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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.

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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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Friday Cheers Announces 2021 Concert Series

Each event in May and June features socially-distanced outdoor concerts with physically-spaced two, four and eight-person pods. Tickets must be purchased in advance, with no on-site ticket purchase available.

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Friday Cheers, presented by Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, returns May 7 for its 36th season of live music. Richmond’s longest running outdoor concert series is held on Brown’s Island on downtown’s historic and picturesque riverfront.

Each event in May and June features socially-distanced outdoor concerts with physically-spaced two, four and eight-person pods. Tickets must be purchased in advance, with no on-site ticket purchase available.

This year Cheers is celebrating all things local! Local bands, local food and local beer! Produced by Venture Richmond Events, this season’s Friday Cheers boasts a stellar line-up in a format designed to be safe for attendees.

“We are thrilled to present these shows in a safe and responsible way. Invite your friends and family out to enjoy the warm weather in one of Richmond’s most beautiful outdoor event venues,” said Stephen Lecky, director of events for Venture Richmond.

“Venture Richmond has helped make downtown Richmond a true cultural gem, and the team at Hardywood is thrilled for the opportunity to partner with them to bring people together over great music and delicious beer,” said Eric McKay, president and co-founder, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

2021 Season Lineup

May 7 – Cris Jacobs Band (8:00) with Deau Eyes (6:30) 

Watch Cris Jacobs Band on YouTube: https://youtu.be/hEKpHKXO8ZM

Watch Deau Eyes on YouTube: https://youtu.be/kq_cE6RS1rc

 

May 21 – Agents of Good Roots (8:00) with Leon III (6:30) 

Watch Agents of Good Roots on YouTube: https://youtu.be/KMYLnohwSos

Watch Leon III on YouTube: https://youtu.be/q0EVYI-WWTE

 

May 28 – An evening with Art of Noise RVA (6:30)

Watch Art of Noise on YouTube: https://youtu.be/wyGKMd4L40w

 

June 4 – NO BS! Brass (8:00) with Piranha Rama (6:30) 

Watch NO BS! Brass on YouTube: https://youtu.be/-O7-djsBv5g

Watch Piranha Rama on YouTube: https://youtu.be/69ozz5M6yDY

 

June 11 – An evening with Suggesting Rhythm (6:30)

Watch Suggesting Rhythm on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Nd1rMllrwL8 

 

June 18 – Mighty Joshua (8:00) and Erin & the Wildfire (6:30) 

Watch Mighty Joshua on YouTube: https://youtu.be/sqQL756RT9E

Watch Erin and the Wildfire on YouTube: https://youtu.be/mGHVPXo7ftA

 

June 25 – Butcher Brown (8:00) with (6:30) Shormey

Watch Butcher Brown on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Oune3jVNHEs

Watch Shormey on YouTube: https://youtu.be/hcY9VHzLwG0 

Advance tickets for individual shows to Friday Cheers are now available to purchase online at Ticketstobuy.com. Tickets must be purchased in advance online only. There will be no box office on site. Pods will be limited to two, four and eight-persons including children. A two-person pod is 4′ x 8′. A four-person pod is 8′ x 8′. An eight-person general admission pod is a 20ft circle, located in the back section of the island with limited views of the stage. Reserve your pod now to get your choice of spots on the island!

All ticket holders must agree to comply with safety precautions put in place during the event, as outlined on our website. All public health protocols will be strictly enforced, and contactless practices have been implemented for the safety of our guests and staff. Face masks or coverings are required and no admittance will be allowed without one. Social distancing and a face mask are required any time a patron is outside their pod including while walking to the entry points and waiting in line for check-in, porta-johns and beverage and food pickup. All food and beverage purchases will be online and contactless.   

Friday Cheers is Presented by: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

Friday Cheers is Sponsored by: CoStar Group, Dominion Green Power, 103.7 Your Variety,  NBC12, CW Richmond and Cucumbers on Fire.

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VMFA acquires portrait by iconic 16th-century woman artist Lavinia Fontana

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) announced their recent acquisition of Portrait of a Lady (1585) by Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614), a celebrated woman artist from Bologna. 

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The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) announced their recent acquisition of Portrait of a Lady (1585) by Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614), a celebrated woman artist from Bologna.

