Jonathan Green-Richard Weedman collection at Gibbes opens window into artistic sensibilities

The sculpture “Emerging Man” by Artis Lane will be part of a new exhibit at the Gibbes. Buy this photo

It should come as little surprise that famed Lowcountry artist Jonathan Green and his partner of nearly 35 years, Richard Weedman, have accrued a terrific collection of paintings, sculpture and other objects.

If you go

WHAT: “Vibrant Vision: The Collection of Jonathan Green and Richard Weedman”

WHEN: Jan. 11-April 21

WHERE: Gibbes Museum of Art, 135 Meeting St.

COST: $9 adults; $7 seniors, students, military; $5 children 6-12; free for members and children under 6.

MORE INFO: www.gibbes museum.org, 722-2706

They both have a very good eye for interesting — beautiful, colorful, expressive — works that often contain a distinct cultural identity. After all, that’s one reason why they got together in the first place.

Green has distinguished himself since his days as a wayward art student in Chicago for his vivid portraits of African-American life, especially scenes reflecting Gullah traditions, but also quasi-impressionistic images of musicmaking and contemplative moments.

But his work is a mere fraction of a new exhibit opening at the Gibbes Museum on Jan. 11 called “Vibrant Vision” that features nearly 50 pieces from the Green-Weedman collection.

Ten others are by women artists. One is by the young Cuban Reynier Llanes. The show also features sweetgrass baskets and remarkable stone and bronze sculptures reminiscent of African masks.

“How often do you get to exhibit an artist’s collection?” Gibbes Director Angela Mack asked rhetorically. “And what will that do in providing a window into his creative process — and, frankly, into Richard’s creative process as his manager all these many years?”

Twice the Gibbes showed Green’s work in special exhibitions, but this is the first time it has taken this approach.

“Here was a chance for us to do something totally different that really explored these two individuals from a different perspective,” Mack said.

Curator Pam Wall culled more than 200 objects to arrive at 49 for display. The works represent a variety of styles, cultures and sensibilities.

Abstract paintings include Ralph Arnold’s 1974 acrylic canvas, “Growth: A Life Symbol,” and Sam Gilliam’s 1972 blast of color, “Zoo Again.”

Green’s own work is represented by paintings he made in the 1980s and one or two done in recent years. The small selection offers viewers a glimpse of his artistic evolution.

When the two men sealed their artistic fate in 1978, Weedman was deputy director of the Joint Commission, a Chicago-based nonprofit responsible for hospital accreditation. But the wonky world of health care did not altogether consume him; he was an avid and knowledgeable art enthusiast with a predilection for surrealism, cubism and old Spanish furniture.

Meeting Green, however, opened his vista tenfold. He learned about African-American art and the struggles of black artists. “Then the passion hit,” he said.

He began to develop an intense interest in advancing this significant body of work.

Meanwhile, the young Green was exploring the city, meeting socialites and forging an identity and a path.

As time went by, they refined their collecting philosophy, Green said. What was important was not ethnicity or race per se, but style. For too long, certain artists had been marginalized because of who they were or where they came from, not because their pictures were inadequate or failed to conform to certain expectations.

“A modernist is a modernist,” Weedman said. “Contemporary is contemporary.”

The collection reflects five basic themes: work, love, belonging, spirituality and man’s relationship to nature. And knowing the artist is as important as knowing the art, he said. Green and Weedman have met most of the people with works in the collection, considered their histories and experiences and contextualized the various objects. What informed their particular vision? What prompted their creativity? What are they saying with their art?

Context, Weedman said, is essential.

Mack said this emphasis on context makes sense.

“You can understand why they approach things that way: because he’s (Green) an artist,” Mack said. “It’s important (for a collector) to understand the character of individual, as opposed to checking off a name on the list.”

Some of the art comes from the Works Progress Administration WPA era of the 1930s and 1940s, when the U.S. government funded artists, including black artists who otherwise would have had little opportunity to forge a creative career.

Indeed, a significant portion of the Green-Weedman collection consists of art made by African-Americans, and that’s because it deserves to be preserved and promoted, Green said.

“Art is memory. If you don’t have your memory, you’ve lost your culture. We feel that we are the guardians of these very special works that reflect American history,” he said.

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at www.facebook.com/aparker writer.

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