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The Ackland Art Museum has received three paintings — two by Joan Mitchell (1925-92) and one by Milton Avery (1885-1965) — that are considered transformational for the Ackland’s permanent collection of postwar and contemporary American art.
Jane Roughton Kearns, a longtime supporter of Carolina and parent of three alumni, bequeathed the three, valued at $12.1 million.
“These remarkable works by American masters are emblematic of the best of American modernism and, importantly, fill gaps in the Ackland collection,” said Katie Ziglar ’79, director of the museum. “Grand paintings, with significant wall power, these paintings will enrich and enliven the University’s engagement with modern creativity, opening up questions about the role of abstraction and representation, the achievements of women artists, the relationship to tradition and so much else.”
Peter Nisbet, deputy director for curatorial affairs at the Ackland, said the opportunity to add two major canvasses by Mitchell, a leading member of the second generation of abstract expressionist artists, is notable. “The Ackland will now be able to tell a fuller, more nuanced story about the history of modern avant-garde art and is especially pleased to be able to do so through the work of a leading artist,” he said.
The Ackland currently owns 10 works by Avery, a key figure in American midcentury art. “These drawings, watercolors and oils cover every decade of his working life except for the 1950s, a lacuna now triumphantly filled by the promised gift of his lyrically beautiful landscape, Spring in New Hampshire,” Nisbet said.
Originally from North Carolina, Kearns worked with Condé Nast design publications in New York before she and a partner founded The Design Collection, an interior design firm in Greensboro. She is a past vice chair of the Carolina Performing Arts International Advisory Board (2005-13) and has supported Carolina Performing Arts, the College of Arts and Sciences and Kenan-Flagler Business School. In 2019, she and her husband, Tommy Kearns ’58, also established a point guard position scholarship for men’s basketball.
The Ackland’s permanent collection has more than 19,000 works of art, featuring North Carolina’s premier collections of Asian art and works on paper as well as significant collections of European masterworks, 20th-century and contemporary art and North Carolina pottery. The Ackland is the only public university art museum in the United States to own a collection of drawings by Rembrandt, given to the Ackland in 2017 by Dr. Sheldon Peck ’63 (’66 DDS) and his wife, Leena.