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.

Something Old, Something New at the Ackland

DSC_0550Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 31 July 2015.

Dear Friends,

Because of our commitment to engage the Ackland’s permanent collection, I cannot resist mentioning the excitement around our current exhibition highlighting and rethinking our holdings of painting and sculpture since 1960.

“It changed the way I think,” said one visitor from the Galloway Ridge retirement community in Pittsboro.

“Amazing selection of wonderful works. The Sean Scully painting is sublime – just one of many surprises!! Many unknown names, at least to me, producing fascinating work!! I’ll be bringing friends many times!!” wrote a former museum director from the area.

My thanks to all of you for talking about the Ackland! Because of you Testing Testing is rapidly becoming the exhibition to see and comment on!

7746d294-b23b-4986-a616-0a956a0d8034But my main focus today is on a very different, but no less important part of the collection: Art of the Ancient Mediterranean. I am thrilled to announce the publication of a full scholarly catalogue of 227 works of art from many parts of the ancient Mediterranean world, including works from Egypt and the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia, Iran, Cyprus, Greece and Italy and ranging in date from around 5000 BCE to 1100 CE. An appendix documents the recent gift of an additional 211 ancient coins. Beautifully illustrated with gorgeous new color photography, this catalogue showcases a significant and valuable collection as never before. Our author is Professor Mary C. Sturgeon, just retired from a most distinguished career as Professor of Classical Art at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has triumphantly brought to a conclusion a project that began well over a decade ago in seminars with graduate students researching these Ackland objects. The publication, with 344 pages and 727 color plates, is now available at the Ackland Museum Store ($80 for members, non-members $100). Continue reading

The Ackland through Young Eyes

K-12 tours are a vital part of the Ackland Art Museum’s community outreach. Interactive in nature, they engage students in interdisciplinary activities outside of the classroom. Please visit https://ackland.org/education/k-12/guided-tours/ to learn more or request a tour. 

Bill Cosby’s late ’90s television show “Kids Say the Darndest Things” may be off the air now, but I felt like an audience member when I observed a group of kindergartners taking a tour at the Ackland. They came to learn about different art forms—and definitely weren’t lacking in funny, yet intuitive, comments.

They all gathered on the floor, sitting “criss-cross applesauce” and wide eyed, admiring the art from the Ackland’s permanent collection. The girls donned bright patterns and bows in their hair, and the boys were sporting superhero shirts and tennis shoes.

It came as no surprise that the art work that garnered the most attention was a colorful, contemporary IMG_1318 (1)piece by Hans Hofmann. The Ackland docent leading the group asked the inquisitive kids what objects they saw in the picture. They all raised their hands, waiting to be called on. At first, they remarked on the bright colors and shapes that resembled animals and mountains, but their comments quickly took a different turn.

One boy enthusiastically raised his hand, bouncing up and down, until he was called on.

“Um… there’s a Hans in ‘Frozen’!”

And then came the squeals of excitement. Surprisingly, there is not a big difference between a group of 5-year-olds talking about “Frozen” and a group of 21-year-olds talking about “Frozen.” There will always be one trying to out-do Idina Menzel by belting “Let it Go” at the top of their lungs, and one repeatedly asking if anyone wants to build a snowman. Needless to say, I’ve never felt more connected to a kindergartner.

DSC00317On their tour, the group also went back in time and learned about Hercules, another one of my all-time favorite Disney movies. They sat quietly as they listened to tales of Hercules’ battles and admired an ancient Greek pot he was depicted on. The kindergartners even decorated their own pots on paper. The kids put a modern twist on themes in ancient pottery and drew modern day superheroes.

Watching their eyes light up as they explored each gallery made me smile and think back to when I was their age. Visiting the Ackland is a great opportunity for young minds to explore and engage in hands-on activities, all while having fun.

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