Autumn is transformative.
Changing leaves, fall harvests, new friends, mid-semester exams. And at UNC Greensboro’s Weatherspoon Art Museum: “wolves that pose as grandmothers, pumpkins that turn into carriages, and apples that produce death-like slumber – fairy tales are filled with incredible transformations.”
Through Dec. 9, the museum hosts “Dread and Delight: Fairy Tales in an Anxious World,” an exhibition curated by Dr. Emily Stamey that explores seven 19th-century fairy tales through contemporary American art works in a variety of mediums.
“The artists in the show haven’t just retold classic fairy tales in updated contexts,” said Stamey. “Many of them have really pulled the stories apart and reimagined them in transformative ways.”
“Mirror, Mirror,” a 1987 print by upcoming University Concert and Lecture Series speaker Carrie Mae Weems, explores beauty, racial bias and privilege through a Snow White scenario. Xaviera Simmons’ “If We Believe in Theory” series displays Little Red Riding Hood terrain, with several children donning the cape and pointing to where the wolf is. Other works explore tragedy, youth, sexual politics, passage of time, hunger and transformation through those tales as well as others, such as Hansel and Gretel, Fitcher’s Bird and All Fur.
The mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar that draws art-viewers in makes the exhibition perfect for coursework in many diverse subjects. The Weatherspoon’s Associate Curator of Education Terri Dowell-Dennis, to date, has coordinated “Dread and Delight” tours for more than 870 UNCG students, and she notes that the exhibition has been a part of course curriculum in education, psychology, art education, kinesiology, Spanish, German and theatre, in addition to English and art history.
“Fairy tales have existed for centuries – early on as oral stories that morphed and changed with each teller,” said Dowell-Dennis. “These stories, whether oral or recorded, have always allowed people to grapple with the mores, values and issues of their time. In this sense, they are living tales.”
Associate Professor of Art History Heather Holian teaches The Art of Disney and Pixar every year, but this semester “Dread and Delight” has brought a unique angle to the course.
For a final project, Holian’s students will imagine, map and write wall text for an exhibition that uses core works from “Dread and Delight” as well as several Walt Disney Studio pieces. The project will allow students to design an installation that brings attention to a particular issue or theme present in both “Dread and Delight” and Disney works. The students will also write responses to “Dread and Delight” pieces that have a Disney corollary, such as Cinderella, Snow White and Rapunzel. Holian has encouraged students to read original Grimms’ fairy tales and to study how they’ve been rewritten and interpreted.
“They’re all familiar with these fairy tales through the Disney versions, and that’s the entrance here. ‘Dread and Delight’ offers tremendous range in the fairy tale genre,” said Holian.
Lecturer in English Julia Ridley Smith has focused the work of her English 210 course on fairy tales, with a tour of the exhibition as an important element.
While Smith says many students came into the class with Disney-inspired ideas of what fairy tales are and mean, they are ready to make the connections she encourages them to make, relating recognizable motifs to unfamiliar re-tellings.
“It’s interesting how fairy tales are dynamic and change over time,” said junior Cameron Cabell. “That they reflect the psychology of the people of the time also caught me off-guard.”
Stamey says that surprise is a common reaction among visitors to the show.
“Whether in response to how an artist worked with a particular tale, learning the darker origins of a story, or in discovering the materials from which an artwork is made,” she said, but also notes that familiarity is equally key. “Most visitors know these fairy tales, and the artworks offer opportunities for personal recollections of encountering particular characters and narratives.”
Accompanying “Dread and Delight” is a book that includes all seven featured fairy tales, the history of fairy tales in contemporary visual arts, an exposition of the exhibition’s featured works and an original fairy tale,“The White Cat’s Divorce,” by recent MacArthur “genius” grant winner Kelly Link ’95 MFA.
After its Greensboro debut, “Dread & Delight” will travel to the Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College in Iowa and the Akron Art Museum in Ohio. The exhibition will be open at the Weatherspoon through Dec. 9, and onsite related programs are listed below:
Evening Tour Oct. 18, 6 p.m.
Fairy Tales for Adults Book Discussion Oct. 18, 7 p.m.
A look at how young adult literature has reimagined fairy tales in recent years.
Image & Text – In Conversation: Natalie Frank & Jack Zipes Oct. 25, 7 p.m.
A conversation with artist Natalie Franke and fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes
Fairy Tale Read-A-Thon Nov. 2, 12:00 noon to 4:30 p.m.
Evening Tour Nov. 15, 6 p.m.
Glass Slippers on the Runway – Curator Talk: Colleen Hill Nov. 15, 7 p.m.
Happily Ever After Closing Tour Dec. 9, 3:30pm
For more information, please visit the Weatherspon Art Museum website.
Story by Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications
Photography by Jiyoung Park, University Communications