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Ackland to feature controversial lithographs

When it was first published in Moscow in 1914, Natalia Goncharova’s work struck critics as the visual equivalent to Igor Stravinsky’s contentious ballet, “The Rite of Spring.”

Today, the Russian avant-garde artist’s 14 lithographs go on display in the Ackland Art Museum.

The exhibit, “Mystical Images of War,” contributes to Carolina Performing Arts’ “The Rite of Spring at 100” series.

“It’s difficult for us to have a perspective of 100 years ago,” said Emily Bowles, director of communications at Ackland Art Museum.

“But I think it’s important for people to be able to look back and know that there were these moments when art shook people.”

Goncharova’s lithographs were first published the year after “The Rite of Spring.” The Parisian audience who viewed them rioted in response.

Combining primitivism and modernity with violence and redemption, the lithographs serve as complements to Stravinsky’s ballet.

Emily Kass, the Ackland’s director, said the staff started thinking about their contribution to “The Rite of Spring at 100” a year ago.

Once they decided to feature Goncharova’s work, it did not take long for chief curator Peter Nisbet to plan and prepare the exhibit.

“As the exhibition involves only one work of art — a portfolio that was already in the (Ackland) — there was very little planning or expense involved,” Nisbet said in an email.

Kass said the museum chose to feature Goncharova’s work to expose visitors to parallels between visual arts and performances in CPA’s season.

“The works were done in 1913, so I think a lot of the ideas were in the air at the same time,” Kass said. “This one specifically deals with images of war and death and destruction and transcendence.”
Bowles said she hopes the exhibit will contextualize the 1913 audience’s riotous response to “The Rite of Spring.”

“Not every artwork is known because it’s pleasing or calming,” Bowles said.

“Some artwork is very upsetting — it’s very provocative or it’s very dramatic.


“The same people who enjoy visual art enjoy a lot of performance art, so we have a certain amount of overlap of our audiences,” she said.

“So it would only benefit us to work together, to expand our audiences.”

Nisbet said he hopes people question the different roles contemporary art plays in society after seeing the exhibit.

“I hope visitors will enjoy the energy of these dynamic prints and feel drawn to think about the problem of modern art that seems to affirm violence,” he said in an email.

“Can we imagine contemporary advanced art today making the same kind of statement about violence?”

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