Works of art have histories – personal and collective.
In January, American realist painter George Nick came to the Ackland with our former director, Charles Millard. Nick’s painting, seen with the artist at right, was recently pulled from Ackland storage and installed in the office of the Chancellor. This photograph documents the day when the artist rediscovered his old friend: his own work. It is privilege to hold works in trust for the people of North Carolina, but more than this, it is a rare delight to know that museums also facilitate homecomings, moments with artists are reunited with their works.
Not everyone can claim this particular kind of homecoming when they come to an art museum, but visitors to the Ackland often tell me of their personal relationships with particular works of art. For some it is the Rubens portrait, for other, the Thai Buddha. Some come to see the ancient pots, others the North Carolina pottery. For each, it is a personal homecoming with a public collection.
We share in each other’s histories whenever we engage a work of art and reflect on its history, our history, together. George Nick painted the courtyard between the Ackland and the Hanes Arts Center directly next door many years ago. My office window looks out over this courtyard and Nick’s painting is particularly good to me because it captures my daily vista. Every morning as I open the blinds, I look out to that courtyard for a moment. My window is not pictured here, it is tucked behind the wall above the door on the left. His acute angle on the building obliterates its view. Even if you could see it, it would only be another line of paint. One hundred years from now, it is unlikely that the courtyard will look as it does today, and the Ackland will undoubtedly expand and renovate and my office window will be long forgotten. But his painting? It will remain.
This is what we do. Museums acquire the best works of art available to them, care for those works, and make them available to audiences over time. And whether it is a painting by George Nick or a pot by an unknown ancient artisan, these works remind us of our histories and hold them safe for a day in the future.
Thank you, George, for this new memory. I will never look out my window the same way again.