An array of modernist American artworks

Twentieth-century American art is at the forefront in the exhibition at Rowe Arts Gallery at UNC Charlotte through Oct. 1.

Predominantly prints and photographs, along with some paintings, drawings and sculpture, this excerpt from the Lona-Frey Collection (named after the two men who assembled the art) features an array of modernist pieces by artists considered canonical figures in post-World War II America.

The list of artists in the collection is impressive, including Jim Dine, Sam Gilliam, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Julian Schnabel, Robert Mapplethorpe, Reginald Marsh, Ben Shahn, Louisa Chase, John Chamberlain, Sam Francis, Donald Sultan and George Tice.

Among the older works are impeccable and gorgeous silver prints - in this case, pre-World War II - by Reginald Marsh and Ben Shahn from the 1930s. Other acquisitions are more contemporary: lithographs from the 1970s by Sam Francis and Robert Motherwell and Mapplethorpes from the late '70s and early '80s. You can also see such beauties as Roy Lichtenstein's "Cubist Cello" (1998), a large-scale, later serigraph. These pieces create a map of the ideas and techniques that framed the work of many American artists from about 1945 through the 1980s.

The collection began to evolve during the 1980s when the late art collector Andrew Lona was at work assembling a corporate contemporary art collection for Southwestern Bell. Lona, a strong arts advocate, began to develop his own private collection of 20th century American art at the same time.

Lona's partner, Brently Frey, who was instrumental in amassing this work, stated, "When Andrew began this collection, it was his goal to... share the collection with a program such as UNC Charlotte's... The power of art reside(s) in its ability to educate and he perceived art as a true blessing that should be part of everyone's life."

It is interesting to compare the works of these American artists with their French and Belgian contemporaries currently on display at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Charlotte is fortunate to have these concurrent shows available to see both sides of the story.