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!

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

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.

 

The Study Gallery

By: Elizabeth Manekin

As is true in lots of encyclopedic collections, much of the artwork in the Ackland was never intended to be in a museum. Made for religious rituals, mass markets, burial sites, and banquet tables, it lives in harmony alongside works that were intended for gallery walls. We collect and combine the gamut as “Art.”

Sammy Baloji Culture Congolese, African, “Kalamata, chief of the Luba against watercolor by Dardenne” 2011:
medium archival digital photograph on Hahnemuhle Paper. 2016.6.

Perhaps my favorite part of my job is teaching and learning about these diverse objects from multiple perspectives. Teaching in the galleries, I regularly engage in lively discussion with students and faculty; in the Study Gallery, I get to put some of those conversations on the wall.

The artwork in the Study Gallery aligns with course objectives from all corners of the University, and its organization often eschews the traditional display categories of country or chronology. I work closely with faculty to determine which works of art will enhance their course and its learning goals. The art might illuminate a cultural context, or push students to consider a familiar concept from a new perspective. Works of art may develop new competencies, of empathy or visual literacy for example, or might be a platform for further research, reflection, and creative response. With two eight-week installations per semester, there’s always something new to see and consider on view.

This semester is no exception. In our first rotation, for example, graduate students in the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program visited the Ackland’s Study Gallery on multiple occasions as they investigated experiential learning. Students examined the different experiences depicted in the artwork and reflected upon their own experiences of looking at and talking about art. As students looked repeatedly, they evaluate the concepts that define experiential learning and how they relate to their work in the classroom.

Also on view were works for the Art History courses “Introduction to Architecture” and “Art and Sports,” which presented multiple representations of building and athletes, respectively. Students in a Renaissance history course used works of art on view in the Study Gallery to learn to read visual and material primary sources. A Women’s and Gender Studies class analyzed photography and thought

about issues of identity. Graduate students in musicology explored the influence of Russian refugees on global artistic production in the wake of the Revolution in 1917. This last course coincided with a graduate-organized conference, and their scholarship was accessible in the gallery.

Egon Schiele, Austrian, “Church and Houses at Modling, near Vienna,” 1918: black chalk and gouache. 58.1.238

Anyone of these Study Gallery installations is engaging on its own, but I also love the challenge of figuring out the ways in which these separate courses are in dialogue with one another. This semester, the theme of how we form identities, as individuals and as nations, is an undercurrent. In what ways do both the buildings around us and the sports teams we root for shape our sense of self in relation to the world outside? How do we draw the boundaries of “otherness”? What are the roots of our faith in reason and logic? What role do we play in shaping our own identities? These are big, difficult questions, helped along by the experience of looking closely at what is sometimes a small and specific thing. For all visitors, the Study Gallery is a window into the classrooms at Carolina and an invitation to ask these questions on your own.

I invite you to come to the Ackland’s second-floor Study Gallery. Look closely and think big. Pick up a syllabus. Discuss issues with a friend. The Study Gallery is for everyone!

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.

Collection Connection: Fever Within and the Distant Landscape

Ronald Lockett, Traps, 1995.

“Collection Connection” blog essays suggest a motif, style, material, or other element that links works of art on view at the Ackland Art Museum. What connections can you find on your next visit?

*Click images to enlarge*

Currently on view in the exhibition Fever Within, Ronald Lockett’s Traps (right) includes a circular hole in the weathered metal of the upper right corner that reveals a distant landscape scene. Framed by rusted tin, a mountain range and water suggest a setting for the deer seen in the foreground. As the landscape isn’t fully integrated with the rest of the imagery, it also seems like an ornament, an embellishment of sorts, in contrast with the trapped deer.

The Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist

Battista Dossi, The Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist, c. 1530.

Many Renaissance artists treated distant landscapes in a similar way. In Battista Dossi’s Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist (left), for example, the verdant hillside with Renaissance buildings could be understood as part of the setting – the place Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and John are traveling to or from. The boundary between the foreground and background is not as pronounced as the one we see in Traps, but Dossi’s landscape also functions as a kind of ornament – not essential to a picture of the Holy Family, but a beautiful addition to it that reinforces the notion of a journey.

In Lockett’s A Place in Time (below) the same motif appears, here enclosed in a three-dimensional frame and echoing a second nearby circle in which a skeletal animal appears.

