A modern Renaissance in Greensboro

By Alex Ashe

As soon as you walk into artist Diana Al-Hadid’s exhibit in the Weatherspoon Art Museum, you’ll encounter a miraculous, large-scale painted metal sculpture known as “Trace of a Fictional Third.” It’s a massive work that would take awhile to examine even if it wasn’t an incredibly intricate sculpture. But since it is, you can’t help but be immediately drawn to it and subsequently enthralled.

The cornerstone of the exhibit, “Trace” features a mountainous landscape and a clothed human-like figure at its base before evolving into complex sections that give the impression of disintegrating ancient-European architecture. Like Al-Hadid’s other large sculptures, “Trace” incorporates sudden bursts of color, emphasized by an otherwise pale hue and the white exhibit room.

Because “Trace” is so mindbending in both its conception and construction, you’ll likely stay fixated on it for minutes before moving on to another piece.

The Syrian born Diana Al-Hadid was raised in Ohio and currently works out of Brooklyn, NY. She draws inspiration from various sources including Hellenistic sculptures, Gothic architecture and Renaissance paintings. Her work experiments with perspective and challenges expectations of dimensions. It’s common that the meaning of each work is left for open interpretation.

“She often doesn’t like to give the meaning of her works,” said Xandra Eden, curator of exhibitions at the Weatherspoon. “She likes other people to have that experience.”

The Weatherspoon featured one of Al-Hadid’s pieces in a 2010 exhibit and jumped at the opportunity to host a solo exhibit for her.

“I’m always looking for really interesting and inspiring artists and when they’re making something that’s so ambitious and unlike anything I’ve seen before, I’m always intrigued,” Eden said.

The exhibit, which runs through May 5, consists of 16 of Al-Hadid’s pieces, from large installations, small bronze sculptures and  charcoal drawings.

Al-Hadid would make models from bronze before beginning the series of large-scale architectural sculptures. Four such pieces are featured at Weatherspoon; all involve the melting of a human form.

A unique piece called “Divided Line” occupies the rear section of the exhibit. Described as “part painting, part sculpture and part architecture,” “Divided Line” is a full-scale wall with pieces carved out of it, giving it the illusion of human figures standing in front of decaying brick.

The clever piece has been seamlessly installed into the exhibit room.

Different aspects of “Divided Line” are visible, depending on your proximity to it. At first, it appears to be a normal wall with painting on it. The figures and the brick pattern become more apparent e from a distance. Al-Hadid was inspired by Raphael’s famous cartoon “Christ’s Charge to Peter” when making “Divided Line,” and it shows. The figures displayed on the latter bear a striking resemblance to the depiction of Jesus and the apostles in Raphael’s cartoon. When viewing the piece up close, you can see through both sides of the wall by focusing on the negative space.

The exhibit also features seven of Al-Hadid’s charcoal drawings, most of which are untitled. The paintings feature an array of parallel and intersecting lines and heavily emphasize negative space.

Al-Hadid’s use of common, cheap materials is particularly impressive to Eden.

“She uses materials like paint, plaster, wood and even aluminum foil, and transforms them into these unique, imaginary worlds,” Eden said.

What breathtaking, wonderful worlds they are.


Diana Al-Hadid; Weatherspoon Art Museum; 500 Tate St, Greensboro; 336.334.5770;; Exhibit runs through May 5