An Inevitability: Ray Spillenger, Abstract Expressionism + a snowy weekend opening

Photo by David Huff

Ray Spillenger: Rediscovery of a Black Mountain Painter
Exhibit Opening and Discussion Panel
by Joey Barrett

Mother Nature may have been in on a conspiracy to keep Ray Spillenger’s paintings unseen, with a foot of snow dropping for their first unveiling since 1960. The paintings harken back to Black Mountain College’s famous Summer of 1948, and breathe fresh life into the abstract expressionist movement now embedded in the canon of art history. Ray Spillenger: Rediscovery of a Black Mountain Painter celebrates the work of an artist in league with Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning. The difference? Ray just never got around to finding critical acclaim before Andy Warhol redefined the “avant-garde,” and abstract expressionism stepped aside for Pop Art to claim the cultural zeitgeist. But now, unearthed from his 10th Street apartment, cleaned and framed on the wall of our gallery at 56 Broadway, Ray Spillenger’s paintings are finally shining. And an impressive group of hearty souls even braved the storm to welcome them!

At the exhibition opening on January 22, curator Dr. Theodore Stebbins Jr. discussed the joy and excitement of discovering Spillenger’s paintings, relishing the fresh perspective Ray offered to a movement so widely known. He explains that for “the Club” of 10th Street painters that were the lifeblood of the movement, abstract expressionist painting was
“an inevitability.” Many even believed that the style was the culmination of modern art – that for decades, painting was moving farther and farther away from intellect and narrative, instead toward a ‘purity’ of material and expression (“Let the paint be paint!”). Abstract expressionism is about as pure as it gets in this regard, with the artist wholly engaged in the process, responding to the material directly, with no intention, manipulation, or instruction in mind. (For more on this theory, look up Clement Greenberg’s writing). When you think about abstract expressionism as epitomizing the ideals of modernism, it’s no wonder Pop Art and postmodernism came next – there was no where else to go! Watch as Stebbins relates the bigger ideas of abstract expressionism to his unique experience of curating Spillenger’s work. 
The following day Stebbins participated in a panel with Spillenger’s son, Paul, and BMCM+AC’s program director, Alice Sebrell. Paul provided a rare and rich account of someone growing up in the throes of the Abstract Expressionist movement – the highs and lows of being raised by people who dedicated their whole selves to painting, who fed off of each other’s creative processes. Alongside his personal account, Stebbins provides a clear and accessible historical context while Sebrell draws connections back to the roots of it all at Black Mountain College. It was, after all, the summer session at BMC that introduced Spillenger to de Kooning and acted as the springboard (or “hotbed”, as Stebbins says) to his career as an AbEx painter. It is a dynamic discussion of Spillenger’s work and the Abstract Expressionist movement as a whole.

If the snow kept you inside the weekend of the opening, please enjoy our footage and be sure to stop by to see the work in person. The show will be on view Monday-Saturday from 11:00-5:00 until May 21, 2016. We’d love to hear what you think!


A full-color catalogue with essays by Curator Ted Stebbins and Paul Spillenger, Ray Spillenger’s son, accompanies this exhibition. 

[all photos and videos in this post c/o Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center except where noted]
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Bidding Convergence/Divergence Farewell + Welcoming Ray Spillenger

BlackMountainCollegeMuseumConvergenceExhibtionClosing1_2015In the aptly named “Form and Function” section of Modern Magazine‘s Winter 2016 issue, Margot Ammidown remarked that “of all the institutions with a Bauhaus legacy, Black Mountain retains the image of a creative arcadia that produced many of the great artists of the mid-twentieth century.”

Ammidown, reviewing our recently closed CONVERGENCE/DIVERGENCE: Exploring Black Mountain College + Chicago’s New Bauhaus/Institute of Design, which was on view from September 4, 2015 – December 31, 2015, highlights moments of cross-pollination between the two schools but also discusses each school’s unique legacy – namely the reinstitution of the New Bauhaus as the Institute of Design, and Black Mountain College’s unique emphasis on experimentation rather than industry. 

