Weatherspoon mixes it up to jumpstart art scene

by Brian Clarey

The fine arts scene in Greensboro flowers like the lilies of spring ‘— new galleries and exhibition spaces; exciting work from a growing field of art makers. And yet the scene has been unable to generate the same kind of excitement as, say, a baseball game or a monster truck show at the coliseum.

Galleries citywide fight to shake this malaise by throwing openings together with live bands, performance art and catered spreads underwritten by solicited sponsors.

Such was the case March 9 night at the Weatherspoon, which coordinated multiple showings with lectures; two live bands, Glissade and Dawn Chorus; a wine, beer and coffee tasting sponsored by Wine Warehouse and Starbucks; and a mixer of sorts between synerG, Action Greensboro’s young professional arm; the UNCG Alumni Association and the Prelude Society, an appendage of the United Arts Council geared toward young adults.

‘“We did this one a little differently,’” says Loring Mortensen, the head of public and community relations for UNCG’s Weatherspoon. ‘“We plugged in a bunch of people. We’ve been trying to bring in that younger crowd’… it’s been hit or miss. This is just another attempt.’”

He surveys the room and seems pleased with the turnout.

‘“I’m seeing some different faces,’” he says.

The crowd is a mixed bag, with bespectacled art-school hipsters shuffling through the buffet line alongside matronly art mongers in appliqué sweaters and bona-fide rockers, women in business suits sidling up to actual artists holding stemmed glasses of white wine.

Not the kinds of people one would generally find in a bar on a Thursday.

The art on display varies as greatly as the people in the crowd themselves.

An exhibit of large oil paintings on the first floor by UNCG’s Falk Visiting Artist Julie Heffernan titled Everything That Rises showcase more than a dozen of the painter’s works, all self-portraits with recurring themes of baroque ballrooms and dress, birds and flaming chandeliers. One striking canvas, ‘“Self Portrait with Birds in My Fingers,’” featuring the artist clad in a stunning skirt of roses that through diligent brushstroke seem to leap off the plane, was recently acquired by the gallery for its permanent collection.

In another ground-floor space a short film shows in a loop, ‘“89 Seconds at Alcázar’” by Eve Sussman, a silent scenario involving Victorian-era women in hoop skirts, a midget in a blue dress, a musketeer, a nun and a hippie priest. It’s true meaning escapes this reporter, though it leaves a ‘“Twin Peaks’” style creepy aftertaste.

Upstairs in a well-lit space the size of a basketball court, the main exhibit, entitled Uneasy Nature, comprises the work of six artists contemplating the collision between contemporary culture and the natural world.

Roxy Paine’s ‘“Ill Tomato,’” a polymer plastic sculpture, depicts rotted fruit falling from what is perhaps the last true tomato vine. A steel tree by the artist, called ‘“Misnomer,’” was one of a series that were once on display in New York’s Central Park.

Bryan Crockett’s work with colored pencil on black paper, ‘“Constellation in My Mind’” number 1 and 2, and his sculpture of withering bodies emerging from faux driftwood, ‘“Male Ghost’” and ‘“Female Ghost,’” show different corners of the artist’s mind.

‘“Still Life with Stem Cells,’” a hyper-real silicone sculpture by Patricia Piccini, features a quintet of half-formed fetal humans scattered around a young girl sitting Indian-style and with the overhead blowers riffling her hair.

In the Weatherspoon’s permanent collection, an exhibit titled American Art 1960-Present, Curator of Collections Will South lectured on the link between pop art, minimalism and conceptual art.

In another space downstairs guests make their own art ‘— masks and headdresses built from piles of construction paper, feathers, yarn, colored tape and oil pastels. A good number of homemade headwear is on display as Glissade wraps up its set of Pink Floyd-ian art rock and Dawn Chorus takes the stage. Trays of brownies and blueberry crumble make the rounds as the crowd reaches its peak.

Mortensen looks around once again, makes a rough head count and surveys the status of the food and drink, finally leans back in his chair.

‘“We thought we’d get maybe one or two hundred,’” he says. ‘“We seem to have planned okay.’”

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