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!

Two Louise Bourgeois Sculptures Welcomed To Campus On Loan

By: Barbara Wiedemann

On August 7, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill received two works by groundbreaking French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010) two weeks before just over 5,000 first-year and transfer students were welcomed to campus to begin class.

Crouching Spider (2003) is on loan from the collection of The Easton Foundation, a nonprofit organization which Bourgeois established long before she died in New York City, her home for over 70 years. The artist’s looming yet delicate spider — made with over 4,000 pounds of bronze and stainless steel — is a powerful presence amongst the trees in front of New West building, its eight legs stretching delicately across 30′ of grassy space. Last seen in Copenhagen and Shanghai, the sculpture is well-positioned to greet anyone walking or driving by on Cameron Avenue.

“It’s weird. It’s fantastic. It’s wonderful and disconcerting at the same time,” Cary Levine, an associate professor of contemporary art, told the Daily Tar Heel. His hope is that encountering art up-close and in such an accessible space will provoke inquiry and exploration.

Those digging deeper may learn that Bourgeois’ work was often highly autobiographical. She sometimes spoke of her spider sculptures as maternal and protective forces, the spinning spider an ode to her mother, a weaver who repaired tapestries during the artist’s childhood in France. Through art, Bourgeois wrestled with her own emotions, memories and unconscious in a way that can call out a visceral response in the viewer.

Eye Benches I (1996–97), a pair of black granite sculptures smooth and inviting to the touch, have eye-shaped forms that also function as benches. In front of Phillips Hall within shouting distance of Crouching Spider, the pair is on loan from the Louise Bourgeois Trust. The surreal eyes look back at passers-by on Cameron Avenue.

Bourgeois said of the benches: “There is a pleasure in sitting outside and watching people walk by. You look at them, and sometimes they look back at you. These encounters and perceptions interest me. In this sense, the Eye Benches relate to the story of the voyeur.”

While Crouching Spider is off limits to the touch, passers-by are encouraged to sit on the Eye Benches I and spend time contemplating the intentions of an influential artist whose vulnerability and ability to plumb psychological depths, it could be argued, was her strength.

Visiting the benches on campus, the Ackland Art Museum’s Peter Nisbet, deputy director for curatorial affairs, observed “Like scattered, massively heavy fragments of some sleek modern Sphinx, these eyes rise from the earth, fixing the world with a disconcerting stare. You — soft, fragile and finite — can sit on the bench and look in one direction, while the hard, eternal eyes gaze implacably elsewhere. Comfort and discomfort, simultaneously.”

The  Bourgeois loans came to Carolina in part due to the generous support and leadership of alumnus James Keith (JK) Brown, current chair of the Carolina Arts Leadership Council and former chair of the Ackland Art Museum national Advisory Board.

TBT – A decade of exhibitions

The Ackland will celebrate its 60th anniversary this fall and though we’ve been thinking (extensively!) about the future, we couldn’t help but take a quick look back at where we’ve been; we’ve had no shortage of stunning exhibitions throughout our history and we couldn’t be prouder!

Testing Testing: Painting and Sculpture since 1960 from the Permanent Collection
17 July 2015  3 January 2016

Testing Testing showed how art made since 1960 tested possibilities both within and beyond conventional boundaries of art making. Artists used experimentation, innovation, and skill to assess new materials in different combinations while also pushing the envelope of traditional modes, such as figuration and abstraction.

This exhibition presented the Ackland’s largest (and relatively unknown) collection of modern painting and sculpture to date, featuring works by approximately 50 artists such as José Bedia, Sanford Biggers, Anthony Caro, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Thornton Dial, Barkley Hendricks, Rachel Howard, Annette Lemieux, Al Held, Hung Liu (below), Takashi Murakami, Kenneth Noland, Richard Nonas, Jules Olitski, Tony Oursler, Nam June Paik, Philip Pearlstein, Ken Price, Sean Scully, George Segal, Yinka Shonibare, Lorna Simpson, Do-Ho Suh, Stella Waitzkin, John Wesley, and H.C. Westermann.

