Picasso. Matisse. Warhol. Dali. There’s no doubt in my mind that anybody with even the briefest acquaintance with art history knows these names, and knows them well.
Picasso. Matisse. Warhol. Dali. There’s no doubt in my mind that anybody with even the briefest acquaintance with art history knows these names, and knows them well. That being said, it may come as a surprise to some to know that our very own Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which celebrated it’s grand opening ceremony just one week ago, is exhibiting works from these extraordinary artists, and many, many others, spanning over 5,000 years of art from all over the world.
The re-vamping of the museum, which started in 2006, includes the addition of 165,000 square feet to the museum’s existing 380,000 square feet, among whose features are the E. Claiborne and Lora Robins Sculpture Garden, a new 600 car underground parking deck, an expanded art collection, and two new restaurants. The museum itself is looking more impressive than ever, both outside and inside. The forty foot glass wall by the north facade, the seven glass bridges in the Cochrane Atrium, which connects all the galleries, are at once elegant, modern, and imposing. The building on its own is as visually spectacular as any one piece of art held inside.
Now I could rattle off a lengthy list of artists, or beautiful pieces on exhibit at the VMFA, but it’s my opinion that this would compromise the experience of going in on your own time and taking it all in at your pace. What made my first visit to the updated museum so great was the fact that I had but a very little notion of what I was walking into, and the surprise and awe inspired by the beauty of the exhibits and of the building itself made for a really special experience. I felt like a little kid again. In addition, I believe the wonderful thing about art is that at its essence, it’s a totally personal experience for each viewer. It’s different for everybody, and thus the true meaning for any one work is infinite.
Case in point, my favorite piece, the one that really blew my hair back, was in the Neo-Classical portion of the American section. Now, I know to those with more refined tastes, Neo-Classical art might be a little too obvious, a little too straight-forward, but I was really taken by William Wetmore Story’s huge marble rendering of Cleopatra, aptly titled Cleopatra. Standing almost five feet tall, the statue depicts the infamous Egyptian ruler in recline, entrenched in thought, contemplating her imminent suicide. Her expression is a kind of a near-scowl, mixed with deep reflection and sorrow. What kills me about Cleopatra is the intricacy of detail, and the apparent lightness of the more delicate features. Her dress flows, rolls, and hangs with a seeming weightlessness, which is remarkable, given that said intricacies have been carved out of rock.
The implication of the time period adds further weight to the significance of the piece. Story began his piece in 1858, three years before the American Civil War, and this particular carving was completed in 1869, four years after the war, while our country struggled to piece itself back together. Given the strife and turmoil the U.S. was still experiencing, a depiction of the famous ruler in her last hour, in the ruins of an empire, lends itself to the interpretation that as well as being a stunning portrayal of a well known historical figure, Cleopatra is also a distinct reflection of the time period in which it was created. Regarding his work, Story once said that “what is left undone is as necessary to a true work of art as what is done.”
Anyways, if I haven’t bored you to death, I’d like to strongly encourage you to go see the VMFA for yourself. Go, find your own Cleopatra, get a little amazed, get a little inspired, and find another reason to appreciate the city we live in, because above all, considering the outstanding level of its architectural design, and the vast diversity and richness of its collection, the VMFA represents yet another step forward in the national (and arguably, international) significance of Richmond’s arts and culture community.