She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World

During this critical time for Iran and the Arab world, as national and personal identities are being dismantled and rebuilt, contemporary photography reflects the complexities of unprecedented change. One of the most significant trends to emerge is the work of women photographers, whose remarkable and provocative images provide insights into new cultural landscapes, questioning tradition and challenging perceptions of Middle Eastern and Arab identity. “She Who Tells a Story” brings together the vital pioneering work of 12 leading artists, ranging in genre from portraiture to documentary: Jananne Al-Ani, Boushra Almutawakel, Gohar Dashti, Rana El Nemr, Lalla Essaydi, Shadi Ghadirian, Tanya Habjouqa, Rula Halawani, Nermine Hammam, Rania Matar, Shirin Neshat, and Newsha Tavakolian. The exhibition features over 80 photographs, lent by the artists, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the collection of James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach.

In related news, the Ackland recently launched a major initiative to build its collection of art from the Islamic world. A small exhibition, presented in conjunction with “She Who Tells a Story,” will showcase seven recent purchases, including calligraphic manuscripts, textiles, metalwork and an architectural fragment all dating from the 8th century CE to the 17th century. It opens on Friday, September 13; there will be one rotation of the textiles and Qur’anic manuscripts on Friday, November 22, midway through the show.

Exhibition organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Click on the arrow above to hear about the exhibition.

Click HERE to read the press release.

SHE WHO TELLS A STORY Public programs

Family Weekend: Start with Art Breakfast & Tour of She Who Tells a Story
21 September 2019 | 8:30 – 10:00 AM

2nd Friday ArtWalk
Through Her Lens: Modern Arab Women Telling Their Stories in Art and Literature
11 October 2019 | 6:30-8 PM

Featuring the 2019 Man Booker Prize-winner Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (translator Marilyn Booth). Cohosted by Carolina Public Humanities.
Advance ticket required. Ticket price includes a copy of the book and light refreshments at the program.

Artist Talk: Rania Matar
23 October 2019 | 7 PM

Free and open to the public; RSVP requested.

Family & Friends Sunday
27 October 2019 | 2-5 PM

2nd Friday ArtWalk
Pop-Up Artist Books Show from the Sloane Art Library
8 November 2019 | 6-8:30 PM

SHe Who Tells A Story Guided Tours

Free, drop-in tour of She Who Tells A Story, led by an Ackland docent

2 October 2019 | 1:30 PM
25 October 2019 | 1:30 PM
30 October 2019 | 1:30 PM
13 November 2019 | 1:30 PM
15 November 2019 | 1:30 PM
20 November 2019 | 1:30 PM
21 November 2019 | 1:30 PM
22 November 2019 | 1:30 PM
27 November 2019 | 1:30 PM
29 November 2019 | 1:30 PM

Last Look Tour with Peter Nisbet
1 December 2019 | 3:30 PM

Ackland Film Forum

Recent films by Arab women filmmakers, Tuesdays at the Varsity Theater, titles to be announced
Presented in connection with She Who Tells A Story

Dates to be announced shortly

Image credit: Gohar Dashti (b. 1980). Untitled #5. From the series Today’s Life and War, 2008. Pigment print. Courtesy of the artist, Azita Bina and Robert Klein Gallery, Boston. Used with artist’s permission.

Way Out West: Celebrating the Gift of the Hugh A. McAllister Jr. Collection

Way Out West: Celebrating the Gift of the Hugh A. McAllister Jr. Collection marks the transformational bequest of over twenty examples of art related to the American West and Southwest to the Ackland Art Museum. Displayed together with artworks already in the Museum’s own permanent collection, the exhibition features nearly eighty works spanning over 150 years, by artists such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Ansel Adams, Awa Tsireh, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, and Allan Houser, among others, that chart how artists have responded to the landscape and culture of the American West since the late nineteenth century. Exceptional paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture and decorative art are displayed thematically, with a special section devoted to the collector, his taste, and his understanding of the role of art in our daily lives.

Way Out West: Celebrating the Gift of the Hugh A. McAllister Jr. Collection has been made possible by UNC Medicine in honor of Hugh A. McAllister Jr.

Click ABOVE to hear the exhibition announcement on WCHL Click HERE to download press release.

