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Ackland features abstract art in a new exhibit

Central theme connects two galleries

The Ackland Art Museum will open its doors Saturday to display the treasures of its collection in an exhibit that promises to be a who’s who of abstract expressionism.

Centered around the museum’s latest major acquisition, “Sentinel II” by Seymour Lipton, the exhibit is presented in two galleries displaying the avant-garde in one and guardians and heroes in the other.

“The Guardian and the Avant-Garde: Seymour Lipton’s Sentinal II in Context,” came about after Shirley Siegel gave the museum funds to purchase a piece in honor of her husband, Sidney.

Emily Kass, director of the Ackland and co-curator of the exhibit, said the piece is particularly interesting because of the way Lipton shaped his sculpture, which is made of flat sheets of metal.

“It allowed Lipton to sculpt it almost and create this armature,” she said of the metal. “And then he covered it with bronze, which he worked with his hands, so that gives it a very tactile sense.”

Lipton’s statue rests on a podium in the middle of the exhibit, creating a visual and thematic bridge between the two galleries.

The avant-garde

The Ackland had a chance to go through its collection, pulling modern works that have not been displayed in years. This gallery displays some of the museum’s modern gems.

“Here is a sampling of our 20th century collection, focusing on the avant-garde — artists who were looking at Picasso, at new ways of creating art, new styles,” Kass said of the gallery.

Walking through the room, viewers get a glimpse of the importance of technology and progress, the advent of photography as art, the impact of cubism and abstract expressionism.

Abstract expressionism is a movement marked by the importance of emotions and feelings more than subject matter.

Hans Hofmann’s “Undulating Expanse” embodies this notion of the importance of color and shape to convey emotion.

“He’s using these kinds of shapes that just flow out of his mind,” Kass said. “The gesture of the artist becomes much more significant than actually telling a story where one knows the beginning and the end.”

Guardians and heroes

Entering the adjoining gallery, the viewer steps into a world of mythology from the ancient to the present.

“A lot of abstract expressionists, Lipton included, were very interested in psychology and various kinds of mythology,” said Timothy Riggs, curator of collections and co-curator of the exhibit.

Divided into four sections, the gallery tackles the concepts of guardians in life and death, women of power, conquest and sacrifice, and national heroes.

The show includes work from as far away as ancient Egypt and eighth century B.C. Assyria. It also includes some familiar artists including Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Albrecht Dürer.

Riggs said 20th century art often presents viewers with images that they are not intended to be able to understand completely.

“You have these general ideas about the hero and the sentinel, and it’s precisely because they are not nailed down as a series of absolute facts that they have some of their power,” he said.

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