NEW! Sneak Peek: Glimpses into the Ackland’s Collections

Those of us working on digitally archiving the Ackland’s collections have wanted to share our progress for some time. We are in our last phases of production, and we have now:

• Produced over 12,000 master image files of artworks
• Joined those images with descriptive and technical information
• Loaded all completed records (approximately 6,000!) onto the Ackland’s website, for free and easy use by individuals worldwide!

Imagine looking through box after box and folder after folder of artwork every day for eight hours a day. It is both dazzling and tedious. You can’t perform these duties without having some images stick in your brain, so we will be contributing to the Ackland Art Museum blog on a regular basis to give you an idea of what’s going on behind the scenes.

DigiTeam_clrThere are three of us currently working under a grant contract to accomplish this project: Diane, a photographer who has been digitizing since Fall 2010, and Dana and Abby, two digital image technicians who joined the project in Fall 2013.

And we want to be clear: not one of us has ever had a formal Art History class. We are all simply art appreciators who will be sharing our favorites with you—and we definitely have some favorites! Each of us will be digging into our files to bring you glimpses of what we have the privilege of seeing every day.

“America Seen”: Sneak Preview (the intern’s favorite)

This semester at the Ackland, I’ve been conducting research and writing interpretative text for the exhibition America Seen: The Hunter and Cathy Allen of Social Realist PrintsThrough this process I’ve become very familiar with the prints in the show and wanted to share one as a first impression and in advance of the opening reception this evening.

Subway

Fritz Eichenberg, American, born in Germany, 1901–1990: Subway (Sleep), 1935; wood engraving. Ackland Art Museum, The Hunter and Cathy Allen Collection, 2013.21.13.

America Seen features 38 prints from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s by American artists. The majority of the artists represented in the exhibition lived and worked in New York City. They were inspired by the scenes of everyday urban life they witnessed around them and the subway was a popular theme. One of my favorites prints, Subway (Sleep), falls into this category. Although the print depicts a rather unremarkable moment in the daily life of any New York City subway rider, I’m drawn into the composition through Eichenberg’s use of strong contrasts between light and dark, as well as his careful attention to realistic details inside the subway car, such as the straps, signage, and advertisements.

I can empathize with the occupants of this train car, from the weary, young couple at the far end to the child sleeping in her mother’s lap. I have also been on the subway, tired after a long day, and eager to get home. But where are these people going? What were they doing before? Perhaps the proud and poised woman in a stylish hat is headed to a party or to church. Is the man to her left her companion or a stranger? With a souvenir balloon as a clue, I suspect the collapsed child is returning home from a fun day at the park. While it is impossible to know for sure, the artist, Fritz Eichenberg, invites us to look and speculate about the lives of those pictured. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? (and What on Earth is “Varech”?)

Look at the label next to any painting in the Ackland Art Museum, and the third or fourth line down will give you the title—the name of the painting. Once in a while, with a painting made after 1940, the label will say “Untitled,” a sort of warning that the label will give you no help in figuring out what this painting shows (“Just look hard at it and figure it out for yourself.”). 

The strange thing about this is that most paintings made before about 1700 really were untitled. If we see a 17th-century painting labeled Saint Jerome in Penitence, that is not really a title: it’s a description of what the painting shows you (if you know something about Saint Jerome). The first owner of the painting didn’t need to give it a title because he already knew what the subject was; just as you don’t need to write your mother’s name on the back of a photo of her in her wedding dress (although your great-grandchildren may wish you had when they are looking through a stack of old family photos).

Between 1700 and 1900, the way that art was presented to potential owners changed, and publicity became a more important part of art commerce. An artist who submitted a painting to an exhibition—and who hoped that some journalist would mention it in a newspaper—might want to distinguish it from similar paintings by other artists. A distinctive title, like September Morn for a nude bather in a lake, could help. It could also call special attention to one particular aspect of the painting: if you see a landscape titled The Sentry, your thoughts turn to war, and you search for what may be a tiny figure in a broad panorama.

Bernard_Wave_ARS

Émile Bernard, French, 1868-1941: “The Wave,” 1892; oil on pulpwood board, mounted on canvas. 22 3/4 x 33 9/16 in. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ackland Fund. 71.29.1. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

In April 2013, Neil McWilliam, a scholar who specializes in paintings by Émile Bernard, called our attention to an inventory that the painter himself had made in 1901. One entry reads:

La vague – Raguenez – la mer, un tas de varechs, des chênes, une tête de paysanne à l’avant plan

(The Wave – Raguenez – The sea, a mass of “varechs,” oak trees, head of a peasant woman in the foreground)

Continue reading

Get Your Eyes Checked: Reflecting on Nam Jun Paik’s “Eagle Eye”

In early September 1964, my parents took me to the eye doctor for the first time. Only a few days before this appointment, I had come home from school completely baffled. With rows of desks and alphabetical seating, the teacher called our names and we took our places. My desk was in the far right back of the room. To begin, we were told to work on the assignment written on the chalkboard. All around me, the other children in the class were pulling paper from their desk, asking if they might sharpen their pencils, and getting down to work. I could not imagine why. There was nothing written on the board. How did they know what to do? I could not see the soft white letters. For me, they did not exist. Continue reading

Felt Time: Gonzalez-Torres and Degas

In a small passageway between galleries in the middle of the Ackland Art Museum, two identical clocks by artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres—placed side by side and touching—hang on the wall just to the left and above the Ackland’s sculpture Spanish Dance by Degas. It is a quiet presentation, but clearly part of the exhibition More Love: Art, Politics, and Sharing since the 1990s. I suspect that many visitors do not see it, favoring the larger and more actively engaging installations and art works in the exhibition’s main galleries. Nevertheless, when More Love closes on March 31st, I will miss this installation most of all.

Continue reading