Way Out West Public Programs 

2nd Friday ArtWalk: Curator’s Keynote
14 June 2019 | 6:00 PM

An illustrated introduction to Way Out West by its curator Dana Cowen, Sheldon Peck Curator for European and American Art before 1950. RSVP HERE!

The galleries will remain open until 9 PM for the Museum’s monthly 2nd Friday ArtWalk evening hours.

Music in the Galleries: Ryan Dial-Stanley
16 June 2019 | 2-3 PM

Ryan Dial-Stanley, a member of the Lumbee Tribe, is a well-known flutist, performing artist, and educator. Mr. Dial-Stanley is currently a student in the UNC School of Medicine majoring in Clinical Lab Science. He has traveled across the state of North Carolina presenting programs on the history and culture of the Lumbee Tribe. He is also the co-chair of the Carolina Indian Circle and President of Phi Sigma Nu, the first Native American Fraternity.

Free, seating is first come first served.

Family and Friends Sunday: Cartography
23 June 2019 | 2-5 PM

Learn about how maps served the artists of Way Out West.

  • Listen to stories about exploration chosen by Chapel Hill Public Library children’s librarians
  • See maps of the U.S. and meet cartography expert Renée Bosman from UNC Libraries
  • Watch the first of three selections from PBS’ National Parks documentary series to glimpse some of the natural wonders featured in the works of Way Out West
  • Enjoy exploring the art on view with a themed scavenger hunt and hands-on art-making activities for all ages

Free and open to the public.

Guided Tour: Way Out West
28 June | 1:30 PM
Free, drop-in tour of Way Out West, led by an Ackland docent

Guided Tour: Way Out West
5 July| 1:30 PM
Free, drop-in tour of Way Out West, led by an Ackland docent

2nd Friday ArtWalk
12 July 2019 | Open ’til 9 PM

Experience Way Out West after hours during the Chapel Hill-Carrboro 2nd Friday ArtWalk.

  • 6-8:30 PM | Art Library Pop Up @ the Ackland
    View rare and unique items from the Sloane Art Library’s special collections relating to themes in Way Out West

Free and open to the public.

Art Adventures: “Painting” the Landscape with Pastels
13 July 2019 | 10:30 AM, 1:00 PM, 3:00 PM 
$5 per child; free for members at the Household level and above. RSVP by selecting the session time above!

Guided Tour: Way Out West
18 July | 1:30 PM
Free, drop-in tour of Way Out West, led by an Ackland docent

A Reader’s Guide to Way Out West
21 July | 2 PM

From Louis L’Amour to Cormac McCarthy, the American West has inspired writers and captivated readers, including Chapel Hill Public Library Director Susan Brown. She has wandered through the exhibition and in this lively talk, she will share suggestions for books that pair well with Way Out West (and she will most likely work in a movie recommendation or two as well). The result will be a westward expansion of your TBR pile! Free and open to the public.

Missed the talk? Find the books at the Chapel Hill Public Library!

Guided Tour: Way Out West
24 July | 1:30 PM
Free, drop-in tour of Way Out West, led by an Ackland docent

Family and Friends Sunday: The Great Outdoors
28 July 2019 | 2-5 PM

Consider the physicality of creating art featuring mountains, cliffs, and canyons.

  • Learn about rock climbing in our courtyard with Triangle Rock Club Durham
  • Learn how art and nature intersect and inspire at North Carolina State Parks with Anjanée N. Bell, Director of Arts in the Parks
  • Hear from Johnny Randall, the NCBG Director of Conservation.
  • Catch the next selection of our PBS National Parks screenings in ART&.
  • Enjoy exploring the art on view with a themed scavenger hunt and hands-on art-making activities for all ages

Free and open to the public.

Guided Tour: Way Out West
1 August | 1:30 PM
Free, drop-in tour of Way Out West, led by an Ackland docent

“The Way Out West: Desert Landscapes” Artist Talk by Michelle Van Parys
1 August | 6:00 PM

RSVP HERE for the Talk!

Guided Tour: Way Out West
8 August | 1:30 PM
Free, drop-in tour of Way Out West, led by an Ackland docent

2nd Friday ArtWalk
9 August 2019 | Open ’til 9 PM

Panel: Perspectives on Way Out West
9 August 2019 | 6 PM

  • Elizabeth Broun, Director Emerita of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • John Coffey, Deputy Director for Art and Jim and Betty Becher Curator of American and Modern Art at the North Carolina Museum of Art
  • Dana Cowen, Sheldon Peck Curator for European and American Art before 1950 at the Ackland Art Museum

RSVP HERE for the Panel!

