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Sharing their treasure: Waterworks exhibit features gems from local art collectors

The winter season at Waterworks Visual Arts Center begins with one of the most anticipated events in the center’s calendar year.

In the Norvell, Stanback and Young People’s Galleries, Private Collection, “Public Connection” is an exhibition conceived and co-curated by Henry Alexander and Lori McMahon, executive director of Waterworks. Opening Friday, Jan. 19 with a public reception from 6-8 p.m., the exhibit will continue through April 17.

This exhibit offers a window into the impressive art collections of some of our region’s most prominent collectors. Seventeen regional patrons of the arts have opened their homes and their collections to the Waterworks and to the community.

Waterworks has taken a sampling of each of those collections in order to create not only a representative sample of what is there, but also a fascinating exhibition in its own right.

Also on display in the Osborne and Woodson Galleries, Libby Bentley’s “Paintings on Glass” is a suite of the Florida native’s highly original and engaging oil paintings made on recycled window panes. Bentley has relocated to Salisbury and continues to make provocative work with a non-traditional twist.

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Private Collection, Public Connection is an exhibition that will contain many surprises for viewers, as it contained surprises for the curators. Many viewers are already aware of Salisbury’s unique richness in terms of its art community, but even those audience members will be astonished at the breadth of the exhibition’s contents and the sophistication of these collections.

The following collectors are represented in the exhibition: Dr. Gerson and Wilma Asrael; Ralph Barringer; the Rev. Robert and Ruth Battles; Davis Cooke; Dr. Sam Fort, Jane and Tomme Gamewell; Lillian Gascoigne; Dr. Dennis and Cathy Hill; Carolyn and Gordon Hurley; Mary and William James; Anne and Ralph Ketner; Susan and Edward Norvell; Jean and Foster Owen; Dr. John Robert and Betty Dan Spencer, the Honorable Melvin L. Watt, Jackie and Bruce Wilson, Dr. Tom Wolpert and Joe Lancione, as well as some collectors who wish to remain anonymous.

Those interested in the individual stories and ideas behind these collections are encouraged to attend a panel discussion featuring several of the collectors at 2 p.m. Saturday, February 10. Collectors will answer questions and share their experiences with art and artists, and their insights should prove invaluable to those interested in beginning collections of their own, as well as those viewers simply interested in the art itself.

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In the Osborne and Woodson Galleries, Libby Bentley’s “Paintings on Glass” provide a dynamic counterpoint to Private Collection, Public Connection.

Bentley has created a series of acrylic paintings on sheets of glass, specifically found windowpanes. Bentley uses a bright, saturated palette to bring her subjects to life and create a world whose location is always just a little bit unclear in spite of their placement on a clear surface. The inhabitants of this world include monkeys, caterpillars, small children, dolls, pork chops, fish and other seemingly unrelated beings, all suspended in a storm of colors that calls to mind Bentley’s native Florida or some fictional tropical place. The compositions are urgent, muscular pairings of form with color, of humor with gravity and of fantasy with the everyday.

The individual objects that populate Libby Bentley’s paintings are not of themselves what anybody would call fantastic, but the way in which they associate with each other and the environment in which these relationships take place brings them into the realm of Alice in Wonderland, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and Dr. Seuss.

Bentley’s youth was spent singing in punk bands in the 80’s, and those viewers familiar with that genre will be able to see signs of this influence in her work. The experience also provided her with an idea that still informs her practice, imparted to her by a former bandmate; the notion that the best bands in the world are never heard because their pursuit of perfection is such that they never feel that their music is ready for an audience.

Bentley takes this idea to heart as well as the raw spirit that enabled early punk bands to get their point across in songs that were less than two minutes long, often played on borrowed or secondhand instruments. It is unconventional art form, and Bentley feels the same way about the viewing of her art as the making of it. The very specific medium and the very specific presentation immediately bring to mind numerous questions: what is the significance of the windowpanes? Am I looking in or out of the windows? Does my reflection in the glass play a role in the picture? Is this a voyeuristic experience?

But the answers are not forthcoming; Bentley wants viewers to complete the stories themselves, feeling that questions make better art than answers.

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The Waterworks Visual Arts Center is open from 10-a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 704-636-1882 for more information.

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