Landscapes painted in a circular format appear in European and American art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Jasper Cropsey’s Landscape with Mountains at Sunset (below) is one such example. Both artists and art lovers experimented with a device called a Claude glass – a round mirror that reflected the scene behind the viewer’s back. The idea was that the reflection improved the scene by making it more picturesque than what one could see by looking directly at it.

# # #

9-A Place In Time_cropped

Ronald Lockett, A Place In Time, 1989.

Cropsey_Landscape

Jasper Francis Cropsey, Landscape with Mountains at Sunset, c. 1850.

CAROLYN ALLMENDINGER is the Ackland’s Director of Academic Programs.

IMAGES: Ronald Lockett, American, 1965-1998: Traps, 1995; found tin, colored pencil, and nails on wood. William S. Arnett Collection of Souls Grown Deep Foundation, L2015.2.1.

Battista Dossi, Italian, c. 1490-1548: The Holy Family with the Infant St. John the Baptist, c. 1530; oil on wood panel. Ackland Fund, 85.22.1. On view in Gallery 13.

Ronald Lockett, American, 1965-1998: A Place In Time, 1989; wood, cloth, net, tin, industrial sealing compound, oil, and enamel on wood. William S. Arnett Collection of Souls Grown Deep Foundation, L2015.2.10.

Jasper Francis Cropsey, American, 1823-1900, Landscape with Mountains at Sunset, c. 1850; oil on paper. Ackland Fund, 85.19.1. On view in Gallery 16.

 

Uzzle Buzz: Just Down the Road

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Molly Irwin is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, double-majoring in Biology and Studio Art. She is the Photography and Design Intern for the Carolina Asia Center. 

Anyone who has ever been on a road trip knows those long stretches where there is seemingly nothing to see. Endless trees line the sides of the road and a great expanse of highway lies ahead. Making good time guarantees seeing this same view for 200 miles. However, sometimes the desire to have a little adventure can change this road trip into a journey through American history.

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Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Star Warehouse, South Carolina, 1997,1997; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.51.

Burk Uzzle’s more recent photography grants a glimpse into the life of a person who chooses to take the roads less traveled. Uzzle’s mission to find and document the everyday sites around the nation has allowed him to come across treasures that are rich in history, such as the scene of Star Warehouse, South Carolina, 1997.

This photograph evokes the memories of a once bustling town that was bypassed as time and progress marched ever onward. This little town is no longer one that is consistently driven through on road trips, but one that must be found by deviating from the interstate. The lack of cars and people along with the lonely Star Warehouse, water tower, and buildings create a sense of passing. Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Mustang Girl

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Marie Li is a student at Columbia University majoring in Art History and Business Management. During the summer of 2016, she was communications intern at the Ackland Art Museum.

Every year, as the sweet summer air creeps up on North Carolina with dragging feet, I am galvanized. Not by the thought of long days, crisp evenings, and cool drinks, but by the tantalizing promise of possibility. Like many other Americans, I commit myself anew to eating healthier, venturing outdoors, and exercising more often. And like it or not, this regiment centers on running outside (as opposed to on a treadmill, within an air-conditioned gym), and forcing my lungs to muddle and struggle through the dense, unforgiving humidity.

I discovered on a personal tour of his collection that, like me, Burk Uzzle also partakes in the occasional morning run. Unlike me, however, he brings his camera. And it was on one of these runs that Uzzle captured the “Mustang Girl,” in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Mustang Girl, St. Petersburg, FL, 2001, 2001; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.52.

Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Uncertainty and Risk

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Nic Brown is an assistant professor of English at Clemson University. He is the author of the novels In Every Way, Doubles, and Floodmarkers, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Garden & Gun, and the Harvard Review, among many other publications.

I interviewed Burk Uzzle a few months back for a profile in Garden & Gun. I had quite a bit left over from that interview that I couldn’t use because of space and editorial needs. Much of it stayed with me. In fact, some of it concerns Uzzle’s belief in art flourishing outside of editorial guidelines. In that spirit, I’m happy to now have the space here with the Ackland to continue writing and thinking about him. –NB

When Burk Uzzle was twenty-one, he was married, had two sons, and was living in Atlanta with his family trying to make ends meet by taking photographs. The family was so poor that in place of a dining table they ate off a board that they had closed in a window, making it stick out straight.

