Local Arts

Davidson alumni collection is vibrant, enriching

Dennis Oppenheim (American, 1938-2011), Study for Marriage Tree, 1999, Pencil, oil wash, oil pastel on paper. From the Collection of Lyn Bolen Warren ’83 and Russ Warren. Courtesy Dennis Oppenheim Estate
Dennis Oppenheim (American, 1938-2011), Study for Marriage Tree, 1999, Pencil, oil wash, oil pastel on paper. From the Collection of Lyn Bolen Warren ’83 and Russ Warren. Courtesy Dennis Oppenheim Estate Courtesy of Van Every/Smith Gallery, Davidson College

“Collected: Works of Art in Alumni Collections, on display in The Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College, provides a vivid selection of art works deserving of region-wide exposure. Especially rich with treasures of the post-war era, the exhibit is a visual delight and brimming with creative expression.

Among the fine paintings on display, insightfully organized by the Gallery’s Curator Lia Newman, is an N. C. Wyeth oil – “Beach Scene, Two Men Fighting.” The 1913 painting depicts an epic struggle between two men, one standing firmly upon a rocky shelf and the other hanging tenuously from its jagged stone outcropping.

The artist doesn’t reveal the protagonist or the enemy – who’s who. He does, however, heighten the compositional drama by using the resolute and upright stance of one figure, his imposing shadow and clutched fists as indicators of aggression and battle. By contrast, the other figure struggles to overcome the precipice, no doubt propelled by survival instincts and the nearby roiling ocean. A frozen moment in time, a Herculean struggle is played out and we are left to speculate on its outcome.

Fans of late Charlotte artist Romare Bearden won’t be disappointed. “Golden Day” is a large canvas, atypical of the artist’s well-known collage style of clipping and piecing together disparate elements to create scenes drawn from African-American heritage and culture. In the 1960s, as is seen here, the artist experimented with Abstract Expressionism, though this painting’s lineage seems more tied to Color Field painting.

Artists of this style rejected the illusion of space or any distinction between subject and the painting’s surroundings. Bearden’s painting mirrors this approach in the opulent pools of the painted surface.

The striking scale and brilliant color of Davidson artist Laura Grosch’s “Zinnias” provides a welcome jolt to the optic nerve. Painted with bold, confident brush strokes, this picture is a magnificent comment on nature’s lush beauty and habitat for creatures both exotic and familiar.

Charlotte artist and restaurateur Ce Scott is represented by the mixed-media assemblage “If You Are…” Scott’s provocative meditation on race and skin tone is ripe with stereotype. Carefully situated in the artwork’s composition are four small mirrors. The artist involves and cleverly provokes unwitting onlookers to bear witness to their own skin tone while simultaneously being confronted with racial identity and varying degrees of “brownness,” illustrated by, among other items, paint color swatches you’d find at a hardware store or cosmetic color palettes.

The late American artist Dennis Oppenheim’s 1999 “Study for Marriage Tree” and “Collage” of 2009 by sculptor Nancy Rubins are preliminary inquiries that provide a glimpse into the creative process each undertakes for large-scale sculptures. Oppenheim’s expressionistic and playful brush work foretells bold, gestural three-dimensional form, while Rubins’ careful collaging of cutout boat images, photographed from different perspectives, becomes a two-dimensional dramatization of the sculptor’s formal language and subsequent imposing sculptural form.

This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.


“Collected: Works of Art in Alumni Collections” is open to the public during the Galleries’ summer hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays or by appointment. To schedule an off-hours visit, call: 704-894-2519.