Rare Showing of Contemporary Art at The Ackland


Chapel Hill, NC — You’ve been to the NC Museum of Art. You’ve been to the Nasher. But have you been to the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill? If not, now’s a good time to go, with a rare exhibition of works from their Contemporary collection on display.

A Short Drive from Cary

The Ackland Art Museum is at 101 South Columbia Street in Chapel Hill.

You can get there from Cary in about half an hour via NC 55 and a bunch of back roads without ever getting on the highway.


Contemporary Art from the Permanent Collection

The Ackland has a large collection of contemporary art, but no permanent gallery to showcase it.

Contemporary pieces appear in other shows, but this may be the first time the Ackland has set up a gallery as if it is a permanent space for the collection. That’s why the show is called “Testing, Testing.”

“Testing, Testing” exhibits painting and sculpture since 1960. Artists range from Barkley Hendricks to Nam Jun Paik, Hung Liu and Tony Oursler. You can see abstract expressionism, sculptural assemblage, op art, video installations and more.


The space itself has been transformed, with interior gallery walls increased in height by about a third. This change accommodates the larger works associated with contemporary art as well as creating the impression of permanence in the show.

Chief Curator and Interim Director Peter Nisbet gave an informal tour of the exhibit. “We wanted to test the premise of a permanent exhibit from our contemporary collection,” Nisbet said. “Would people respond to the work?”


The curator adopted a confessional tone, “One visitor said that a certain painting made her eyes hurt.”

“That was my mother,” admitted Lauren Turner, Assistant Curator for the Collection. She showed us the painting in question, tucked in a niche of op art works. Op art does makes your eyes hurt. In a good way.


The exhibit ended with a work by video artist Nam Jun Paik. It’s a sculpture of computer keyboards, an old mechanical eye-testing device and video screens in a vaguely human form. The artist himself smiles at us from a lens on the top of the body.

Other contemporary pieces are distributed throughout the museum. They come up as surprises as you stroll through the Western Tradition galleries or Art from China & Japan.


That’s the magic of the Ackland – placing things in context, not just by genre or time period, but by idea. Sometimes across centuries. It’s a refreshing experience.


If you like art shows, you should go.

“Testing, Testing – Paining & sculpture since 1960 from the Permanent Collection”
Ackland Art Museum
101 S. Columbia St.
Chapel Hill, NC




Story and photos by Hal Goodtree.