Beginning this February, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will highlight the work of a remarkable group of African American photographers in the exhibition Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop. On display in Evans Court Gallery from Feb. 1 to June 14, 2020, the exhibition features nearly 180 photographs by fifteen of the early members of the Kamoinge Workshop. Working Together tells the story of the first two decades of this collective of artists, who expanded the boundaries of photography as an art form during a critical era of Black self-determination in the 1960s and 1970s. This free exhibition is curated by Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, VMFA’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
The exhibition has local roots through Louis Draper (1935–2002), who was born in Henrico County and attended the Virginia Randolph School and Virginia State College (now University) before moving to New York in 1957. It was there that Draper met other African American photographers, and in 1963 they came together to form the Kamoinge Workshop. The word Kamoinge means “a group of people acting and working together” in Gikuyu, the language of the Kikuyu people of Kenya. The collective met weekly to look at each other’s work, support one another, and organize their own exhibitions. They were also the driving force behind the Black Photographers Annual, a publication that featured the work of black photographers at a time when mainstream publications offered few opportunities for African Americans. Besides Draper, the early Kamoinge members represented in this exhibition are Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Danny Dawson, Roy DeCarava, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas, Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker and Calvin Wilson.
Planning for this exhibition began in 2015 when the museum acquired Draper’s complete archive from his sister, Nell Draper-Winston. The archive consists of more than 50,000 items, including photographs, negatives, contact sheets, slides, computer disks, audiovisual materials, and camera equipment, as well as 15 boxes of valuable documents and publications, which include significant materials about the formation and early years of the Kamoinge Workshop. Thanks to a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Draper archive is now completely catalogued, digitized and will be available on the museum’s website before the exhibition opens. VMFA also received a grant from Bank of America to conserve, stabilize and digitize works in its collection of Kamoinge photographs.
“The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is proud to house the archive of this talented Richmond photographer as well as the most extensive collection of photographs by early members of the Kamoinge Workshop,” said VMFA Director Alex Nyerges. “Our hope is that visitors will learn more about this collective of photographers and experience the beautiful images they created during a time when works by African American artists were marginalized or ignored.”
“When I first had the privilege of looking at Draper’s photographs and began reading his descriptions of the collective’s purpose, I realized this story was of national significance—both art historically and politically,” said Eckhardt.
Eckhardt pointed to a quote by Draper from the VMFA archive that underscores the significance of the African American collective that formed at the height of the civil rights movement and is still active today: “Cognizant of the forces for change revolving around Kamoinge, we dedicated ourselves to speak of our lives as only we can,” Draper wrote. “This was our story to tell and we set out to create the kind of images of our communities that spoke of the truth we’d witnessed and that countered the untruth we’d all seen in mainline publications.”
The exhibition is accompanied by a 304-page illustrated catalogue by Eckhardt, which includes a preface by Deborah Willis and additional essays by Erina Duganne, Romi Crawford, John Edwin Mason and Bill Gaskins. After the exhibition closes at VMFA it will travel to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and two additional museum venues in the United States.
Learn more about the exhibit here.
‘World’s largest surf park,’ first on East Coast, coming to Chesterfield County
“Named simply, The Lake, the proposed 105-acre project reflects the lengths developers are going these days to compete for a generation of renters for whom just a pool and gym no longer cuts it. The development has been drawn up to incorporate 150,000 square feet of retail and entertainment, 100,000 square feet of office space, a 170-key hotel, 750 apartments, a 13-acre artificial Wake Lake, an amphitheater and a six-acre water park, capable of generating artificial waves large enough to surf.”
The first surf park on the East Coast – and supposedly the largest of its kind in the world – is coming to Chesterfield County, we’ve learned this morning. The 105-acre project, to be known as “The Lake,” would be a entertainment, retail, and tourism magnet, once developed.
From CoStar, who has the exclusive on the story:
A Virginia developer is planning a new mixed-use project in Richmond where the main attraction will be the first surf park on the East Coast and, upon its completion, the largest in the world.
Named simply, The Lake, the proposed 105-acre project reflects the lengths developers are going these days to compete for a generation of renters for whom just a pool and gym no longer cuts it. The development has been drawn up to incorporate 150,000 square feet of retail and entertainment, 100,000 square feet of office space, a 170-key hotel, 750 apartments, a 13-acre artificial Wake Lake, an amphitheater and a six-acre water park, capable of generating artificial waves large enough to surf.
Flatwater Cos., a firm that counts a real estate development veteran, an investment banker, and a construction manager as its principals, hopes to turn The Lake into a local and regional destination, hosting more 200 events per year.
“We’ve been working on [this development] for a handful of years, going through the permitting process, zoning entitlements,” Brett Burkhart, Flatwater’s director of project development and operations, told CoStar News. “Our firm was started with this project in mind.”
Axe-throwing chain set to open near The Circuit Arcade Bar in Scott’s Addition
The venue will open in the former Nicholson Sprinkler Corp. building at 3100 W. Leigh Street in the heart of the neighborhood.
