The Ackland Art Museum on UNC's campus in Chapel Hill has just undergone its first major renovation and reinstallation since 1991, beginning this fall with all-new exhibits and an all-new sense of purpose. "We have some pieces that everyone wants to see—certain core things that are important, and oftentimes our faculty rely on them for teaching—but at the same time we have lots of pieces in storage, very good pieces," explains Emily Kass, who has been the director of the Ackland during this busy year. "Our audience wants to know there's more to the Ackland than just the top ten favorites."
The space for special and traveling exhibits has been almost doubled, as has the "prospective's gallery," now two rooms devoted to small educational shows jointly managed by an Ackland curator and a UNC professor. The result—which will be unveiled to the public Sunday, Sept. 30—is a museum whose walls will be more in flux than ever before, drawing new eyes to the museum and rewarding repeated visitors.
"The last thing the Ackland needs is to be this sleepy little thing that is the same this year as it was 12 years ago," explains Nic Brown, director of communications for the Ackland.
Three special exhibits will grace this new space this fall: The Healing Arts: Sickness and Social Impact and Enlightened Patronage: Art in Service to Humanity, both running through Jan. 13, and The Art of Looking: Selections from the Collection of Charles Millard, which runs Sept. 30-Dec. 30 and features art from the personal collection of a former Ackland director.
Not that the permanent collection is getting short shrift. Nearly every gallery has undergone substantial redesign. The gallery of the European masters now leads you on a whirlwind tour from a Greek urn to Impressionism in just four walls, feeding visitors into a newly enlarged space for contemporary art. The Ackland's premier collection of Asian art—one of the best of its kind in the country, says Brown—has been given new emphasis at the center of the museum, with the African gallery being plucked from obscurity upstairs and given a new sense of importance nearby.
Befitting the museum's new attitude, neither the Asian nor the European galleries will remain static, instead rotating pieces often to ensure that collection does never grows stale.
Down a hallway, a soon-to-be completed addition will house an entirely new gallery of the Ackland's "art of the natural world," next door to the gallery that houses European religious art. These rooms will be connected by a gallery organized around contrapposto art, the term for a human figure whose shoulders and hips twist on different axes, as in, for example, Michelangelo's David.
Of the more than 15,000 pieces in the Ackland's collection, approximately 10,000 are works on paper, which is why the previously neglected upstairs gallery has been rebranded as "Upstairs at the Ackland," a type of permanent special exhibit highlighting some of this art. Until late November, the room will be filled with Chinese calligraphy; beginning in December the room will feature a show called "Theme and Variation: Print Sequences from Ornament to Abstraction,"
Brown credits the new sense of excitement and dynamism at the Ackland to Kass, a former executive director of the Tampa Museum of Art who was hired last October and has made the reinvention and reinvigoration of the museum her top priority. "All this is because of her," Brown says.
Carolyn Wood, assistant director for art and education, agrees. "With a new director comes a new sense of energy. Emily gave us the opportunity to rethink spaces we had been working in for years."
"We want to give people a reason to come back every two or three months, that there'll always be something new to see," Kass says.
The Ackland is extending this new attitude of reinvention and community engagement to an expanded programming schedule, with more than 120 events planned for the fall, including community lunches, lectures, live music, dances, art instruction, and even a new program called "Yoga in the Galleries." They're also planning on experimenting with audio tours and podcasts to supplement printed maps and labels. All energies are devoted towards making the Ackland a living, breathing space—and hopefully ensure that this museum never allows itself to be a sleepy thing.
The Ackland Art Museum is located on South Columbia Street near East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, on UNC's campus. It is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, and closed Mondays and Tuesday.
Following a gala Patron's Party at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29 (tickets are $150), the Ackland Art Museum will re-open to the public at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30. Details on current exhibitions and community programming at available at www.ackland.org.