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

Teaching with Birthday Presents

By Jenny Marvel, Head of K12 and Community Programs, Ackland Art Museum

Genius is looking at things in an unhabitual way.
Work in areas where you are unsure, in places you’ve not been before.
Corita Kent[1]

I love the work that I do in the Ackland’s education department, especially learning about specific works of art, artists, and art-making techniques and then finding ways to share this information with others—whether with our volunteer docents, K12 students and teachers, or community groups visiting the Museum. Often, I find inspiration from one or two pieces within an exhibition, and our current show, Birthday Presents, is no exception! This exhibition showcases major works of art that have been donated or promised by generous friends and supporters, specifically honoring the Museum’s sixtieth anniversary.

Over the past month, I’ve been reading about an artist that I did not know much about, Sister Corita Kent (American, 1918 – 1986). Corita was an artist, educator, and advocate for social justice. At eighteen, she entered the Immaculate Heart of Mary religious order, eventually teaching in the art department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles for twenty-seven years (1941 – 1968). Often including advertising images, song lyrics, and literature, her prints of the 1960s reflect the Pop Art style.

Although I enjoy her art, I am most inspired by Corita’s teaching philosophy on how to see and experience the world. After reading Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit, which details the teaching methods developed by Corita Kent and her mentor, Sister Magdalen Mary at Immaculate Heart College in the 1950s and 60s, I found many similarities to my own personal life/work philosophy. I was also pleasantly surprised that many of her close looking and creative thinking “assignments” for her students echo gallery experiences that we currently use in the Museum!

She encouraged students to slow down, make close and careful observations of the world around them, and draw. She had them use a viewfinder, a small handheld tool with a square cut out, to see their environment through a new perspective—for she wanted the students to develop what she termed their “seeing muscles.”  According to Corita, using a viewfinder “helps us take things out of context, allows us to see for the sake of seeing, and enhances our quick-looking and decision-making skills…You can then view life without being distracted by content. You can make visual decisions—in fact, they are made for you.”[2]

Now it’s time to put your “seeing muscles” to work! Try making your own viewfinder by cutting a rectangular hole out of a heavy piece of paper or cardboard. Hold the viewfinder in one hand and look closely at the details of an object (a shoe, a tree, a car, etc.). What details become more noticeable with your viewfinder? This tool, like a magnifying glass, can be used to see individual parts of a whole object. Go and explore the natural world or use inside at home or at the Ackland Art Museum!

As I wrap up this post, I wanted to leave you with another looking assignment found in Learning by Heart. This one encourages the viewer to spend time looking closely and making detailed observation notes. Good luck and enjoy!

Looking Assignment: Nothing is the Same

When we give names to things, we often assume that everything that goes by that name is alike.

Take something in nature—two dandelions—and look at them for five minutes. List how they are different from each other. Take two leaves from the same tree and do the same thing. Take two peas from the same pod and do the same thing. Nothing is the same. No thing is the same. Everything is itself and one of a kind.

After doing this for a week, look back at these pairs of things again and make a new list. You will find more differences because you have been exercising your powers of observation.

Jenny Marvel, the Head of School and Community Programs at the Ackland Art Museum, UNC-Chapel Hill, earned a BA in Art History at the University of North Texas (1998) and an MA in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University in 2001. Previous to her employment at the Ackland Art Museum, Jenny worked in a variety of education departments including The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, The Museum of Flight (Seattle, WA), and the Dallas Museum of Art. Jenny’s experience includes developing, implementing, and assessing school and community tours, online resource materials for students and teachers, and cross-cultural and interdisciplinary teacher workshops.

[1] Kent, Corita and Jan Steward. Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit. (New York: Allworth Press, 2008), 21.
[2] Ibid, 26.
Corita Kent (American, 1918 – 1986); Made for Each Other, 1969; offset lithograph reproduction of a 1967 screenprint; Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gift of William A. Koehnline in honor of the Museum’s 60th Anniversary, 2018.27

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.

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.

 

Drawing at the Ackland

By: Kelly Chandrapal, Learning Resources Coordinator, Ackland Art Museum

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732-1806: “Standing Young Woman Seen from Behind.” Black chalk on off-white antique laid paper. 380 x 258 mm. The Horvitz Collection.

One of my favorite things about working at the Ackland Art Museum is helping UNC students and faculty look at drawings from our collection. Works on paper are highly sensitive to light and cannot be on view as often as paintings or sculpture. When classes or individuals want to use works on paper to further their research or studies, we can take drawings and prints out from storage and put them on display in our Print Study room for the duration of the class period. It’s pretty remarkable to view works up close, unobstructed by glass. The students are captivated, observing the variations in mark-making and the distinct characteristics of each artist’s hand. After seeing drawings from the Ackland’s collection, I am inspired to make a resolution to “draw more” this year.

Drawing is a way of seeing and thinking. It’s using your body and mind together to understand the world around you and visually articulate what you see. While we are often eager to take a photograph to capture our experiences, a camera comes between you and what you are looking at, distancing you from the art itself. Drawing requires you to slow down, look carefully, and connect with the work of art.

Here are some tips I recommend for drawing at the Ackland:

Get your materials ready. Bring your own sketchbook or borrow supplies from our front desk. To protect the works of art on display, pencils (regular or colored) and paper are the only art materials allowed in the galleries.

