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Vibrant: Artists Engage with Color

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  • Betye Saar
    United States, born 1926
    To the Manor Born, 2011
    Mixed media assemblage
    10 ½ x 20 ½ x 2 ¼ in.
    Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Museum purchase with funds from the Jefferson-Pilot Endowment, the Robert C. Ketner Family Acquisition Endowment, the Carol and Seymour Levin Acquisition Endowment, the Lynn Richardson Prickett Acquisition Endowment, and the Judy Proctor Acquisition Endowment, 2016.18


    Transforming objects culled from flea markets, garage sales, and family collections, Betye Saar weds mysticism, craft, and personal history to create works that explore experiences of being an African American female. This artwork includes many of the artist’s iconic elements—a mammy figurine, a bird, and female domestic items such as a fan. Throughout her work, Saar aims to honor the history and emotions that can be attached to such common artifacts—arranging them in ways that reveal their powerful associations. In this assemblage, she used the color red to unify the various objects. The artist describes the hue as that of “anger, danger, violence, heat, passion, blood, and fire.”

    © Betye Saar, photo courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles

  • Alfredo Jaar
    Chile, born 1956
    Untitled (Water), 1990
    Double-sided lightbox with two color transparencies and seven framed mirrors
    46 x 60 x 7 in.
    Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Museum purchase with funds from the Weatherspoon Art Museum Acquisition Endowment, the Frances Stern Loewenstein Acquisition Endowment, the Jefferson-Pilot Endowment and by exchange, 2012.7


    Both the sea and the color blue are often described as serene and tranquil, which might be one’s first thoughts when looking at this illuminated image of rolling waves. Artist Alfredo Jaar, however, disrupts those associations with the pictures on the opposite side of the lightbox—portraits of Vietnamese refugees who arrived in Hong Kong Bay in the 1980s searching for a better life. Reflected back at us by seven mirrors hanging on the wall, their faces give new meaning to the seascape. With their story in mind, one might be more inclined to think about the color blue’s other associations—with both tragic sorrow and optimistic hope.

    © Alfredo Jaar, photo courtesy of the artist and Galerie Lelong, New York

  • Annie Lapin
    United States, born 1978
    Bright Come Bright Go, 2013
    Oil paint, acrylic enamel spray- paint, cardboard, and jute on jute over panel
    30 x 24 in.
    Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Gift of John McIlwee and Bill Damaschke, 2014.30Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Gift of John McIlwee and Bill Damaschke, 2014.30


    The layered abstract and figurative elements in Annie Lapin’s paintings deny resolution. Describing this purposeful lack of cohesion, the artist explains that she’s curious about the “state of waking up from a dream . . . [when] we realize that the representations and fragments of meaning that felt so solid in sleep are really just our minds’ creation . . . that moment of self-awareness when our minds create meaning.” A sense of shifting between consciousness and unconsciousness, day and night is underscored in the artist’s dominant yellow color scheme interrupted with passages of black—a wavering that’s also underscored by the painting’s title, Bright Come Bright Go.

    © Annie Lapin

  • Jeanne Silverthorne
    United States, born 1950
    Flexure of the Head, Heart and LIfe, 1998
    Rubber, edition 3/3
    15 x 21 x 3 ½ in.
    Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Museum purchase with funds from the Carol and Seymour Levin Acquisition Endowment, 2002.29


    Jeanne Silverthorne has long used rubber as a primary material. This sculpture is one of many in which the artist recreates the idea of a painting by placing a rubber “canvas” in an ornate rubber frame. Her work often addresses the theme of vanitas, a contemplation of the temporality of life. In this case, the artist’s material is well suited, as rubber becomes increasingly fragile over time. The oval form is enigmatic, defying easy identification. Are the creases and folds meant to represent fabric, perhaps clothing or bedding? Are they meant to suggest creases of skin? Either of those interpretations seems to suggest a connection to the human body. And yet, the bright orange color disrupts that thinking, instead recalling the vibrant colors we are more likely to associate with flowers, fruits, or wild animals—subjects no less susceptible to the passage of time.

    © Jeanne Silverthorne

  • Allan McCollum
    United States, born 1944
    Plaster Surrogate #21-14-1983, Plaster Surrogate #7-16-1983, Plaster Surrogate #32-18-1983, and Plaster Surrogate #3-20-1983, 1983
    Painted plaster
    Variable dimensions
    Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Museum purchase, 1985.3658.1-4


    Allan McCollum’s Surrogates might appear at first glance to comprise mechanically produced objects. However, these sculptures are in fact made by hand following a methodical process: create a mold, cast it in plaster, then paint it with a smooth surface. Hung in groupings, McCollum considers the artworks almost theatrically, like props that can stand in for the larger context and tradition of how we “hang rectangles on our walls.” He describes the sculptures as stand-ins for “anything in a frame,” such as a painting, a family photograph, or a diploma. Rather than allow us to see the artwork, the picture, or the document, however, he offers us only a black rectangle—a void for our imagination to fill.

    © Allan McCollum

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