“It is one of the most significant gifts of artwork we’ve ever received.”
The words of Nic Brown, museum communications director, echo sentiments felt throughout the Ackland Art Museum.
The 51-piece gift from former Director Charles Millard’s Tyche Foundation will make its public debut Sunday.
Millard formed the Tyche Foundation after selling an extremely valuable piece from his private art collection, a piece that he has not identified. The primary mission of the foundation was to purchase artwork for the Ackland.
The addition is fairly small in size, especially when considered within the context of the 15,500 pieces comprising the museum’s permanent collection.
But because of Millard’s intimate understanding of the museum, his gift works to fill out the museum’s permanent collection in a way that many say only he could do.
“It’s a really significant gift for us because he purchased all these works with us in mind,” said Amanda Hughes, director of external affairs, adding that most gifts aren’t collected to be given away.
The collection includes works that span roughly 2,500 years and represent everything from Asian art to 19th century photography to colorful modern abstract pieces.
“This collection represents something about what it’s like to go to an art museum in the broadest sense,” Hughes said, pointing to the varied reactions solicited from each piece. Some are more easily identifiable, while others are more abstract.
“It is eclectic,” Chief Preparator Joe Gargasz said. “Each one of these pieces fits into a niche that helps the (museum’s) collection overall.”
A 17th century Mughal miniature joins the Ackland’s extensive miniature collection, though it is set apart by what it depicts.
“It doesn’t fall as easily into a religious narrative as it does into sort of an academic narrative,” Hughes said, adding that it fits the Ackland’s scholarly vision.
The Manjusri, a 10th century Buddhist sculpture, also speaks to the museum’s teaching mission.
“To have the bodhisattva of transcendent wisdom in our midst is a lovely thing,” Hughes said.
The 19th century photos offer a sense of how artists used photography as a medium, she said.
The first published etching by Édouard Manet hangs in one room; 20th century artist Jules Olitski’s color field paintings in the next.
The collection reflects the varied tastes of Millard, essentially leaving his legacy at the museum.
Charles Millard’s prominence in the art world also attracted other big names in North Carolina fine arts to this project.
Celebrated North Carolina author Alan Guganus wrote several short fiction pieces in response to the artwork. His works are included alongside art history commentary and pictures of artwork in the Ackland’s special exhibit catalog.
The museum will not include its customary explanations next to the art, honoring Millard’s artistic principles. The catalog will be on sale and available to use as a complementary guide inside the gallery, but the idea is to let the art stand for itself.
“He always tells you to go and look, just go and look,” Hughes said. “We like to teach, and he’s teaching too, just teaching in a different way.”
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