The Weatherspoon Art Museum at UNC Greensboro is pleased to announce the opening of Making Room: Familiar Art, New Stories, an installation drawn from the museum’s nationally recognized collection of modern and contemporary art. The installation serves as a critical point on a course of learning to which the Weatherspoon staff has dedicated themselves for the past year and a half. With support from the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation, they have sought to understand how they can better engage museum participants to share fuller and more inclusive stories of American art. The artworks on display were chosen in response to what more than 4,000 community members said they care about.
Visitor responses—which ranged from poems to doodles to personal statements—were gathered in multiple ways. Within temporary interactive spaces designated as Inquiry Hubs, the museum’s visitor engagement team coordinated pop-up performances and facilitated collection-based inquiry and play. One sentiment heard repeatedly was that the act of caring requires doing. As one museum visitor wrote, “I show my family I am there for them through actions.” The Weatherspoon therefore organized this installation around the broad theme of caring—of being there and doing things—across four rooms dedicated to the following categories: FAMILY, COMMUNITY, PLACE, and MEMORY.
Weatherspoon staff also focused on how the museum’s own learning and growth could be made visible in this installation. After listening to faculty in UNC Greensboro’s School of Art talk about their desire for more examples of performance art to support their teaching in this field, the museum acquired photographs of community performances by artists Dread Scott and Lorraine O’Grady, which feature in the COMMUNITY and PLACE rooms, respectively. Staff also reviewed the physical needs of objects in the collection and sent a number to conservators for expert care. Among them was an iconic light-based sculpture, Clavero (1968) by artist Tom Lloyd, which received specialized electronic repairs. It now shines a light on issues of social justice in the MEMORY room. Perhaps most frequent among visitor responses were statements about the importance and complexity of the networks of parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends that one calls FAMILY. The room dedicated to this theme features a diverse array of images ranging from Nan Goldin’s documentation of treasured snapshots to Robert Colescott’s loaded painting of family secrets.
New Perspectives and Connections
“This fresh reflection on the Weatherspoon’s collection reveals how works of art not only catalyze dialogue but also inform conversations about who we are—as an organization, as a community, and as individuals,” said Juliette Bianco, the museum’s Anne and Ben Cone Memorial Endowed Director. “The Weatherspoon staff hope that when you visit Making Room, you are as inspired as we are by the possibility of art to help us shape new stories about who we are and why that matters.”
Another word that museum staff encountered repeatedly while reading visitor responses was “connect,” and those who visit and participate in Making Room will find it a place to connect with themselves, with works of art both familiar and new, and with family and community. The installation is at once the culmination of a project and a waystation on the museum’s ongoing journey of learning by doing.
Making Room: Familiar Art, New Stories is made possible through grants from the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation.
Story and photography submitted by Weatherspoon Art Museum.