UNCG’s beloved Weatherspoon Art Museum has grown immensely since its founding in 1941, in both its collection and physical facility. The only public collection that focuses on modern and contemporary art in North Carolina, the museum has acquired around 6,000 phenomenal works throughout its time. Considered a hidden gem, the collection’s strength is confirmed by the frequent requests and loans by regional, national and international museums. “The Kindness of Friends: Gifts in Honor of the 75th Anniversary,” exhibited from Oct. 2 to Jan. 29, and displayed donated pieces from the Weatherspoon’s permanent collection.
Amazingly, no campus or state funds have been used to obtain art for the collection. Rather, it has evolved through the generosity of supporters who have donated works from personal collections, established acquisition endowments or provided the funds needed to purchase art.
I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of talent represented in this exhibition. The museum displayed extremely well-known, influential artists like: pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein; japanese artist, Utagawa Kunisada (better known as Toyokuni III); painter, Robert Rauschenberg; sculptor, Alexander Archipenko; late UNCG art professor, Andy Dunnill and dozens more.
During the 1960s, the pop art movement focused on popular culture and mass media as its subject. Alongside Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein spearheaded the movement with his large scale, comic like paintings. Lichtenstein’s work is surrounded by controversy; many of his paintings are almost exact copies of preexisting comics, with only minor lines or color changes. Nevertheless, Lichtenstein’s work has remained popular and relevant to this day.
The Weatherspoon houses Lichtenstein’s “Guggenheim Poster” (1969), a promised gift of Rachel G. King and Dr. L. Ellis King. This screen print depicts a graphic, abstracted version of a Greek warrior. Inframed by a dark outlined circle, the warrior is sandwiched by fragments of an ionic column and a pegasus head. The centered circle shape of the warrior’s helmet mimics the round shape of the composition. Although this description sounds very bizarre, the pieces are abstracted and arranged in a way that looks like a well thought out and organized collage.
Along Lichtenstein, Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) was also represented in “The Kindness of Friends: Gifts in Honor of the 75th Anniversary.” A japanese artist from the 19th century, Kunisada used woodcut prints to depict actors of his time, along with beautiful women dressed in the latest fashions. He worked in the ukiyo-e style; woodblock prints depicting subjects of everyday life. For much of history, Kunisada was overshadowed by Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi. But now, Kunisada is attributed as one of the best in the field of ukiyo-e paintings.
A promised gift of Carl Goldstein and Alicia Creus, the Weatherspoon exhibited “Beauties in the Yoshiwara” (1861) by Utagawa Kunisada. This beautiful three panel piece depicts what appears to be women bustling in a courtyard and a neighboring store and balcony. Beautifully composed with a strong diagonal dividing the composition in left corner, the viewer’s eyes bounces through its intricate composition of navy blue, hot pink, and white patterns.
Alexander Archipenko, a famous Ukrainian sculptor, was one of the first artists (after Picasso) to explore Cubism in a three-dimensional form. Cubism’s main focus was to depict its subject from every viewpoint, rather than the traditional single point perspective. To do this, painters and sculptors used geometric shapes collaged together to create intricate, abstract, fascinating forms. Archipenko mostly focused his subject matter on the human figure.
Archipenko’s “Woman with Cat” (1911), a gift of a private collector, resides in the Weatherspoon’s permanent collection. Its bronze material is disguised by calming blue, teal color. The relatively small, blocky piece is beautifully executed. Like the description of cubism, Archipenko uses different sized rectangles to create this smooth, abstracted depiction of a woman holding a cat.
Although the Weatherspoon Art Museum is home to numerous world renowned works from artist throughout art history, it also holds work by UNCG’s late sculpture instructor, Andy Dunnill. Combining pieces of found metal, Dunhill’s sculptors are strong, powerful, and complex. The untitled work featured in the Weatherspoon is elegant yet industrial steel piece. Its form creates and vertical composition, with a larger geometric shapes and beams at the top.
Joining the UNCG Art Department in 1993, Dunnill was a beloved colleague and teacher; his death in 2016 was a shock to members of the UNCG community. Now, Dunnill’s memory is withheld by an annual festival at UNCG where students come together and share ideas, music and art. His work stands among dozens of other renowned artists in the Weatherspoon’s extensive, celebrated collection.