How the West Was Told: An Evening of Art and Literature at the Ackland
9 August 2019 | 7 PM

Register for a book discussion program with Carolina Public Humanities that pairs Way Out West with Leslie Marmon Silko’s The Storyteller. The discussion of the book and a look at the art will be facilitated by UNC lecturer Jennifer Howard and Ackland Director of Academic Programs Carolyn Allmendinger.

$38 per person (includes a copy of the book, light refreshments, and a reserved seat at the Panel: Perspectives on Way Out West). RSVP required; REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN! Register HERE!

Art Adventures: Way Out Weaving
10 August 2019 | 10:30 AM, 1:00 PM, 3:00 PM

$5 per child; free for members at the Household level and above. RSVP by selecting the session time above!

Guided Tour: Way Out West
16 August
| 1:30 PM
Free, drop-in tour of Way Out West, led by an Ackland docent

Music in the Galleries: Brian and Mary Lewis
18 August 2019 | 2-3 PM
Vintage Country Music by Brian and Mary Lewis, with Nancy Bierman (bass)

Free, seating is first come first served.

Guided Tour: Way Out West
21 August| 1:30 PM
Free, drop-in tour of Way Out West, led by an Ackland docent

Guided Tour: Way Out West
22 August | 1:30 PM
Free, drop-in tour of Way Out West, led by an Ackland docent

Guided Tour: Way Out West
23 August | 1:30 PM
Free, drop-in tour of Way Out West, led by an Ackland docent

Family and Friends Sunday: Protecting Our Environment
25 August 2019 | 2-5 PM

On the final day of Way Out West explore the natural environments depicted with an eye towards protecting them for the future.

  • Meet Alan Weakly, the Director of Herbarium at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, to learn about North Carolina’s native plants.
  • Watch the last selection from PBS National Parks in ART&
  • At 3:30 PM, join Way Out West curator Dana Cowen for a Last Look Tour.
  • Enjoy exploring the art on view with a themed scavenger hunt and hands-on art-making activities for all ages

Free and open to the public.

Last Look Tour
25 August 2019 | 3:30 PM

Last Look Tour led by exhibition curator Dana Cowen, Sheldon Peck Curator for European and American Art before 1950. Free, no RSVP needed.

Image credit: Thomas Moran, American, born in England, 1837-1926: Virgin River, Utah (detail), 1908,oil on canvas, 20 x 30 in. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Hugh A. McAllister, Jr., M.D. Collection, 2019.15.22.

Sacred Wasteland: Selected Works by the MFA Class of 2019

Sacred Wasteland: Selected Works by the MFA Class of 2019

19 April – 26 May 2019

Public Celebration: Thursday, April 25, 5 – 8 PM
Family & Friends Sunday: Sunday, April 28, 2-5 PM
Performance Event: when they become us. Friday, May 10, 6:30 PM
Curator Q&A: Friday, May 10, 7:30 PM

Sacred Wasteland presents work by the nine studio artists of the 2019 Master of Fine Arts graduating class and celebrates the blending of traditional and non-traditional approaches, as well as the thoughtful repurposing of materials to reveal layers of each artist’s idiosyncratic curiosities. Each of the candidates mines the rich and complicated realities of our world using objects, techniques, and subjects that might typically be discarded or overlooked in their original contexts. In many cases, the artists’ personal narratives are directly intertwined with their material choices, and their constructions and aesthetic interventions illuminate the public value of private artifacts. Their work inspires important questions about humanity’s proficiency at isolating, elevating, destroying, and memorializing people and resources over the course of a single lifespan. As these artists investigate the perception of cultural and material wastelands, they imbue what they find there with all the care and attention we reserve for the sacred.

Participating artists include Jonh Blanco, Sarah Elizabeth Cornejo, John DeKemper II, Peter Hoffman, Michael Keaveney, Jasper Lee, Laura Little, Reuben Mabry, and Chieko Murasugi.

