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Hearst Tower serves as host to exciting exhibit

Just as the Italian banking family the Medicis were major underwriters of the Renaissance, today Bank of America holds an incredible collection of contemporary art that has expanded as the bank has merged with other banks.

In the lobby of Hearst Tower through Saturday, October 30, the Bank of America Gallery is presenting a tremendous opportunity to see some of the most important American contemporary artists. The banks holdings are so vast and in depth that this show, titled Partners In Art, allows Curator June Lambla to show how painters who are also spouses or romantic partners have influenced each other's artwork.

Among the high points of this incredible exhibit is the work of Allendale, SC, native Jasper Johns, who appears to be the living artist with the highest selling price (i.e., entertainment mogul David Geffen bought a Johns at auction for $40 million). Johns is partnered in this exhibit with Robert Rauschenberg: As Pop art took off in the 1960s, they had adjoining studios and were romantic partners as well. From Lambla's exhibit, it appears that they may have influenced each other strongly in the use of bright, bold color. Rauschenberg's 10-foot-tall color etching, "Soviet/American Array VVII," uses a pink hue that's as bright as the colors in one of Johns' commanding "Targets" pieces, a screenprint featuring yellow and blue circles.

Another asset of this exhibit is that it lets us examine the works of several artists who were students at the late Black Mountain College near Asheville, an experimental school that lasted from the 1930s until 1956. In addition to Rauschenberg, the other students featured here are abstract painters Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. Willem de Kooning is partnered with his wife Elaine De Kooning (who was also an art critic), and Motherwell is paired with his former wife, Helen Frankenthaler. Incidentally, Frankenthaler's woodblock print "Cedar Hill" is more intriguing than the bold, black shape and lines of Motherwell's "Flesh Automatism."

One of the most interesting pairs included in this show is the minimalist painter Robert Mangold and his wife Sylvia Plimack Mangold, whose forte was minimalist landscapes. In "Frame Painting," Robert Mangold employs acrylic paint and pencil to draw a very large oval on paper that's the color of a grocery bag. He had stated in an interview with critic Michael Auping that he's not interested in the color of Henri Matisse but in the industrial colors of everyday things. Sylvia Mangold shares Robert's interest in such ordinary things, and on her landscapes, she leaves the masking tape she uses to divide the canvas.

Another couple whose works are on display are Eric Fischl and his wife April Gornik. Fischl's piece "Untitled (Study for Jamaica Kincaid)" is particularly interesting. Kincaid, born in 1949 as Elaine Potter Richardson on the island of Antigua, was a former maid who went on to study photography at the New York School for Social Research, married Allen Shawn (son of New Yorker editor William Shawn), and became a successful author who once collaborated with Fischl on the children's book, Annie, Gwen, Lilly, Pam & Tulip. In the exhibit, Fischl's painting of Kincaid is highly animated and lively, showing her as she might have been in Antigua more than in Manhattan.

Partners is the first in a series of exhibitions the bank is presenting under the umbrella title, Decades 1940 through 1990; the next exhibit is Photography of the 1940s and 1950s, on exhibit from November 11 through March 5, 2005.

I visited Partners In Art twice, and on both occasions noticed viewers talking more excitedly about this show than any of the previous shows I had caught for review purposes. The buzz is building.

The exhibit Partners In Art will run through October 30 in the Bank of America Gallery in Hearst Tower, 214 N. Tryon St. Admission is free. For more information, call 704-386-7324.

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