Genius and Grace: François Boucher and the Generation of 1700
23 January 2015 5 April 2015

Genius and Grace presented exemplary drawings by 27 accomplished artists who influenced the practices of art and draftsmanship for much of the eighteenth century. Their vision, combined with their enormous technical skill, ensured the full realization of the rococo — the bold, graceful, and fluid manner so characteristic of French art of the first half of the eighteenth century. The brilliant career of François Boucher, the best-known artist of his generation, was represented in the show by 19 drawings. Other artists featured in the exhibition included Jean-Antoine Watteau, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Charles-Joseph Natoire, Charles-Antoine Coypel, and Carle Vanloo.

 

In Pursuit of Strangeness: Wyeth and Westermann in Dialogue
14 June 2013  25 August 2013

Through works by Andrew Wyeth and H.C. Westermann, In Pursuit of Strangeness explored diverse responses in American art to the uncanny home, as well as domestic architecture’s role in defining the boundaries between ourselves and the outside world.

Dating from the early twentieth century to the present, the works exemplified the complexities of our relationship to home and place through unsettling perspectives and unusual materials, subverting the understanding of home as familiar (heimlich) and transforming it into something foreign (unheimlich). The exhibition also investigated the difference between a house and a home, as well as how homes become extensions of their inhabitants. In addition to Wyeth and Westermann, other artists in the show included Ralph Gibson, Marilyn Anne Levine, Bruce Nauman, Aaron Siskind, and Minor White, among others.

Catch and Release: Seafood Imagery from the Ackland Art Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Art
26 September 2012  4 November 2012

Catch and Release considered how various cultures throughout history have used and understood seafood. It was the culmination of the new Joan and Robert Huntley Art History Scholarship for graduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill, which supported collaboration between the Ackland and the North Carolina Museum of Art. In keeping with the goals of the Scholarship, this exhibition aimed to unite objects from both collections in a way that was unique to the two museums.

 

Big Shots: Andy Warhol Polaroids
2 October 2010  2 January 2011

Best known as a painter and filmmaker, Andy Warhol was also a prolific photographer. Bringing together moments of his art, work, and life, and considering them as the intertwined parts of an artistic whole, Big Shots included approximately 250 Polaroids and 70 gelatin silver black-and-white prints taken by Warhol between 1970 and 1987. The exhibition presented a multitude of images Warhol accumulated as part of his creative process against black-and-white snapshots captured during leisure time. Seen together, this critical mass of photos allowed for exceptional glimpses into Warhol’s working methods, as well as his personal perspective on the New York “scene” of the ’70s and ’80s.

Circa 1958: Breaking Ground in American Art
21 September 2008  4 January 2009

1958 was a remarkable year: it was a time of transition and experimentation in American art and culture, and for the United States, a time of unbridled optimism yet one of uncertainty. The country was experiencing an unprecedented rate of economic growth, prosperity, and international leadership following World War II but at the same time, world events offered sobering reminders of the fragility of peace and the prevalence of the Cold War. It was during this time that Khrushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union and President Eisenhower established NASA thus launching the space race. Worldwide concern for the possibility of nuclear annihilation resulted in the establishment of the international peace movement. Across the country, a growing awareness of discrimination and social unrest would bring about the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Circa 1958 explored two vastly different trends that emerged in and around 1958, post-painterly abstraction and assemblage. In each case, the artists presented very new and entirely different approaches to art making. Together, these two trends laid the groundwork for much of the American art that came to define the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Hung Liu, American, born in China, born 1948: Peaches, 2002; oil on canvas. Ackland Fund, 2002.7. © 2002 Hung Liu.
François Boucher, Recumbent Female Nude (detail), circa 1742-43; red, white, and black chalk on cream antique laid paper, 26 x 35.2 cm. The Horvitz Collection, Boston.
Andrew Wyeth, American, 1917-2009: Weatherside, 1965; tempera. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Promised Gift of Ann and Jim Goodnight, © Andrew Wyeth.
Andy Warhol, American, 1928-1987; Bianca Jagger, 1979; Polacolor Type 108, 4 1/4 x 3 3/8 in. (10.8 x 8.57 cm); Gift of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, 2008.24.13
Kenneth Noland, American, 1924-2010; That, 1958-59; oil on canvas, 83 x 83 x 1 3/4 in. (210.82 x 210.82 x 4.45 cm); Collection of David Mirvish, Toronto, L2008.53. Art © Kenneth Noland/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

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.