Published: Sep 16, 2008 01:48 PM
Modified: Sep 16, 2008 01:48 PM
CHAPEL HILL -- Fifty years ago this year, in 1958, the Ackland Art Museum was born on the UNC campus.
At the same time, a tectonic shift was under way in American art, shaking its foundations and reshaping its landscape.
A major new exhibit opening Sunday at the Ackland brings those two themes together.
"Circa 1958: Breaking Ground in American Art" marks the Ackland's golden anniversary and explores the important and lasting changes that rattled the American art world at that time. The show is the first major exhibition to examine the importance of the year 1958 as a tipping point in American art.
"Usually when you do a big anniversary exhibition, you come up with sort of a greatest hits kind of thing, showing the big events and major works in your collection," said Emily Kass, director of the Ackland Art Museum. "And we're going to do that; over the course of the next year, we'll do a number of events that highlight our collection and look at where we're headed.
"But we wanted to kick off the celebration in a different way. We wanted to look at that year with a little deeper focus. What was going on in the world? What were people thinking? It so happens that right at that time there was this surge of new ideas, new theories, experimentation and expansive thought about the nature of art. There was a distinct shift from Abstract Expressionism into some new directions, and the artists who led the way became the most influential artists of the second half of the 20th century."
The exhibition, which will be up through Jan. 4, 2009, features a number of works by the most influential artists of the era --Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Jasper Johns, Morris Louis and many more.
The exhibition will be accompanied by dozens of programs focusing on the music, literature, theater and ideas of the late 1950s.
"Circa 1958" will open Sunday with a free public reception at the museum from 1 to 3 p.m.
At 3 p.m., a panel discussion at the Hanes Art Center will focus on the tensions and trends that changed American society and art in the years surrounding 1958. Panelists include Kass; Roni Feinstein, who curated the exhibition; David Sontag, Wesley Wallace Professor of communication studies at UNC; and Joy Kasson, UNC professor and chair of American studies.
The exhibition and accompanying events look at the wider world of 1958 in addition to the artistic trends. It was a time of prosperity and economic growth, but also a time of fear and tension spawned by the Cold War and nuclear weapons, as well as early stirrings of the tides that would grow into the upheavals of the 1960s.
"There was a real contrast," Kass said. "It was the golden age of TV, when you had shows like 'Leave it to Beaver' reflecting this positive, prosperous America. But at the same time, you had a lot of unsettling things going on in the world. So you have this duality, this tension building, and you see that reflected in the movements of the arts."
For more on the exhibition, see www.ackland.org
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