Exposure and Conservation: Presenting the Peck Collection in Perpetuity

The theme of the second in our ongoing series of selections from the recently donated Peck Collection of Dutch and Flemish drawings is “Ruins.” The topic of transience and decay seems an appropriate prompt for a quick discussion of the effects of time and exposure, not only on the grand structures of the Dutch and Roman past but also on 17th-century drawings themselves.

At the Ackland, we are often asked why the Pecks’ wonderful gift is not permanently on view in its entirety. Are we not proud and thrilled at this extraordinary enrichment of the Ackland collection and the cultural landscape of North Carolina? Indeed we are – so much so, in fact, that we not only yearn to show everything to everybody, but we add another dimension to that wish: everything to everybody, forever.

It is this last word, “forever”, that provides a clue to the answer as to why our visitors cannot see all 134 Peck Collection drawings, including the seven by Rembrandt, all the time. When museum folk think about the institution’s audience, we think not only of our many and diverse constituencies visiting in 2017, but also of all the possible visitors of the year 2117, or 2217, and beyond. Our commitment is to preserve masterpieces of human creativity for as long as humanly possible (you’ll sometimes catch us uttering the phrase “in perpetuity”).

To achieve that, works of art that are sensitive to the effects of light must be protected from over-exposure. Light can fade inks and darken paper; it can even, in the worst case, make a work of art disappear. Therefore, we carefully control not only the level and type of light that all drawings in our collection are exposed to, but also the length of time they are on exhibition.

We are hard at work on a website that will showcase all the Peck Collection drawings in very high resolution digital images, with commentary and information. We will also present a full-scale exhibition of the entire gift, with a scholarly catalogue, as soon as we can – probably in four or five years. Until then, I encourage you to return to the Ackland regularly, as our focused selection of works from the Peck Collection will change every few months, offering fresh perspectives, themes, and questions. And I invite you to peruse the collection on our current public database.

The Peck Collection offers us exquisite examples of human creativity, “rescued” by the collectors from the contingencies of history and time. It is our job to ensure that these well-preserved masterpieces do not themselves become ruins, unavailable to future generations in their full glory. Your grandchildren and great grandchildren and on “into perpetuity” will silently thank you for your understanding.

Hendrik Hondius the Elder, Dutch, 1573-after 1649: Ruins of Castle Spangen, n.d.; Pen and brown ink, brown wash, over black chalk on paper. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Peck Collection, 2017.1.45.

The Study Gallery – A Window onto Teaching and Research

Portions of this essay were originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 13 August 2015.

MelancoliaThe start of a new academic year is always invigorating, and my thoughts are on the return of our Study Gallery on the second floor, one of the Ackland’s extraordinary programs. Over the course of the academic year, the Study Gallery will contain 36 short-term small exhibitions that accompany curricular teaching happening all across this wonderful University (six new installations reinstalled every six weeks).

There are always surprises in store here—from little-seen works to unconventional juxtapositions. You can see a socio-critical image by contemporary photographer Danny Lyon next to Albrecht Dürer’s masterpiece print Melancolia (part of the installation supporting a course on “Abnormal Psychology”). Also on view in the Gallery are nineteenth-century photographs of Turkish subjects (amongst the works for a course on “Gender in the Middle East”), a captivating ancient Egyptian cat amulet—surely, at only 1 centimeter tall, one of the smallest works in the Ackland collection (one of about two dozen works on display for “Egyptian Archaeology”)—and many other interesting pieces of art. Continue reading

Something Old, Something New at the Ackland

DSC_0550Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 31 July 2015.

Dear Friends,

Because of our commitment to engage the Ackland’s permanent collection, I cannot resist mentioning the excitement around our current exhibition highlighting and rethinking our holdings of painting and sculpture since 1960.

“It changed the way I think,” said one visitor from the Galloway Ridge retirement community in Pittsboro.

“Amazing selection of wonderful works. The Sean Scully painting is sublime – just one of many surprises!! Many unknown names, at least to me, producing fascinating work!! I’ll be bringing friends many times!!” wrote a former museum director from the area.

My thanks to all of you for talking about the Ackland! Because of you Testing Testing is rapidly becoming the exhibition to see and comment on!

7746d294-b23b-4986-a616-0a956a0d8034But my main focus today is on a very different, but no less important part of the collection: Art of the Ancient Mediterranean. I am thrilled to announce the publication of a full scholarly catalogue of 227 works of art from many parts of the ancient Mediterranean world, including works from Egypt and the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia, Iran, Cyprus, Greece and Italy and ranging in date from around 5000 BCE to 1100 CE. An appendix documents the recent gift of an additional 211 ancient coins. Beautifully illustrated with gorgeous new color photography, this catalogue showcases a significant and valuable collection as never before. Our author is Professor Mary C. Sturgeon, just retired from a most distinguished career as Professor of Classical Art at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has triumphantly brought to a conclusion a project that began well over a decade ago in seminars with graduate students researching these Ackland objects. The publication, with 344 pages and 727 color plates, is now available at the Ackland Museum Store ($80 for members, non-members $100). Continue reading

Charlie Millard: Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts

millard_charles_15_018Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 21 May 2015.