During the 2nd Friday ArtWalk on May 10, Sacred Wasteland artist Jonh Blanco, ShaLeigh Dance Works, and the Ackland present when they become us., a collaborative, socially-engaged performance event. See our online calendar for more information.

Sacred Wasteland is curated by William Paul Thomas. Thomas is a 2013 alumnus of the MFA program in Studio Art at UNC-Chapel Hill and is the artist in residence at Duke University’s Rubenstein Art Center from January until March 2019.

This exhibition is made possible by the generous support of Seymour and Carol Cole Levin.

Image: Sarah Elizabeth Cornejo, American, born 1993: Halfies, Pt. 1 (detail), 2019. Earth, saw dust, steel, wood glue, coral, alligator garfish scales, oyster shells, rocks, cement, volcanic rock, sharks’ teeth, pig intestines, epoxy, lichen, barnacles, acrylic paint, and windshield glass. Courtesy of the artist.

Take a New Look at the Permanent Collection Galleries

If you have been to the Museum in the past two weeks, you will have noticed that some of the galleries are closed. That is because, for the first time since 2011, we are reinstalling our permanent collection galleries. Ackland staff have already begun reconfiguring the galleries by tearing down and building walls and researching and writing new interpretive materials for the reopening of the galleries on Saturday, December 1, 2018.

While reinstallations like the one we are undertaking are not uncommon for a museum, our curatorial staff has identified three areas of focus:

Focus One – Art After 1950

While many of our special exhibitions include artworks after 1950, the Museum feels strongly that there should be a dedicated space for these works in the permanent collection galleries. Two works included in the new installation are George Segal’s The Legend of Lot and Nam June Paik’s Eagle Eye. Segal’s piece was shown in the Ackland’s 2008 exhibition Circa 1958, which celebrated the Ackland’s fiftieth anniversary. Featured in the Ackland’s 2015 exhibition Testing, Testing, Paik’s Eagle Eye was inspired by an eye chart in an antique store.








Focus Two – African Art

African art is becoming a major programmatic emphasis at the Museum. This is due in no small part to the strength of the Art History Department and the increasing number of graduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill in this field, as well as some special acquisition opportunities. The reinstallation will offer much more space and prominence to our African art collection.  It will also have a special wall for temporary installations with loans from private collections. The first special installation will display a group of Nigerian Ikenga figures from the distinguished collection of Rhonda Wilkerson, a former UNC professor.

Focus Three – Works on Paper

Of the Museum’s 18,000 works of art, the majority are works on paper. The reinstallation will offer a more flexible space for works on paper. Currently, the Museum features a rotating series of installations titled Focus on the Peck Collection, which highlights works from the 2017-Peck gift along with other works in the permanent collection.  The reinstallation will also allow the Museum to include rotating installations of prints, drawings, and photographs for European and American art from about 1900 to the present.  Not only is this an opportunity to display work of art that have not been on view frequently; it is also an opportunity to highlight our conservation efforts. An example of this can be seen in Charles-François Daubigny’s Pond at Corbigny (L’Etang de Corbigny). Look closely at the differences in the colors and richness of details in the below images.





Our hope in reinstalling the permanent collection galleries is that you will reexamine old gems in new contexts, reimagine our collection strengths, and discover new favorites that encourage you to look close and think far.

Image credits

Art after 1950
George Segal, American, 1924 – 2000: The Legend of Lot, 1958; plaster, wood, burlap, chicken wire and oil on canvas. Other (figure): (182.9 cm). Other (canvas): 182.9 x 243.8 cm, installation: 188 x 243.8 x 167.6 cm. The William A. Whitaker Foundation Art Fund and Gift of The George and Helen Segal Foundation, Inc. 2009.1
Nam June Paik, South Korean, active in the United States, 1932-20: Eagle Eye, 1996; antique slide projector, aluminum, computer keyboards, eye chart, neon, 9 five-inch televisions, 2 nine-inch televisions, dvd player, dvd, 169.4 x 219.4 x 62.2 cm. Ackland Fund, 99.8

African art
Unidentified artist, South Africa, Zulu culture: Purse, 19th century; beads and reeds. Ackland Fund and Gift of Norma Canelas Roth and William Roth, 2017.19.62017.19.14