“Lavinia Fontana was a pioneer during her lifetime. The discovery and acquisition of this piece elevates VMFA’s collection of late Renaissance art,” says Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s CEO and Director. “Her work demonstrates the significant yet often unrecognized artistic contributions women have made throughout history.”

Fontana was one of the first women artists in Italy to work alongside her male colleagues. Owing to her talent and business acumen, she later became a trailblazer in her role as head of a successful studio. As early as the 1580s, Fontana’s portraiture was highly favored among Bolognese noble families. In the early 1600s, she moved to Rome where she became a painter at the papal court.

Best known for her portraits, Fontana was a renowned painter of the Mannerism movement during the Late Renaissance period. Her paintings reflect a maturation of the conventions of the Mannerist style and she plays an important role in the chapter of art history following the High Renaissance and immediately preceding the Baroque period. Despite the superficial naturalism that this portrait presents at first glance, the artist has cleverly manipulated the dimensions within the composition by subtly exaggerating the proportions of her sitter’s costume to give it a monumental aspect. The effect is magnified by the way that Fontana flattens the obscure background with its curiously positioned table, making the figure stand out in stark relief while simultaneously creating an image that is both spiritually intense and enigmatic. These contrivances, all of which are typical of earlier Mannerist artists such as Veronese and Tintoretto, allowed Fontana to create elegant compositions that flaunted her technical virtuosity.

The young woman in the portrait is dressed in an extravagant amount of gold, jewels, precious stones and pearls. During this era, pearls symbolized the purity of both body and soul. To further emphasize this aspect of her sitter’s moral character, Fontana depicts her toying gracefully with a rosary that is attached to her belt, a gesture that reminds the viewer of her pious dedication to daily prayer. Portraits of this kind were often part of the traditions surrounding aristocratic marital engagements. Fontana’s indulgence in representing the luxurious ornamentation, combined with her use of compositional elements intended to convey the Catholic piety and chastity of the sitter, ensure that the future bride is portrayed as a paragon of both wealth and virtue.

Although no evidence remains that might attest to the sitter’s identity, recent research has proposed that it could be an early portrait of Isabella Gonzaga (1565–1637). A member of a prestigious princely family of Mantua, Isabella inherited the minor principality of Sabbionetta from her father, and she was an influential presence at the courts of the duke of Milan and the king of Naples.

“Here is a woman’s regard for another woman during an era when the very contours of womanhood were principally being delineated by men. A noble woman in this society had to struggle to affirm her place, her dignity and her authority,” says Dr. Sylvain Cordier, VMFA’s Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art. “This representation of a confident and charismatic young noble woman will play a vital role in the development of the spectacular Grand Portrait Gallery that we are preparing for 2025. This gallery will assist our visitors to interrogate the constantly changing conventions governing gendered representation in European art over the course of several centuries.”

Portrait of a Lady is currently on view in VMFA’s Atrium. For more information about the museum’s collection of Renaissance art, visit www.VMFA.museum.

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Library of Virginia’s Weinstein Author Series celebrates Poetry Month in April

The Library of Virginia’s 2021 Carole Weinstein Author Series celebrates April as Poetry Month with a free virtual talk by poet, literary historian, and editor Kim Roberts on April 15 at 6:00 pm.

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The Library of Virginia’s 2021 Carole Weinstein Author Series celebrates April as Poetry Month with a free virtual talk by poet, literary historian, and editor Kim Roberts on April 15 at 6:00 pm. Her book By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of Our Nation’s Capital uncovers great but hidden literature from lesser-known poets, including women, writers of color, LGBTQ+ writers, working-class writers, and those who were born enslaved.

The Carole Weinstein Author Series supports the literary arts by bringing both new and well-known authors to the Library of Virginia. Free and open to the public, the series focuses on Virginia authors and Virginia subjects across all genres.

2021 schedule:

April 15, 2021 (Virtual) KIM ROBERTS

By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Great Poems from the Early Days of Our Nation’s Capital

June 10, 2021 (In Person/Virtual as pandemic restrictions allow) VANESSA M. HOLDEN

Surviving Southampton: African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner’s Community

September 14, 2021 (In Person/Virtual as pandemic restrictions allow)  KAREN L. COX 

No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice

November 17, 2021 (In Person/Virtual as pandemic restrictions allow)  ALEXIS COE 

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington

To learn more, visit the Library of Virginia website here.

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