From Richmond BizSense:
After its first attempt to get into the Richmond market fell flat, a Canadian axe-throwing bar is back with a location coming to Scott’s Addition.
Bad Axe Throwing is preparing to open at 3100 W. Leigh St. in a 5,000-square-foot space in the old Nicholson Sprinkler Corp. building.
Based in Ontario, Bad Axe has nearly 50 locations throughout the U.S., Canada and the U.K. In 2018, it began planning a Richmond location on West Broad Street, across from the forthcoming Whole Foods in Sauer Center.
But those plans fell through last spring. Bad Axe owner Mario Zelaya said there was an issue about the amount of parking available at that location, which caused them to scrap the plans.
VMFA receives more than 8,000 photographs from the Aaron Siskind Foundation
The gift represents the largest single donation of photographs in VMFA’s history; VMFA will take over the administration of the Aaron Siskind Fellowship Prize.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has been given a gift of more than 8,000 photographs by Aaron Siskind (1903–1991) from the Aaron Siskind Foundation in New York. Established by the artist in 1984, the foundation’s mission has been to preserve and protect Siskind’s artistic legacy, as well as to foster knowledge and appreciation for photography through research, publications, exhibitions and an annual fellowship prize for individual artists.
The foundation recently decided to dissolve its operations and transfer the collection to an American art museum that would be willing to administer the annual fellowship prize and care for, interpret, and display the foundation’s core collection of Siskind’s photographs. VMFA was awarded this major gift thanks to the museum’s demonstrated commitment to photography and its outstanding fellowship program. The transfer of the collection to VMFA took place on January 1, 2020.
“After a thorough search of the major art institutions across the country, the Aaron Siskind Foundation was delighted to find that the visionary leadership, ambitious plans for the future, and commitment to carrying on Aaron Siskind’s legacy made VMFA the ideal choice as the new and permanent home for the collection and administration of the Siskind Prize,” says Victor Schrager, President of the Aaron Siskind Foundation.
“With this remarkable donation from the Aaron Siskind Foundation, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts owns what Siskind and his colleagues considered to be the finest prints of every important work he ever made,” says VMFA Director and CEO Alex Nyerges. “Comparable to the key sets of Paul Strand’s photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Alfred Stieglitz’s photographs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., this gift also allows VMFA to become an important center for the study and appreciation of Siskind’s life and work, as well as photography in general.”
The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Siskind was born and raised in New York City and graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1926. Three years later, Siskind received a large-format view camera as a wedding gift when he married Sidonie Glatter. He took his first photographs with this camera on their honeymoon in Bermuda in 1930. Siskind later joined the Film and Photo League in New York. Inspired by the social documentary photography that he saw at the Film and Photo League, Siskind spent the next decade working as a street photographer, most notably producing his acclaimed Harlem Document series. In the early 1940s, he shifted to more abstract and symbolic work, often based on found objects.
Siskind supported himself by teaching in the New York public school system until 1949, when he resigned and briefly tried to earn his living as a freelance photographer. Unable to do so, Siskind moved to Chicago at the invitation of fellow photographer Harry Callahan, whom he met in the summer of 1950 at Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina, where they both taught photography. Siskind went on to teach photography at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago from 1951 to 1970.
By the 1950s, his work had become widely associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement thanks to his acclaimed photographs of the walls of buildings, whose flat, variegated surfaces enlivened by peeling paint or the remnants of torn posters provided a visual counterpart to the work of Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and other painters of the New York School. Siskind’s photographs were shown alongside the paintings of these artists in a series of exhibitions at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York between 1947 and 1951. At a time when photography rarely achieved equality with painting as a fine art, Siskind’s success in the broader New York art scene signaled an important advancement for the medium.
In 1971, Siskind was appointed as a professor of photography at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), a position he held until his retirement in 1976. He spent the next two decades traveling extensively, including extended trips to Italy, Morocco, Mexico and Peru. In 1975, he made an acclaimed series of abstract compositions in Peru based on the tightly packed stone wall at Sacsayhuamán which, with its geometric patterning, continued the artist’s interest in finding visual equivalents for contemporary abstract painting in his stark black and white compositions. When Siskind died in 1991, he held a pre-eminent place in the history of the medium thanks to his career-long dedication to the idea that photography can be an abstract form of expression and an aesthetic end in itself.
The gift includes the core collection of 4,062 photographs that represent the artist’s finest works from every series and period of his career. VMFA will also receive approximately 3,900 duplicate prints which it will donate to other museums, including those in cities and places where Siskind lived and worked, as well as countries he visited at the end of his career. The museum has also agreed to take on the responsibility of administering the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship, which provides cash grants to artists working in photography and lens-based media. Siskind established this grant to assist independent photographers to pursue personal projects without bias to any particular form of the medium. VMFA is in an excellent position to administer this annual prize due to its Visual Arts Fellowship Program that has supported Virginia artists for the past 80 years.