Works on paper
Jean Restout, French, 1692-1768: Christ at the Pool of Bethesda, c. 1725; oil on canvas, 99.7 x 122.2 cm. Ackland Fund, 87.31.36
Charles-François Daubigny, French, 1817-1878: Pond at Corbigny (L’Etang de Corbigny), n.d.; Oil on canvas, Canvas: 31.1 X 74.6 cm, Frame: 47 x 90.2 cm. Bequest of Charles and Isabel Eaton, 2009.31.36

Reintroducing Ackland Upstairs

By Elizabeth Manekin, Head of University Programs & Academic Projects, Ackland Art Museum

Ackland Upstairs is a space where the University community and broader public can come together and ask questions about art. Formerly called the Study Gallery, Ackland Upstairs displays works of art that directly engage with learning objectives of courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Students and faculty from diverse disciplines investigate research questions using the works on view here, whether in class sessions held in the gallery or through individual study. In each of the gallery’s six sections, there is brief information about the course and its approach to the art on view. There is also a question posed for the students’—and your – consideration.

While the function of the space has not changed for the courses that shape its content, the change in title reflects a deeper shift in how we hope to engage the public. The questions that frame the University class visits are amplified on the walls of each installation for all to see. From “What is a line and what does it do?” to “In what ways can art be both modern and traditional?” these questions prompt us to consider what art is, what it does, and how it fits in to our experience and understanding of the world. Big questions.

I am particularly excited about this shift, and look forward to experimenting with different approaches in Ackland Upstairs. University museums are uniquely poised to have dynamic and interdisciplinary conversations about art. We do that in our teaching all the time and public programs, which are ephemeral; if you aren’t present for the discussion you miss it entirely. How do we engage members of the public in these discussions through our physical display?

Ackland Upstairs can be a laboratory to think through those ideas with students, faculty, and members of the community. Right now, that means there are questions on the walls. Next semester, it might mean something different. It rotates every eight weeks, so there is always something new to see and think about. The next round of installations goes on view October 17th. Come and see what’s Upstairs!

RedBall Chapel Hill

RedBall Project Chapel Hill

The RedBall Project is a traveling public art work by Asheville-based artist Kurt Perschke. Considered “the world’s longest-running street art work,” the piece features a 250-pound, 15-foot-diameter inflatable red ball that is installed in both unlikely and familiar sites within a city. A blend of architectural intervention and community engagement, the piece has been to over 25 cities around the world, including Abu Dhabi, Taipei, Perth, London, Barcelona, St. Louis, Portland, Sydney, Scottsdale, Chicago, and Toronto.

As its gift to town and campus in celebration of its sixtieth anniversary, the Ackland Art Museum is bringing this internationally renowned sculptural installation to Chapel Hill for a week-long performance beginning 20 September 2018. Over seven consecutive days, the giant ball will move through Chapel Hill, changing its location daily and playfully inviting all audiences to reconsider their everyday surroundings with a fresh perspective.


The RedBall will be on view each day from 11 am until 6 pm.

Thursday, 20 September: South Building, UNC Campus

Friday, 21 September: Robert B. House Undergraduate Library, UNC Campus

Saturday, 22 September: Hanes Arch next to Ackland Art Museum, UNC Campus and 101 South Columbia

Sunday, 23 September: Varsity Alley, alongside 121 East Franklin Street

Monday, 24 September: Koury Residence Hall, UNC Campus and 480 Ehringhaus Drive

Tuesday, 25 September: Chapel Hill Public Library, 100 Library Drive

Wednesday, 26 September: Forest Theatre, UNC Campus and 123 South Boundary Street

Share your adventures with us using #redballproject

Upcoming Programs:

RedBall Artist Talk
Tuesday, 25 September, 4 PM
Chapel Hill Public Library

The Ackland Art Museum’s presentation of RedBall Chapel Hill has been made possible by generous support from the Hyde Family Foundation and Arts Everywhere.

The Ackland Art Museum also thanks UNC-Chapel Hill’s Facilities Services, the Department of Housing & Residential Education, the R.B. House Undergraduate Library, the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s Forest Theatre, the Chapel Hill Public Library, and especially the Town of Chapel Hill and its partners for their enthusiastic support of RedBall Chapel Hill.

Media sponsorship courtesy of


Photo courtesy of Tom Martin.

