Nancy Grossman on Carol Cole at The AFC SPRNG BRK Fundraiser

by Nancy Grossman on March 17, 2016 Events

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Carol Cole, “Tuf (for Nancy Grossman”, 2004, 7 1/2 inch x 11 1/2 x 11 1/2, leather, zippers, nails over wood.

[Editor’s note: This speech honoring Carol Cole was presented by artist Nancy Grossman at our SPRNG BRK benefit held this Tuesday at Otto’s Shrunken Head. We loved it.]

I’m so happy that we’re here to celebrate Carol Cole, an extraordinary woman and an extraordinary artist, who definitely has not been celebrated enough, whose accomplishments have somehow gone under the radar. Her sense of modesty and realness has fooled people into not knowing what a formidable person she truly is.

A Blue Blooded Southern Bell from Mississippi, properly married and raising two sons, Carol postponed her own strong and unique artistic self-expression for half of her life. In the mid 70’s when in a workshop with Judy Chicago, Judy had her draw herself as she saw herself, how the world saw her, and how she would like to be seen. It sparked in her a recognition and inspired the first of her Bubble Blower Series. The imagery, that of her Self Portrait as a breast, up to that time, always giving, nurturing, feeding everybody except herself, suddenly came into focus and the very possibility that she could nurture herself was an epiphany. She made 36 drawings one after the other of the Breast with an inverted nipple blowing bubbles. They became the foundation for future work, a promise that could sustain the next 15 years of No-time-for-Art.

She had to find a way to support herself and her two sons. She went back to school, studied computer software and took a job with a company in Jackson, MS, installing JD Edwards Accounting Software. She began her own company, installing and customizing JD Edwards software to fit individual Industries, one was Flakt (a Swedish company) specializing in air technology for textile mills, paper mills, smoke stack scrubbers, to name a few. At one point Flakt decided to go international with JD Edwards software because of her success with their American and Canadian companies. They sent her to London to demonstrate the software to a group of male industry comptrollers from around the world, and she was shocked when she looked up from her lecture and saw most of the men leaving the room. The ones who remained were the Canadians, the Italians, and the Australians. Subsequently she learned that Englishmen had accepted women in politics but not industry, and this was the late 80’s.

She was able to sell her company (because of Seymour Levin, who she met in Greensboro in 1986 and married in 1988) and launch herself back into making art. In 1991 she resurrected the Bubble Blower, this time in 3 dimensions. The sculpture in this series continues until today. Her use of materials is so diverse and developed, the sculptures visually stunning, elegant, always surprising and sometimes humorous. In 2003 Carol visited my studio, she expressed a desire to make a leather breast. I gave her a piece of the most beautiful hide I had ever used in my sculpture and some complex & tough aluminum zippers. By the next year she made TUF (for Nancy Grossman) a black leather breast with a spiraling silver zipper and what looks like a detachable nipple.

Carol, I wanted to talk about how intrepid, deeply authentic, provocative and sometimes outrageously funny your work has been all these years and how daring and courageous you are in your personal expression. I just remembered your piece in “The Visible Vagina” show in 2010 titled Back into the Womb where you built a giant Vagina out of a play tent, with red satin, lace, velour, rubber, and you invited people to crawl in & try a pacifier.
I think back to when we met at lunch in 1994, when I was visiting UNC in Greensboro & having an exhibition at the Weatherspoon Museum. I found out that you had asked Ruth Beesch the Director, to be invited to that lunch in order to meet me, because I was one of those artists from Cindy Nemser’s book Art Talk; Interviews with Women Artists, from way back 20 years before who had identified all my head sculptures as self portraits and made you reflect on yourself “If she can do it, I can do it too”. It was like taking a dare & giving yourself permission to make your own revelatory imagery. It was a memorable lunch because you were so generous in describing your own artistic trajectory in the most open and profoundly honest way.

It was also the beginning of your long friendship with Ruth Beesch, and very eventful relationship with the Weatherspoon Museum, with which you became progressively involved, becoming a Board Member and at one point the President of their Board and a contributor to the Museums collection.

While the South is famous for, proud of and sensitive to Literary Voices, there was a dearth of knowledge, exposure and appreciation of Visual Art. You became a valuable art educator, supporting and mentoring an art enlightenment that did not exist before. Your voice was central in tipping the scales for what were considered controversial shows at the Weatherspoon. You made possible the magnificent exhibition there of Hannah Wilkes work clearing up their ambivalence about having a possible R rated show.
Your continued and enlightened input lead Frayda Feldman and Martina Batan to nominate you for Art Table, the leading national non-profit organization dedicated to advancing professional women’s leadership in the visual arts. At their annual awards event Carol always has the most amazing array of people at her table. She’s a conduit for bringing the most incredible and accomplished people together. Her introductions spark fertile and exciting new projects every year.

Her “What F Word” exhibition, which she curated in memory of Arlene Raven in 2007, at the Cynthia Broan Gallery is still reverberating, not only because of the instant association to an obscenity, but because it was an extraordinary event with the inclusion of 34 artists whose works embraced the widest range of Feminist art in the 21th Century – so far. Not just their diverse styles & mediums but their own myriad understandings and interpretations of the F word, including controversial F words like family, finance, and flag.

From her distance in Greensboro North Carolina, Carol was always up to the minute and aware of the timing & growth of the New York galleries & art venues. Insider Art, Outsider Art, High Art, Low Art, Mainstream Art, Marginal Art, she had her finger on the pulse of who was and what happening and where it was happening and how to bring it all together. She’s an access pioneer, she knew about all these places before anybody else; certainly before me, living right here in NYC.

She generously introduced me to all these artists and galleries in early Williamsburg…over the bridge and into the woods. A revelation, into a Renaissance of art encampments and I had been living on the Manhattan side less than a mile from East river, for 37 years and I had no idea.

With all her accomplishments and the important, seminal people she knows, the art explorations she’s made around the world, she could easily be grandiose and pompous. But instead, with her easygoing personality, her sense of humor and inspite of her vulnerability, she is always encouraging, generous and inclusive, unafraid to be a total person. With such critical intelligence and a super abundance of gifts she could be intimidating but she undoes it all and puts you at ease with her infectious giggling.

Congratulations Carol

We love you.

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