Select a work of art that interests you. What do you find interesting about it? Maybe it’s the texture of a carved sculpture, the movement expressed through a figure’s body, or an intricate pattern. Draw the part of the work excites you most.

Get comfortable. Grab a gallery stool from our coat room, find a bench or sit on the floor. Find a spot away from foot traffic, where you can focus.

Look closely at the work of art. Drawing from observation is more about looking than drawing. The lines you draw should be more about what your eyes are telling you, rather than how you think the drawing should look. Look back and forth frequently between the artwork and your paper and let your hand follow where your eyes take you. If you like a challenge, take it one step further, and draw without looking at your paper, creating what’s called a blind contour drawing.

Make lots of marks. Drawings are interesting because you get to see the lines, even the ones that are not exactly right. When starting out, make light, quick marks, applying little pressure to the paper. Practice making shorter lines and more lines. As you go along, experiment with different lengths, thicknesses, and speeds of mark-making.

Have confidence! Everyone can draw – it’s all about having the confidence to do it. Remember, you are not trying to make a perfect copy, instead you are trying to capture what you see. Relax, have fun, and enjoy the experience.

Learn from the masters. Come see drawings on view in our current exhibition Becoming a Woman in the Age of Enlightenment: French Art from the Horvitz Collection. Featuring a variety of media – red chalk, graphite, washes, ink – the drawings highlight the artistic style of some of the most prominent artists of the period.

Other ways to draw at the Ackland:

  • Borrow a Close-Looking Kit from our front desk to take with you as you wander. Use the family-friendly materials and Art Cards to explore the art in different ways.
  • Come for a Drawing in the Galleries session, happening on the second Saturday of every month. Sessions are free and all skill levels are welcome.

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!

Meet the Staff: Debbie Pulley

Debbie Pulley is the Ackland Art Museum’s Security Supervisor.

How long have you been at the Ackland?
I started at the Ackland in August 1990.

What brought you to the Ackland?
I had been working for Northern Telecom Security for about six years, and I wanted to do something different in the security field. I applied for both a detention officer job at the Durham County Sheriff’s Office and a position with UNC Security at the Ackland Art Museum. Both offered me a job, and my husband said I should take the UNC Security position. I’m so happy I did!

What do you do at the Ackland?
As the Security Supervisor, I’m on-call 24 hours. I’m responsible for training the security staff, protecting the Ackland’s collection, and assisting the visitors. I also train the Museum’s work study gallery assistants, make sure operating policies and procedures are implemented and followed by all personnel at all times, and monitor the Museum’s closed-circuit television (CCTV) system.

What is a memorable Ackland experience?
In August of 1990, the Museum staff was moving back into the building following a three-year closure for renovations. On December 2, 1990, I got to see the reopening party for the newly redesigned Ackland Art Museum. Then-director Charles Millard and Chancellor Paul Hardin were on-hand to receive ‘Welcome Back’ posters from children as we opened the doors (see photo). What an evening!

What is your favorite thing about working at the Ackland?
Seeing our growing collection. I also love working with university and K-12 students, as well as meeting visitors from all over the world.

SEE. MORE. ART.: What is your favorite arts experience in the Triangle?
I love DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center).

Editor’s Note: Debbie Pulley was chosen as the UNC Department of Public Safety’s 2016 Employee of the Year. UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken presented Pulley with the recognition at the department’s annual awards ceremony Friday, June 17, 2016.  Pulley—who was also recognized for 25 years of service to the agency—was cited for the fresh passion she brings to her job every day as well as for leading by example and her kindness to her team, museum staff, and visitors to the Ackland.

Meet the Staff: Scott Hankins

SCOTT HANKINS is the Ackland Art Museum’s registrar.

6846ef81-7b1b-413e-9f58-cfca56fd55cfHow long have you been at the Ackland?
I’ve been at the Ackland for 10 years.

What brought you to the Ackland?
In 2005, Rebecca and I found ourselves tired of New Jersey and began looking at different opportunities. Rebecca took a chance and applied for a development job at UNC. When she got the interview we decided to make a weekend trip to come to North Carolina for the first time and explore. We feel in love with North Carolina and decided this is where we wanted to be. Then when the position of Assistant Registrar opened here, I applied and the rest is history. There were two things that initially attracted me to the Ackland. First, was the planned expansion. At the time I was working at the Newark Museum and they were working on the beginnings of an expansion project. I really wanted to work at a museum doing an expansion and get the experience that comes with it. So seeing the Ackland doing the same thing was attractive. The second thing was that it was part of a University. I was really interested to see how a museum worked within a University structure and how it integrated with the education mission of the University.

What do you do at the Ackland?
I’m the Registrar, I manage the collection.

What is a memorable Ackland experience?
There are so many, how to choose. One of my favorite moments was hanging Jim Hodges, You (the flower curtain in More Love). I really enjoyed installing More Love in general, but there was just something about that moment.

What is your favorite thing about working at the Ackland?
I work with amazing people and great art.

SEE. MORE. ART.: What is your favorite arts experience in the Triangle?
The Georges Rousse installations in Durham. We had just moved here and it was this really cool public art moment. I remember walking around downtown Durham with Rebecca and seeing the different installations. It was very cool.

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.

Ackland_2008.3.5, 1/12/12, 1:58 PM, 8C, 3882x4647 (33+0), 50%, Custom, 1/20 s, R49.1, G23.3, B33.1

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