5 Female Finalists from “The Outwin: American Portraiture Today”

By Audrey Shore

The Outwin: American Portraiture Today spans cultures, generations, and backgrounds. It is an incredible forum for artists to present their work, and an amazing opportunity for the public to experience the breadth of portraiture. The Outwin offers a unique glimpse into the minds of artists and provides a space for those artists to articulate their vision, perspective, and process.

I make a lot of changes. I don’t know where I’m going; I don’t have a final image in my head, but rather a broad idea, and a feeling I’m after, a kind of intensity.  I start a painting, waiting for it to look back at me. Then the painting tells me where to go. I usually get into trouble, take a wrong turn at some point and a lot happens, both bad and good, as I struggle out of the mess.

Anne Harris

The choice of camera has a large impact on both the process of making the photograph and on the final look of the image, which shapes the meaning of the work. The camera demands focused attention from both myself and from the sitter.

Claire Beckett

I use color and pattern in my paintings to evoke emotion, to tell stories of daily life, and to draw the viewer into an intimate world.

Lucy Fradkin

I am fascinated in how my young daughter is a blend of emerging maturity combined with lingering desire to still be a playful, child.

–  Thu Nguyen

These haints represent an underbelly of collective familial memory, what is lost, unspoken, and mythologized through hyperbolic tales often used to mask painful realities.  Each spirit struggles to find their way in the contemporary southern landscape, calibrating the desire to assimilate into a human form against a parallel continuum of past and future.  It is in this in-between space that fantasy and reality collapse, and it becomes increasingly unclear where the tangible begins and ends.

Allison Janae Hamilton

Anne Harris, 2013, Invisible (Yellow), oil on linen, Alexandre Gallery, New York City © Anne Harris
Claire Beckett, 2013, April and her daughter Sarah, inkjet print, collection of the artist, courtesy of Carroll and Sons Art Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts © Claire Beckett
Lucy Fradkin, 2014, Arthur Dreams of India, acrylic gouache, collage, pencil, and metallic thread on paper, collection of the artist © Lucy Fradkin
Thu Nguyen, 2014, The Valentine Dress, oil on panel, collection of the artist © Thu Nguyen
Allison Janae Hamilton, 2014, Haints at Swamp II, c-print, collection of the artist © Allison Janae Hamilton

Birthday Presents

The Ackland Art Museum turned 60 this September. Birthday Presents displays an extraordinary range of works of art given to the Ackland by generous donors explicitly in honor of the Museum’s 60th anniversary.

Featuring roughly sixty works of art from thirty different donors, including thirteen UNC-Chapel Hill alums, the exhibition is truly a celebration of the Ackland’s milestone anniversary. With selections of African and Asian art; European and American prints, drawings, and photographs; and modern and contemporary art, the exhibition is a microcosm of the Museum’s collection of over 18,000 works, both in its current form and in the Ackland’s aspirations for its collection’s future. These carefully solicited donations offer both depth to existing areas of the collection, like old master prints by Rembrandt, in addition to an increased breadth of collecting areas, like new media and vernacular art. Long after Birthday Presents closes, these new gifts will add exciting opportunities for teaching and display within the permanent collection.

A key focus of the exhibition is European and American Art since 1950, including a group of American prints from the 1960s by Jasper Johns, Sam Francis, Adolf Gottlieb, Lee Krasner, and Corita Kent, as well as major paintings and sculpture by Howard Hodgkin, Willem de Kooning, Friedel Dzubas, Alex Katz, and Manuel Neri. Also included is new media art by Paul Pfeiffer, Leo Villareal, and former UNC-Chapel Hill faculty Jeff Whetstone. Works by UNC-Chapel Hill alum Frank Faulkner and Durham-born Beverly McIver are also on view. In addition to contemporary works, the exhibition features nineteenth- and twentieth-century European and American art by artists not yet represented in the collection.

Birthday Presents also prominently features pieces that complement the Museum’s prestigious collection of African and Asian Art. From West African masks and South African beadwork, to Cambodian and Chinese sculpture, Chinese ceramics, and Himalayan costume, Birthday Presents is a celebration of human creativity across time and space.

