From private GSO collections to the Weatherspoon’s walls

by Keith Barber

Inquiring Eyes plumbs the collections of Greensboro art lovers for a show that says as much about the community as it does art. (courtesy photo)


As the Weatherspoon Art Gallery approaches its 70th year, it’s a good time to reflect on how the UNCG institution is entwined not only with the university and its art department, but also the larger community it serves.


Greensboro is an art-loving town, as evidenced by the current exhibit, Inquiring Eyes: Greensboro Collects Art, on display through mid- December in the McDowell Gallery.

The exhibit features 128 works from 111 different artists — some of them quite well known and others noteworthy for their ties to the city and its culture — culled from the private collections of 52 Greensboroans.

The works range from sculpture to photography to a wide range of paintings and mixed-media pieces.

For example, “Booster,” by Robert Rauschenberg and from the collection of Stephen Dull, is a collage built from an X-ray of the artist, photography, ink smears, pages torn from magazines and a star chart. It was made in 1967, after Abstract Expressionism had faded from vogue but before pop art had gained its dominance in the scene. Rauschenberg, it should be noted, studied art at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College under Bauhaus notable Josef Albers.

There is a genuine Henri Matisse piece, “Nu au Bracelet” or “Nude with Bracelet,” dating from 1940, a linocut owned by Betty and Robert Watson. There are a couple Ansel Adams pieces — “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” and “Sierra Nevada, Winter, Owens Valley, California”— that neatly illustrate the breadth of the photographer’s landscapes.

And there is a photo of the notable work “Surrounded Islands” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who before festooning Central Park with orange gates surrounded 11 islands in Florida’s Biscayne Bay with pink skirts.

Some of the works are noteworthy not just because of the artists who made them, but how the collectors came to own them. A piece by Roy Lichtenstein, “Rain Forest,” the seventh of 20 prints, was given as a gift to Bob and Barbara Boulton by their daughter after the couple had mentioned seeing one in Germany.

One piece, “Cone Mills,” by an unknown artist who used crayon and graphite on wood, is impossible to valuate in dollar terms but its inclusion in the collection is easy to understand. The scene depicts mill workers on a lunch break in the early part of the last century.

Another piece with ties to the Cone family is by artist and collector Claribel Cone, titled “Steinway Ghosts.” Claribel and her sister Etta, siblings to Moses, Casear and Sydney Cone, were noted art aficionados who counted among their friends Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein and Henri Matisse, and the art collection they put together included works from Gaugin and Cezanne. Most of it now resides in the Baltimore Museum of Art.

But this piece, owned now by Claribel’s cousins descendants Bob and Sally Cone, is a rare, and large, abstract work made by the more famous of the sisters.

Also, it should be noted that another family scion and Greensboro journalist Ed Cone and his wife Lisa Scheer donated a piece of photography from their collection, one that prominently features cow dung, called “Lineas de Mierda,” which Cone says the photographer, Orozco, intended as a statement on the drug trade.

Taken as a piece, Inquiring Eyes says much about the history of modern art, but it also makes a statement about the city that houses the works, scattered in private homes throughout Greensboro.

wanna go?

Inquiring Eyes: Greensboro Collects Art runs through Dec. 12 The Weatherspoon Art Museum corner of Spring Garden and Tate streets, UNCG, Greensboro 336.334.5770;