Of all the awards that a university can bestow, few are greater than the honorary degree. Everyone in the Ackland family is therefore justifiably proud of former director Charlie Millard. He was awarded the degree of Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at this year’s Spring Commencement. Charlie’s professional and scholarly achievements are manifold, you can read the official citation here, but I want to highlight two ways that he improved the Ackland in decisive and long-lasting ways during his directorship (1986-1993). Continue reading

A Warm Welcome

As you all know, the Ackland is constantly striving to improve, and today I’m delighted to introduce to you a very concrete example of the ways in which we are moving from strength to strength: Meghan Hunt has recently joined us as our Manager of Membership Services. She will be dedicated to enhancing and expanding our programming and activities for you, our loyal and essential members. I know she’ll be in touch with many of you to learn more about what you most value in your association with the Ackland, about what more we can do to make the membership experience rewarding, and about how we can best increase the number of art enthusiasts who enjoy the benefits of our offerings. And I encourage you to be in touch with her with your thoughts and suggestions. Meghan, a Carolina alumna from the Class of 2011, comes to us from UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where she worked in development. She previously served as staff assistant for US Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL).  Please join me in giving Meghan a very warm welcome to the Ackland team.

 
Peter Nisbet
Ackland Art Museum Chief Curator and Interim Director

______________________________________________________________

As a UNC student and now as an employee, I have passed by the Ackland Art Museum many times on my way to Franklin Street. It is a treasure on the UNC campus. As the Manager of Membership Services, it will be my pleasure not only to provide wonderful experiences for you, our current members, but also to bring new members into the fold and share with them all the wonders the Ackland holds. I look forward to meeting many of you at the Spring Luncheon on Monday, 4 May, and learning about your favorite aspect of the Ackland. You can reach me at meg_hunt@unc.edu.

With warm Carolina wishes,


Meghan Hunt
Manager of Membership Services

On “Refreshment”

This essay by Peter Nisbet was originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 16 March 2015.

Today’s word is refreshment.

Over the past several months, I have been thinking especially about a project that might be called “Ackland Refreshed”: imagining and implementing ways to make the art on display look even better and our museum visitors feel even better. After rearranging and reinstalling the collection, as well as switching to LED lighting (enhancing the visibility of our art, all the while saving money and energy), we have just finished repainting our galleries, adding carefully-chosen, art-enhancing colors to the walls. I have had many visitors tell me that the galleries have never looked so welcoming and elegant, and I invite you to experience these refreshed spaces for yourselves.
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Thoughts on Museum Success V: Survival and Persistence

Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 23 December 2014, this is the fifth and final in a series of ruminations on how museums measure success.

Dear Ackland Members,

I write this just as the days are beginning to get longer again and the New Year is in sight — a good moment to think about survival and persistence, the theme of this last reflection on how to think about the success of art museums. The other installments on this topic are now all available on this blog.

Survival can, in itself, be a measure of success for an art museum, for two reasons. Continue reading

Thoughts on Museum Success IV: Ten Measures of the Ackland’s Success

Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 11 December 2014, this is the fourth in a series of ruminations on how museums measure success.

15101465249_fdeed13630_o_cropped2Dear Members,

By the numbers… As promised in the last Member E-News, this installment of my communications about measuring museum success focuses on statistics. I’ve selected a range of metrics, each with its own strong signal about how well the Ackland is doing. I’ve abstained from any commentary (every statistic can be qualified and questioned in some way!), preferring to let these figures send a straightforward, cumulative message.

At the moment, of course, we at the Ackland are especially aware of statistics about our Annual Fund and Membership renewal, and I want to take the opportunity to warmly thank those who have already made commitments and to urge generosity for those still considering! If you have not yet made your end-of-year gift, please do so now. Your support is essential in underpinning all of our successes.

Continue reading

Thoughts on Museum Success III: Numbers We Are Thankful For

Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 25 November 2014—the Thanksgiving editionthis is the third in a series of ruminations on how museums measure success.

In my considerations of how art museums should measure success, it is surely time to think about directly statistical criteria. But I don’t want to distract from the joys of Thanksgiving with extensive reflections on this, so let me just give you an appetizer of the kind of impressive numbers I’ll address in the next Member E-News in two weeks:

  • The Ackland is currently on track to see a 10% increase this academic year in the number of students and faculty incorporating visits to the Museum into their coursework, compared with last year’s record of 11,121which itself was a 10% increase over the year before.

Continue reading

Thoughts on Museum Success II: Loans and Collection Relevance

Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 13 November 2014, this is the second in a series of ruminations on how museums measure success.

As I sit down to write the second of these musings about museum success, I find myself in Manhattan preparing to visit an exhibition of portraits by Egon Schiele, to which the Ackland has lent its splendid drawing of a woman (right). Indeed, at the moment, Ackland works are in special exhibitions in Essen, Germany; Los Angeles; Princeton, New Jersey; Jackson, Mississippi; and elsewhere. On my desk in Chapel Hill is a letter from the Metropolitan Museum of Art asking to borrow what is perhaps our greatest painting: Valentin de Boulogne’s St. John the Evangelist (below), and I anticipate soon receiving a request to send our Cleopatra and the Peasant by Eugene Delacroix to Minneapolis and London.

Each of these loans is, of course, unique in its circumstances. Each is evaluated on its own merits. But in the aggregate, can we not see the level of loan activity as a rough measure of success? It reflects the extent to which the Ackland has built a collection that can resonate with the current interests of art publics in many different contexts. We preserve art for posterity, but we also want our collection to engage with contemporary concerns in as many ways as possible. Statistics on loan traffic can signal the current relevance of the collection (as can the number of times in any one Continue reading