A year later Life hired him as a staff photographer and had him move to Chicago. Uzzle was so accustomed to poverty that he directly checked into the Chicago YMCA. When his editor heard, he immediately moved Uzzle into a hotel with an expense account. One of Uzzle’s first assignments was to fly to South Dakota to shoot a blizzard, but he didn’t own a warm enough jacket, so upon arrival he bought a huge shearling one, only to then have to fly to some tropical locale for his next assignment, still wearing his shearling jacket.

After only a few years with Life, Uzzle quit to hitchhike across the country in hopes of taking photos that captured the experience. Life hired him again when he returned, on the strength of his work. Soon he quit again.

“I never really liked taking orders from editors,” he says. “I would decline assignments so I could do what I thought I should do.”

At Woodstock, which Uzzle initially visited out of curiously but ended up getting stuck at because of the New York State Thruway getting closed, he found many of his photographer friends in the press pit in front of the stage. “You’re wasting your time down here,” Uzzle told them. He had quickly come to realize that the real pictures of interest weren’t of Joan Baez or Canned Heat on stage, but of the skinny-dippers in the ponds, of the young people trying to stay warm in the fields. While his friends followed the orders of their editors and stayed put in the press pit, Uzzle borrowed film from them, walked up the hill, and captured on it images that have become so iconic that when we now think about this turning point in the country’s history, we see in our mind a Burk Uzzle photo.

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Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Wheels With Legs, 1983; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.6

The point is, Uzzle has lived his life with an almost daredevil belief in art, eschewing financial stability and comfort for a single-minded trust in the work itself. “I’ve always lived for the picture,” he says. It seems terrifying.

And yet he’s still doing it.

Not long ago, Uzzle spent a year shooting 8×10 film while putting 350,000 miles on his old Chevy van, driving around, just looking for the picture. “I zig-zagged across the country, developing film in Motel 6 bathrooms,” he says. He was doing this not on payroll, not on assignment, but just looking for pictures. This from a guy who used to be president of Magnum Photos, who has lived long enough and richly enough that he can recall personal lessons received from his friend Henri Cartier-Bresson. I don’t know about you, but seems to me most people in Uzzle’s position would probably be sitting in an endowed chair at some university somewhere taking pictures of the view out their window. As Uzzle puts it, though, “most of my life has been spent driving around the country in a van.”

Artwork hung in a museum is, in a way, like reading the history of war. We see the outcome as inevitable. Here is the art hanging right here, it was meant to be here; here is the winner of this war, they were always going to win. But of course, as people will tell you who lived through wars, the outcome is never foretold. So it is with art. In Uzzle’s life, as he was shooting many of the photos in this exhibition, what he probably saw in his future was less a vision of his name on a museum wall, and more a vision of his dinner resting atop a board closed into a window.

What I’m getting at is something we hear about often – the struggle of the artist. Uncertainty and risk. Burk Uzzle has spent a life taking the biggest risks, putting all of his chips on the table. So take a look. He’s spent years now cashing them in. The payoff has been developed, matted, and framed. It’s like we all know the best poker player in town, and not only is he still playing, he always shares his winnings.

–Nic Brown, August 10, 2016

Uzzle Buzz: “American Culture Studies at its Best”

“Uzzle Buzz” is a series of blog posts, written by various authors, that respond to or comment on some aspect of our exhibition All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle.

Townsend Ludington is Boshamer Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, of American Studies and English at UNC-Chapel Hill.

All About America: Photographs by Burk Uzzle, which opened at the Ackland Art Museum on June 24th, is one of the most provocative exhibitions the Museum has offered during the many years I have had the pleasure to live in Chapel Hill and teach at the university. “Provocative” in no way meaning salacious, but because—along with the fine catalogue of Uzzle’s photographs and an insightful essay by Professor Patricia Leighton—we learn so much about the art of photography.

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Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Family and Friends, Daytona Beach, FL, 1997, 1997. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.48. © Burk Uzzle.

Uzzle rightly considers himself both artist and photographer; no one would challenge him. All 42 of the works on view display the visual acuity of a greatly talented professional; each has a narrative about some aspect of American life during the turbulent years 1968-2014. Ordered chronologically, the first photographs take us back into such monumental moments as the death of Martin Luther King and its aftermath; Woodstock; the Peace movement, and then—like Uzzle himself, it would seem—into a more elegiac mood in the last photographs.

But always there are counterpoints: that of young friends and raw sexuality in Family and Friends, Daytona Beach, FL, 1997 immediately preceding the pastoral, Huck Finn qualities of River Bank Dive, Georgia, 2001. Continue reading