Ackland Art Museum Ackland Art Museum
Chapel Hill, NC

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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
101 South Columbia Street
Campus Box 3400
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3400
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Drawing Attention

Visions of : Etchings by James McNeill Whistler from the Collection of Ambassador C. Boyden Gray

Focus on the Peck Collection: Marriage in the Early Modern Imagination

Clouding: Shape and Sign in Asian Art

holding space for nobility: a memorial to Breonna Taylor

Instruments of Divination in Africa: Works from the Collection of Rhonda Morgan Wilkerson, Ph.D.


Drawing Attention
June 18, 2021–September 12, 2021

In its collections, exhibitions, and programs, the Ackland has always paid special attention to works on paper. This exhibition presents around seventy European and American drawings, watercolors, and collages, selected from well over 570 acquired both by gift and by purchase over the past twelve years. Drawing Attention continues a series of exhibitions presenting recent acquisitions of light-sensitive works, following PhotoVision, 2014, which featured photographs, and One of Many, 2017, which featured prints.

With preference given to works not recently displayed or not scheduled for exhibition in the near future, the works in the exhibition showcase a broad chronological span, from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries, and a variety of techniques and functions. The display includes works by a wide range of artists, including Domenichino, Jan van Goyen, Thomas Gainsborough, Edgar Degas, Otto Dix, Robert Motherwell, Thornton Dial, Marcel Dzama, and Lauren Frances Adams. The works are presented in ten thematic sections: Varieties of Portraiture; American Abstraction of the 1960s; Fantasy and Transformation; Image and Text in Contemporary Art; German Modernism; Christian Piety; Landscapes and Architectures; Cartoon and Caricature; Sketches and Studies in Nineteenth-Century France and Britain; and a special wall devoted to Very Recent Arrivals which can accommodate new acquisitions made even during the run of the show.

Drawing Attention, organized by Peter Nisbet, deputy director for curatorial affairs, has been made possible by generous support from the Ackland’s National Advisory Board.

Visions of : Etchings by James McNeill Whistler from the Collection of Ambassador C. Boyden Gray
June 18, 2021–September 12, 2021

In 1879 American artist James McNeill Whistler was commissioned by the Fine Art Society, a commercial gallery in London, to produce twelve etchings of Venice over a three-month period. Finding a seemingly endless source of subject matter, the artist stayed in the city for fourteen months, creating fifty-one etchings, one hundred pastels, and numerous paintings. This exhibition showcases thirty of Whistler’s etchings of Venice on loan from the private collection of Ambassador C. Boyden Gray. Presented in two sections — Whistler’s “First Venice Set” published in 1880, and his “Second Venice Set” published in 1886 — the installation explores some of the artist’s most picturesque and atmospheric views of what Whistler called, “a marvellous City — the Sapphire of the Seas!” In addition to views of Venice suspended between sea and sky, Whistler depicted sites unknown to the average tourist, such as back alleyways, obscure canals, and working-class neighborhoods, that challenged the expectations of nineteenth-century viewers. Through his use of varied lines, compelling compositional motifs, and creative printing techniques, Whistler reveals his unique vision of Venice, the timeless beauty of which still captivates us today.

Visions of Venice, organized by Dana Cowen, Sheldon Peck Curator for European and American Art before 1950, has been made possible by generous support from the Ackland’s Director’s Circle.

Focus on the Peck Collection: Marriage in the Early Modern Imagination
Through July 18, 2021
A crowd of people at a wedding

Marriage celebrations were a common motif in early modern European art. This Focus on the Peck Collection installation features two engravings from the sixteenth century and one preparatory drawing for an engraving from the eighteenth century depicting nuptial rituals. These three images demonstrate the wide application of weddings as a theme to comment on social issues as diverse as class, religion, and race.

holding space for nobility: a memorial to Breonna Taylor
Through July 4, 2021

An ART& site-specific installation by Shanequa Gay

As I write this, we are now 125 days from the death of Breonna Taylor, a twenty-six-year-old African-Ascendant living in America, who was employed as an emergency medical technician. Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove on March 13, 2020 and as of today these officers have not been arrested nor charged with her murder.

I would like to hold space for Breonna, for her spirit, for who she was as a human living and existing, as a woman, as a daughter, as a friend, as someone who was loved and is worthy of justice and being seen.

Throughout my work I use hybridity as a way to point to layers of meaning and being to point to the ways our histories, past, connections, and beliefs all compile together on our bodies, resides as memory in our spirits, and within our minds as knowing and understanding. Vanessa Guignery in her essay “Hybridity as Oxymoron” states, “Hybridity stands in opposition to the myth of purity and racial and cultural authenticity, of fixed and essentialist identity, embraces blending, combining, syncretism and encourages the composite, and the impure.” The intention of zoomorphism is a means of revealing commonalities in the human experience by creating a new Genesis and species, through reimagining. The use of mythic imagination creates an understanding of the experience of life. All societies are built on mythologies. Myth is the frame by which civilization is built.

