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PHOTOS: VCU Institute for Contemporary Art stuns visually, tackles “important but difficult” topics within

With an inaugural exhibit that challenges the city’s Confederate history and racial divide, Virginia Commonwealth University opens its Institute for Contemporary Art next week, drawing local and international attention alike.

RVAHub Staff

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By Chelsea Jackson, Siona Peterous, and Trevor Dickerson

With an inaugural exhibit that challenges the city’s Confederate history and racial divide, Virginia Commonwealth University will open its Institute for Contemporary Art next week, and it’s generating excitement not only in Richmond but also in national and international art communities.

The 41,000-square-feet Markel Center, where the ICA is housed, cost $41 million and sits at the corner of Broad and Belvidere streets–the city’s busiest intersection, with an estimated 60,000 cars passing by every day. Supporters say the facility will be transformational to Richmond, offering striking architectural visuals on the exterior and exhibits inside ranging from the thought-provoking to the downright provocative.

The city’s only stand-alone gallery of contemporary art, which will open to the public next Saturday, April 21st, sits between VCU’s Monroe Park Campus and the historic Jackson Ward community–a point that for decades was the divide between black Richmond and white Richmond.

Joe Seipel, the interim director of the ICA (and former dean of the VCU School of the Arts who returned from retirement to assume the role), said the idea for the project has been around for decades. Seipel and the ICA team say they have worked to ensure that everyone feels welcome to come enjoy the art gallery, a goal he hopes to accomplish by keeping admission free.

Steven Holl, Architect

During a press preview Thursday, New York-based architect Steven Holl said he looked to Richmond’s deep and complicated history for inspiration and incorporated certain aspects to bridge a gap between the growing presence of VCU and the larger Richmond community. Holl’s firm, known for specializing in educational and cultural projects, was chosen from more than 60 that submitted proposals for the building.

“This may be one of my favorite buildings I’ve [worked on] because it makes an urban statement, because there is a relationship between the campus and the city, and it also is a statement on the concept of time,” Holl said. Exploring the cavernous building, it quickly becomes apparent how much thought the renown architect put into every square foot of the institute. Holl says some of his favorite features of the facility are the specially-designed auditorium with a state-of-the-art audiovisual system and a steeply-pitched stadium seating layout as well as the elevator, which is large enough to serve both visitors and artwork and features intricately-detailed walls that take inspiration from the elongated slate in the institute’s outdoor garden.

The “forking” design of the building pays homage to a former train station that once sat on the site. Each of the four galleries intersects and branches out from the overall structure, much like the train tracks at Broad and Belvidere once did.

The relationship among time, space and race relation was a strong influence on the ICA’s opening exhibit, “Declaration,” said the institute’s chief curator, Stephanie Smith. She conceived the idea with Lisa Freiman, Seipel’s predecessor.

Stephanie Smith, Curator

“After the 2016 presidential elections, myself and Lisa Freiman decided to reshape the ICA’s inaugural exhibition given the climate of our country,” Smith said. “We were inspired to create a project that we would speak and give a platform to a diverse group of artists whose works reflect currents in contemporary arts but also catalyze change, convene people across the divide and to speak to important but often difficult topics that are relevant here as well as our nation more broadly.”

Freiman abruptly stepped down as the institute’s director in January after five years of overseeing the planning phases of the project. In a press release at the time, Freiman stated it was time for her to resume other projects she had put on hold. Despite her absence, Smith continued with the vision that created “Declaration.”

The exhibit includes projects from more than 30 artists, many of whom were commissioned by the ICA and whose work speaks to social issues of the environment, gender inequality, race, and sexuality. “Declaration” features a range of mixed media platforms – from audio and film to painting and graphic design.

Expanding on one of his previous exhibits, Paul Rucker, the ICA’s artist in residence, created “Storm in The Time of Shelter” for the ICA. It features Ku Klux Klan robes in urban and contemporary fashions. The life-size figurines wear KKK robes made of colorful fabrics such as African prints and various shades of camouflage.

