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!

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.

 

Uzzle Buzz: Sharp Elbows

“The way to be a good news photographer is to have sharp elbows. You have to get in the middle. If you’re in the middle, you have the feeling of it.” — Burk Uzzle, 23 June 2016

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: All Hands for Peace, Peace Demonstration, New Haven, 1970, 1970; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.28.
Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: All Hands for Peace, Peace Demonstration, New Haven, 1970, 1970; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.28. © Burk Uzzle.

“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.

Uzzle Buzz: Woodstock, Flag Pants, and Rolling Stone

“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.

Dennis Hermanson is a retired illustrator and graphic designer active in the Hillsborough and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, arts community. He is presently on the Board of the Hillsborough Arts Council, a member of the Ackland Art Museum, and a friend of many fine photographers and artists.

Ackland_2008.3.19, 1/12/12, 3:42 PM, 8C, 3882x4647 (0+348), 50%, Custom, 1/20 s, R49.1, G23.3, B33.1

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Woodstock (Crowd in Field with Tent and Trash), 1969; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.19. © Burk Uzzle.

Me at Woodstock? It all happened by accident.

Going to NYU, I lived for three years on East Seventh Street, overlooking the Fillmore East, the East Coast counterpart to the famed Fillmore West, so I sure didn’t feel the need to go to the middle of New York State to see a cow pasture with a music stage. But my blood-brother, Richard, insisted.

Richard was a model, designer, writer. He had worked for Electra Records and hung out with Janis Joplin. I was a cartoonist and illustrator with a group called Cloud Studio, which went on to do the National Lampoon when it began. So we were free, and went to Woodstock early Thursday to beat the crowd. Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Photojournalist Burk and Artist Burk

“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.

Born in Raleigh in 1938, Burk Uzzle is a world-renowned photographer whose work is being shown at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, and the Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill during the summer of 2016. Learn more about him on his website: burkuzzle.com

Photojournalist Burk and Artist Burk. Both are the same person, otherwise one would be counterfeit.

Both remember, always, the advice of Henri Cartier Bresson: “The most important thing you can do is respect your subject.”

As photography can be a love affair with life, my life is also a love affair with the medium.

Early on I strived for the simple, declarative statement, with a touch of drama for impact. Editors’ needs became the glasses through which I viewed the world. Those were the early LIFE magazine years, 1961 to 1967. They had moved me to the Chicago bureau, and my free time was spent at the Art Institute of Chicago, looking at paintings. Another LIFE photographer offered me advice: “Shoot every picture for the managing editor.” This conflicted with the inspirational individuality I saw across mediums at the museum. Continue reading

Uzzle Buzz: Wordless Wednesday

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: <i>Bring Us Together, Peace Demonstration, Washington, D.C., 1970</i>

Burk Uzzle, American, born 1938: Bring Us Together, Peace Demonstration, Washington, D.C., 1970, 1970; gelatin silver print. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Anonymous Gift, 2008.3.31. © Burk Uzzle.

“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.