The Devouts are fictional chimeras I have created, that are sometimes masked, colossal, with female bodices that are hued black and blue like water. Their heads are a myriad of totem animals such as deer, raven, bull, and vulture. Each Devout can draw from their animal spirit the ability to heal and empower. The Devouts were created from the prayers of African-Ascendant women living in America who desire intercessors for their plight of repeated injustices, where their pleas and cries have gone unheard, the Devouts hold space. The amalgamation of the human and animal form is not one of degradation but of holiness. I borrow from the Native American belief that all are ‘thou,’ Mother earth and all of her inhabitants are sacred and worthy of reverence. The thought that men have dominion over every living creature (which historically has included human beings) has created irreparable death, damage, and destruction across this world. I cite spiritual ecofeminists who believe the connection between women, nature, and the cultural beliefs and histories of indigenous people is worth reclaiming and celebrating.

In the ART& room, the Devouts are holding space for nobility, healing, and memorial for Breonna. They are monumental in form and sprawled across the four walls, their faces are unmasked and all house images of Breonna as reflection and memory. Their bodices are a mixture of deer antlers and zebra legs. Deer possess the ability to move through life and obstacles with grace, they are vigilant, and their antlers represent renewal, as they fall off or break, they have the ability to grow back. It is through our vigilance for justice on Breonna’s behalf that her spirit will be restored. Zebras represent a reliance upon the community and the human need for partnership and security. They teach us the value of communal living for comfort and safety against outside threat. To come together in solidarity in order to survive. Zebras are unable to sleep unless a herd member is standing guard and awake. As a national community seeking justice, we stand on guard and awake for Breonna.

Just beneath the prominent figure on the main wall an altar of various black Tiara glassware sits. Tiara was a very popular hostess setting in the ’70s and ’80s. In this space we host Breonna’s spirit. There is salt water in each vessel as tears seeking to cleanse, reconcile, and give balance to the emotional disorder and agitation. The water washes away the grief and the impurities of our failed justice system.

Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by officers of the Louisville Metro Police Department after they forced entry into her home on March 13, 2020. She was twenty-six years old. In the months since her death, her story has become a part of national conversations about racial violence and an impetus for activism against systemic injustices.

In this immersive commission, artist Shanequa Gay (American, born 1977) transforms the museum’s mixed-use ART& room into an area that can “hold space” for Taylor’s memory. Through acrylics and oils, Gay renders publicly shared images of Taylor’s face from happy times in her life as a reminder of her roles as daughter, niece, friend, and, as Gay writes, “someone who was loved and is worthy of justice and being seen.”

Gay combines such found imagery with zebra and deer features to create monumental chimeric figures that she has dubbed the Devouts. The Devouts have appeared throughout Gay’s practice, and they serve as intercessory figures for cries that go unheard. The animal elements in the figures enable a symbolic hybridity wherein the combined associations of animal and human spirits both heal and empower. For example, deer antlers are symbolic of renewal, as the creatures routinely shed and regrow their antlers. Zebras are typically unable to sleep unless another from their herd stays awake and alert to intruders. By surrounding the recumbent central figure with fellow watchers, Gay has created a space where Taylor’s spirit has a chance to rest..

Shanequa Gay, an Atlanta native, received her AA in Graphic Design and Fashion Marketing from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1999, a BA in Painting from The Savannah College of Art and Design in 2015, and an MFA from Georgia State University. In 2018, Gay was one of ten selected artists for OFF THE WALL, a city-wide Mural initiative led by WonderRoot and the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee. Gay has exhibited at the Zuckerman Museum (Kennesaw, GA), the Hammonds House Museum (Atlanta, GA), the Hayti Heritage Center (Durham, NC), the McColl Center for Art + Innovation (Charlotte, NC), and the Chattanooga African American Museum (Chattanooga, TN).

This installation and related programming have been made possible by the generous support of James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach.

Instruments of Divination in Africa: Works from the Collection of Rhonda Morgan Wilkerson, Ph.D.
10 January 2020 - 2 February 2022

This special installation shows sculptures and other objects used by diviners in some Central and West African cultures.
Divination is a practice that enables people to communicate with their gods, ancestors, and spirits. By bridging the earthly and spiritual realm, divination enables these beings to provide counsel to the living, to identify the causes of evil and harm, to cure, and to protect.

Some instruments used in these rituals can be humble, others are fine sculptures of substantial aesthetic power. Some are figurative, some involve movement and manipulation. Some are purely visual, while others involve music and sound. The examples presented here can only hint at the full range of objects and practices across the African continent. All these objects would have been aids to the diviners themselves as they seek insights into the problems, concerns, and questions of their clients.

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