Image credit:

Jeff Whetstone, American, born 1968: The Batture Ritual (still), 2017; video (25 minutes, 16 seconds) with sound. Ackland Art Museum, Gift of Kate Nevin and the Caldwell Family Fund in honor of the Museum’s 60th Anniversary, 2018.37. Image by courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery. © Jeff Whetstone

Painting with Dust

By: Franny Brock, Ackland Graduate Intern 2017-18, Ackland Art Museum

Léon-Pascal de Glain, French, 1715-1775, Young Woman in a Blue Dress with Muff, 1745

As a specialist of eighteenth-century French art, my job has been particularly exciting and rewarding this semester because of the Ackland’s new exhibition, Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from the Horvitz Collection. This installation epitomizes so many of my research interests, including the work of women artists, collectors and collecting, drawing techniques, amateurism, and display of works on paper. Some of my favorite pieces in the exhibition—the ones that I keep returning to over and over again—are the pastel portraits. The velvety texture and rich colors of these works drew me in immediately, but their contradictory classification and contested status in the eighteenth century keeps me coming back for more.

From a curatorial perspective, chalk pastel is fascinating because it occupies a place somewhere between painting and drawing. In the eighteenth century, pastels were considered a form of painting, comparable to oil. In 1701, Joseph Vivien (1657–1734) was the first artist accepted to the French Académie as a “painter in pastel.” The vibrant colors, high degree of finish, and size of pastels make them similar to paintings. However, works in pastel are done on paper and are extremely fragile. Like drawings, pastels are light sensitive and need to be stored in the dark most of the time (which makes it even more thrilling that we have eight on view at the Ackland right now). Anyone who has worked with chalk pastels knows that keeping the medium adhered to the paper is also a problem. Pastel is crumbly and dusty; it wants to lift off its support, especially when moved or jostled. Many strategies for fixing pastel to paper were invented in the eighteenth century.

Chalk pastel is made of powdered pigment and a binder, such as gum arabic, then formed into sticks. These pastel sticks can be applied directly to paper as a dry medium or mixed with water and applied with a brush. Pastel became popular in eighteenth-century France, especially for portraiture, because of its ability to mimic the tones and texture of skin, hair, and clothing. Gault de Saint-Germain’s Portrait of a Boy demonstrates how different colors of pastel were blended or “stumped” (sometimes also called “sweetened”) to create the luminous skin of the young man’s face. The powdery surface of this work reflects diffuse light off the facets of tiny particles of pigment, creating a sense of white light and a velvety texture.

Anna Gault De Saint-Germain, Polish, c. 1760-1832, Portrait of a Boy, 1788

Although both men and women artists used pastel, the medium came to be considered “feminine” because it relied on surface attributes such as color and shading, rather than the more masculine-associated line and structure, to define subject matter. Social critics also linked pastel to women’s cosmetics because of its physical similarity to powered rouge. While there was wide popular appeal for pastels in eighteenth-century France, this comparison emphasized the perceived artificiality and delicacy of the medium in the minds of its critics.

The pastel works in Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment show a range of techniques, including blending and the use of mixed media, and because they were never varnished, these pieces have retained their original brilliance. I encourage you to take the opportunity to view these pastels before they return to the dark to rest.


Versus: Selected Works by the MFA Class of 2018

Responding to the prompt of “versus,” graduating Masters of Fine Arts students at UNC-Chapel Hill provide works that explore combative tensions.

Some employ content to examine ideological struggles, such as the battles of nostalgia against the actualities of the past, or of idealistic hopes against the stark truths of reality. For others, tensions lie in their very processes, such as investigating the effects of combining varied approaches to mark-making or of contrasting discordant materials.

Artists included in Versus are Britta Anderson, Allison Coleman, Kimberly English, Sara Farrington, Joel Hopler, Lindsay Metivier, Jeanine Tatlock, and Carley Zarzeka.

Versus is curated by Lauren Turner, Assistant Curator for the Collection, Ackland Art Museum.

This exhibition of work by the 2018 Master of Fine Arts candidates at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is made possible by the ongoing dedication and support of the Ackland Art Museum’s members and annual fund donors.

Versus Opening Celebration: Thursday, 19 April, 5-8 PM. Join us!

Learn about our exciting Versus events and programs!

Allison Coleman, American, born 1977: Pine-Sol, 2017, oil on panel, 24 x 48 inches. Collection of the artist.