We are sorry to see the objects, works, ephemera, and images of CONVERGENCE/DIVERGENCE go, but in a few weeks we will be thrilled to open the doors for our next exhibition: Ray Spillenger: Rediscovery of a Black Mountain College Painter, opening January 22, 2016 on view through May 21, 2016. 

Ray Spillenger studied with Willem de Kooning and Josef Albers at Black Mountain College during the summer of 1948. This exhibition comprises two decades of his work from the BMC era to the late 1960s. Spillenger’s paintings demonstrate a total commitment to abstraction and a passionate love of color.  read more…

Travel Scholarship Supports Asheville Artist’s Trip to Russia

The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (BMCM+AC) announces that Design Apprentice and Museum Intern Carley Brandau will travel to Moscow, Russia this summer to take part in the exhibition Costume at the Turn of the Century 1990-2015 at the A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum as part of BMCM+AC’s new Research Travel Grant program. Brandau’s BMCM+AC-administered travel scholarship is generously funded by a donation from Randy Shull and Hedy Fischer.

Brandau, a local artist and UNC Asheville graduate, began at BMCM+AC in October 2014 as a Design Apprentice, working under internationally-known, Asheville-based designer and artist Randy Shull on the redesign and renovation of the museum’s 56 Broadway gallery space. In February, 2015, Brandau was selected as a member of the inaugural class of Windgate Museum Interns at BMCM+AC. The Internship program, Apprenticeship program, and gallery redesign and renovation are part of the museum’s three-year Windgate Charitable Foundation-funded expansion plan. Brandau continues to document BMCM+AC’s expansion through the curation of dedicated Tumblr and Instagram accounts.  read more…

BMCM+AC in The New York Times

We were in the New York Times in March 2015! The detailed article, which focused on BMCM+AC’s expansion, includes a slideshow of archival images  and new photographs of our 56 Broadway gallery. To read the article online, click here.

From the article:
“We try to have one foot in the past, honoring what happened at the college,” said Alice Sebrell, the museum’s program director, who runs the institution with a staff of two and a few interns. “But we also keep one foot very much in the present, looking to the future and what ideas artists are investigating today.” read more…

Introducing Katherine de Vos Devine: Our New Executive Director

BlackMountainCollgeKatherineDirectorKatherine de Vos Devine has been appointed Executive Director of the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.  Beginning July 1, 2015, she will be responsible for providing strategic and operational leadership for the institution as it expands its facilities and programs.

Ms. Devine, who is completing her Ph.D. in Art History at Duke University, and who has been active in research and curatorial projects at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art, also received her J.D. degree from Duke in 2010. After completing a B.A. in Art History, also from Duke, she returned to her native New York City and worked as a paralegal at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, assisting with incorporations, tax-exempt status, corporate governance, and strategic planning for over 100 public charities and private foundations. In that position, she worked with a diversity of non-profit organizations including museums, arts centers, dance troupes, and theater companies, among others.  read more…

Grand {Re}OPENING : Phase 1 of our 3-year Expansion Plan

ConnieRickRandyAliceBlackMountainCollegeGrandReOpeningImg1Our {Re}OPENING marks the completion of Phase 1 of our Windgate Charitable Foundation-funded expansion project. Our space has been redesigned and renovated by internationally-known artist and designer Randy Shull.

At the end of December 2014, minutes after BMCM+AC staff moved museum storage to our new storage facility located diagonally across the street from our current space, Shull and his team (Sergio Gomez Franco and Design Apprentice Carley Brandau) began the interior renovations in earnest. Weeks before this, Shull had been fabricating original furniture, with designs inspired by Josef and Anni Albers, in his cavernous Biltmore studio.  Shull has sculpted a more accessible museum, library, and study center with multiple ways to access the history and legacy of BMC, a more efficient workspace, and an immersive gallery that takes its aesthetic inspiration and orientation from Black Mountain College.  read more…