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Abstract art installation “Procession” adds colorful new touch to VMFA’s expansive atrium

Visitors to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will notice a large, colorful painting along the elevation of the museum’s Atrium north wall. The expansive new mural, Procession, is the work of Nigerian-born American artist Odili Donald Odita.

RVAHub Staff

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Visitors to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will notice a large, colorful painting along the elevation of the museum’s Atrium north wall. The expansive new mural, Procession, is the work of Nigerian-born American artist Odili Donald Odita. The work, completed on Sept. 20, 2020, can now be viewed in its entirety.

Procession was three years in the making. “The space called out to me when I came to VMFA in 2017,” said Valerie Cassel Oliver, VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “I remember walking through the Cochrane Atrium with Stephen Bonadies, VMFA’s Senior Deputy Director for Conservation and Collections, who as a means of introduction offered to walk the building and grounds with me. I immediately thought that the Atrium’s large white wall was ripe for a work of art. I imagined a site-specific work that would activate the Atrium’s light-filled architecture, echoing the Sol LeWitt wall drawing in our Marble Hall. And I immediately thought of Odita’s abstract paintings and installations.” Cassel Oliver previously worked with the artist, curating an exhibition of his work while at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

In October 2018, Odita visited VMFA to view the space and collection. That visit inspired the work’s design—a captivating composition of color and lines. Two months later, the artist presented a study for the mural and in spring 2019, the museum’s Board of Trustees approved its commission. Over the last six weeks from August and into September five artists from the Odita studio drew and then painted Procession, a dynamic expanse of colorful lines, complex patterns, and striations that bend and illuminate the architecture of the space. Odita’s mural heralds the traditions of the Gee’s Bend quilts and African textiles as well as mid-20th century paintings that highlight the deeply resonate practices that have persisted within the African and African Diasporic cultures. And while the work does not shy away from the sociopolitical landscape of the moment, it squarely sets its ideals upon the power of creative expression within an ever-evolving society.

“Odita’s Procession transforms the Atrium,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “This vibrant mural invites viewers to contemplate and have timely, crucial conversations about racial identity and equity, as well as the power of abstract art.”

Odita is slated to return to VMFA to discuss his work next spring. Details about this event as well as a time-lapse video of the six-week installation of Procession will be made available on VMFA’s website, www.VMFA.museum, in the coming weeks.

Odili Donald Odita was born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1966. Fleeing the Biafran War, he came with his family to live in the United States the following year. After earning his BFA and MFA at Ohio State University and Bennington College, respectively, he worked as a critic, editor, and writer for art publications and Yale University. He taught at the University of South Florida and Florida State University before taking his current position as associate professor of painting at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.

Odita has created site-specific temporary and permanent installations for the United States Mission at the United Nations (NY), the George C. Young Federal Building Courthouse (Orlando, FL), the Birmingham Museum of Art (AL), and the city of Philadelphia (PA), among other locations across the country. His work is also found in the collections of several institutions including the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University (NC), the Savannah College of Art and Design (GA), and the New Orleans Museum of Art (LA).

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