On the opposite end of the first floor is a massive wall featuring a series of individual screen prints. The piece is the work of Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. and was created with the collaboration of local barbershops and salons. Each print is a quote from a conversation that Kennedy overheard while in the shops, capturing the role these spaces play in the city’s black neighborhoods.

The diversity of “Declaration” reflects VCU President Michael Rao’s hope that the ICA will make the city an international destination.

“We hope to become through VCUs Institute of Contemporary Art a world-class cultural hub,” Rao said. He said the ICA will help “advance the arts and invoke human senses like they have never been invoked before.”

Editor’s Note: VCU Capital News Service reporters contributed to this report.

     

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VMFA acquires key work by German expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

In September 2020, a private collector in Germany made the fair and just decision to restitute Kirchner’s painting to the Fischer family descendants who have donated it to VMFA through a gift-purchase arrangement.

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) announced this week that it has acquired a major work by German artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The oil painting, completed in 1916, is entitled Taunus Road (German: Autostrasse im Taunus). In September 2020, a private collector in Germany made the fair and just decision to restitute Kirchner’s painting to the Fischer family descendants who have donated it to VMFA through a gift-purchase arrangement.

“We are pleased that this painting, Taunus Road, was returned to the Fischer family and that it joins other paintings by Kirchner in the Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “The donation of this painting is the realization of a long-term commitment on behalf of both the Fischer family and VMFA to reunite restituted works from the Fischer Collection.”

In 2016 Kirchner’s painting Sand Hills at Grünau was restituted by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York to the descendants of Max Fischer as the result of a related Nazi era restitution case and acquired by VMFA through a similar gift-purchase arrangement. After this painting was returned to the family, they made clear their commitment to not only reunite it with the Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection at VMFA but also any future works from Max’s portion of the family collection that were restituted to the family.

“Having grown up in a home surrounded by these vivid works of art, it was a natural decision to send any restituted works to VMFA, to rejoin the Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection at the museum,” Eva Marx said. “By reuniting this work with the rest of the collection, we honor our grandparents’ vision and our parents’ dedication to sharing these works with the public.”

Ludwig and Rosy Fischer were forward thinking art collectors in Frankfurt, Germany, who between 1905 and 1925 built one of the most impressive collections of German Expressionist art of the time, with a special emphasis on the artists of the Die Brücke movement. Their sons, Ernst and Max, inherited the collection of approximately 500 works in 1926. After the Nazis gained power in Germany, Ernst left the country in 1934 and eventually settled in Richmond, Virginia, with his half of the collection. When Max left the following year, he was able to take only a few works out of Germany, and the remainder were presumed lost or stolen. Taunus Road is the second painting that has been recovered from the lost portion of Max’s half of the collection and returned to the Fischer descendants.

“Adding this work to the Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection helps us to tell a fuller story of the ways in which Hitler’s rise to power impacted the Fischer family and their collection. Displaying Taunus Road alongside Sand Hills in the German Expressionist Gallery adds significantly to our understanding of Ludwig and Rosy Fischers’ vision as important early collectors of Kirchner’s work in particular,” said Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, VMFA’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “It is the enormous privilege of the museum to continue to work with the Fischer family as we steward this phenomenal collection of German art and share it with our public,” added Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education.

Kirchner was a leader and founding member of the Die Brücke group, formed in 1905. These artists looked at the rampant industrialization of the early 20th century with both fascination and despair. Responding to the changing world around them, they created art characterized by loose, gestural brushstrokes and vivid palettes of bold, saturated colors. While many of the Die Brücke artists depicted urban scenes, they also escaped their city studios to paint rural landscapes as antidotes to the pressures and anxieties of modern life. Landscapes were a central theme throughout Kirchner’s work.

Taunus Road provides a strong example of Kirchner’s vibrant landscapes produced between 1915 and 1918, a period scholars have described as Kirchner’s “crisis” years. He painted the scene in the midst of World War I, during his stay at the sanatorium in Königstein im Taunus, a community in the Taunus mountains north of Frankfurt where, after granted leave from the military, he received treatment following a nervous breakdown. Paint is applied in thin, loose layers to the canvas, producing a quickly executed, dynamic work. The curving trees on the left side and three purple clouds at the top of the composition frame the coral-colored highway. The division created by the roadway produces a tension between the idea of unadulterated nature and the incursion of humans into the landscape.

