mulch” them up.  Spread them on the plastic in painterly abstract configurations.  Then attach electric pancake griddles to the bottoms of your shoes with a long extension cord and walk over the plastic so it sticks to the greenhouse material.  Then seam it up, colored side in,  again using the griddles, so it creates a crazy three dimensional form with all kinds of caves and caverns and trajectories. Inflate it, and take an old refrigerator door and its seal to create the entrance.  Now invite everyone you know to enter your dream universe.  

Pretty fantastic stuff.  If I knew any children living in Raleigh, or any erstwhile children, I would drive them over there right now and put them inside the dream.  I don’t think any child who experienced that could go away unmarked by the magic of this experience.