After the passing of UNC alumnus Sidney Siegel, ’39, art enthusiast Shirley Siegel said she wanted to give something back to the University he loved.
“My husband was an amateur sculptor,” she said Sunday. “He loved Chapel Hill and was particularly fond of the Ackland and small museums.”
After looking at various pieces in galleries in New York with Ackland Art Museum Director Emily Kass, she came across “Sentinel II,” a work by early 20th century sculptor Seymour Lipton.
“I sent my son down to see it and he said, ‘Mom, this looks interesting,’” she said.
She sat in attendance Sunday afternoon at the Hanes Art Center auditorium as Kass and Curator of Collections Timothy Riggs inaugurated the exhibition surrounding Lipton’s sculpture: “The Guardian and the Avant-Garde: Seymour Lipton’s Sentinel II in Context.”
“Sentinel II,” the exhibition’s centerpiece item, will help build the museum’s small collection of 20th century sculpture.
“We wanted to see what kind of thread there was, what kind of story it would tell,” Kass said.
Riggs said Lipton, a professional dentist, seemed interested in metal sculpture, metalwork and discovering different ways of using the material other than traditional casting.
“If he were still around today, I would love to ask him if there was any input from his initial career into his work as a sculptor,” he said.
Lipton began as a social realist woodcarver before moving into more abstract styles of art, Kass said.
“He is an artist who is beginning to be investigated again,” Kass said.
The exhibition explores myth and the role of the guardian figure throughout history, as well as the rise of American modernism in the early 20th century.
Entries range from an Egyptian amulet from 600 B.C. to a more modern print of Mao Tse Dong by Andy Warhol, and include paintings, drawings, etchings and photographs as well as sculptures.
Riggs chose all of the mythical, guardian-related entries, while Kass selected all of the American modernist entries.
“We don’t know if Lipton ever saw any one of the objects in our gallery, but we do know he was interested in various kinds of art,” Riggs said.
He added that Lipton’s art also might have been influenced by visits to museums like the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Dennis Hermanson, a graphic designer from Hillsborough who attended the talk, said he came to the exhibit because he grew up admiring Picasso’s avant-garde works and psychadelic art.
He said he was interested in aesthetics and art, and also the way many people thought avant-garde took away the beauty of traditional art.
“If you take away beauty, form and content, what do you have? The avant-garde answers that question,” Hermanson said.
UNC art history professor Susan Harbor Page said she will incorporate the exhibit into her photography classes because of the inclusion of photographic pieces.
“Kass is reinserting it into conversation,” she said of photography as art.
Siegel said she hopes the Ackland’s new addition will give viewers an introduction to an unfamiliar form of art.
“I think that not many people are familiar with sculpture. If you go to New York, you see a lot of sculpture; down in the Southeast there really isn’t a lot of it,” Siegel said.
Hermanson said he had not seen the exhibit before attending the talk, but was planning to visit afterward.
“I wish that more people would come out,” Hermanson said. “Even though it’s a college regional museum, it has national museum quality. It’s a beautiful place.”
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