Taunus Road is currently on view in the German Expressionist Gallery at VMFA.

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Plow Through Your Holiday Shopping at Holiday Villages a Virtual Market

Let’s spread some holiday cheer and support Richmond’s small business and artist community at a new VIRTUAL Holiday Villages!

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Saturday, December 5th and Sunday, December 6th from 4pm-8pm you’ll be able to shop a bunch of local vendors. Everything from ice cream to tee shirts. Head over to Facebook to see all the vendors profiled. Normally the Richmond Night Market welcomes you in person but these are not normal times.  You can register to check it out online here. It’s a great way to support local businesses and stay safe.
  • Live Music
  • Artisans
  • Small Businesses
  • Local Vendors
  • And MORE!
Grab your family, friends, loved ones, and curl up on the sofa to shop and hang with us!
Finish all your holiday shopping the first weekend of December!
You don’t want to miss this!
Presented by the Richmond Night Market, in partnership with The City of Richmond, Brok Productions, and The Economic Development Authority of Richmond.
Let’s spread some holiday cheer and support Richmond’s small business and artist community at our new VIRTUAL Holiday Villages!
HELP US SPREAD THE WORD- Share this post with your followers and family and friends!

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New VMFA exhibition portrays the majestic beauty of Virginia’s Natural Bridge

The exhibition, free to visitors, will be on view at VMFA from February 6 to August 1, 2021.

RVAHub Staff

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) has announced its upcoming exhibition, Virginia Arcadia: The Natural Bridge in American Art, an exploration of the artistic portrayal of this spectacular and seemingly miraculous natural landmark. The exhibition, free to visitors, will be on view at VMFA from February 6 to August 1, 2021.

The majesty of the Shenandoah Valley’s Natural Bridge, a 400-year-old geological formation, has inspired artists, writers and explorers over the centuries. It has served as an ethereal example of the American landscape, an icon of natural history and a witness to human civilization. One of the most depicted sites in American 19th-century landscape painting, this formation captured the imaginations of artists like Frederic Church, David Johnson, Edward Hicks and Caleb Boyle, as well as many decorative artists.

“VMFA is pleased to recognize Virginia’s very own natural landmark through this exhibition,” said VMFA Director and CEO Alex Nyerges. “We hope Virginia Arcadia inspires appreciation for and interest in rediscovering the wonderful natural world here in our state, and also recognizing that the environment is a precious source of inspiration.”

“Consider a time when our very landscape sparked wonder and inspired myth,” said the exhibition’s curator, Dr. Christopher C. Oliver, VMFA’s Assistant Curator of American Art. “Artists were moved to not only capture its picturesque splendor and breathtaking sense of place, but also all that the Natural Bridge represented and idealized — the sublime divinity of the natural world, the excitement of discovery, the harmony between nature and civilization and the abundance of pastoral beauty.” The Natural Bridge is also historically relevant to western expansion, slavery, natural history, tourism and ecological conservation.

Virginia Arcadia examines the Natural Bridge through more than 60 paintings, prints, decorative art objects and photographs made between the late 1700s and the early 1900s. Highlights of the exhibition include works from VMFA’s collection including one of the earliest illustrations of the Natural Bridge, an engraving from 1787 by Baron De Turpin, a French engineer sent to document the site, one of three such engravings featured in Volume 1: Travels In North-America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782. Joshua Shaw’s oil painting Natural Bridge No. 1 (ca. 1820) captures the view from atop the arch of the bridge looking down into a nearby creek in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Several works in the exhibition are on loan from institutions across the country including the Chrysler Museum, the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and the Yale University Art Gallery, as well as from private collections.

More information about Virginia Arcadia: The Natural Bridge in American Art can be found on the museum’s website.

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