The Valentine’s exhibit, Monument Avenue: General Demotion/General Devotion, isn’t meant to stir up controversy, said Bill Martin, museum director. But the exhibit, which premiered last Thursday (yes, on Valentine’s Day), is meant to provoke meaningful conversation about the future of Monument Avenue — a future that has been the topic of much public scrutiny and debate in recent years.
The exhibit showcases finalists in a national design competition held by the museum, in partnership with VCU’s mObstudiO and the Storefront for Community Design. The competition invited artists from across the globe to submit their reimaginings of Monument Avenue. Martin said approximately 100 artists submitted proposals. The proposals were submitted as drawings.
“Some of them are absolute fantasies, and others are things that will provide some food for thought for changes,” said Martin. “There may be some ideas that go beyond the traditional sign to help interpret the street.”
“This is an idea competition,” said Martin. “If we could release our brains and think about how we can use this street in productive ways to talk about some of the tough issues of the community, that’s what this is about… There are not a lot of parameters by intent, to give people space to rethink [Monument Avenue].”
In addition to the juried awards, a people’s choice award will be given. Every guest who views the exhibit will be given the chance to vote for their favorite design.
Martin said this exhibit is the “logical next step” following the museum’s past exhibit, Monumental: Richmond’s Monuments (1607-2018). That exhibit, which ran from July 2018 through January 2019, explored the monuments of Richmond, from Monument Avenue and beyond, and examined their historical context.
The design competition asked artists to not only consider the Monument Avenue of the city, but all five and a half miles, extending into Henrico County.
“I was particularly an advocate of making sure [the competition] was all of the street, because there’s this five-mile opportunity of Monument Avenue that has not been the focus of our conversations and ideas,” said Martin.
Martin said that VCU mObstudiO and the Storefront for Community Design were integral in executing the project, and that VCU students have played a large role in getting the exhibit up and running.
“VCU students have been working in a variety of ways. They’ve been helping coordinate the actual competition process. There’s a whole group working on the graphic approach to the exhibition, designing logos and social media… developing the look for the exhibition,” said Martin. “They have also been coordinating with public schools, and there will be a kids version of this that will open at the Branch Museum.” That exhibit, Monumental Youth, is open now and can be seen at the Branch Museum, located at 2501 Monument Ave, until April 19.
Martin says he feels that opening the competition up to artists internationally will help bring in a broader scope of creative ideas.
“So often when you live in a place, you live with objects and a history,” said Martin. “Sometimes it’s really exciting and essential to have an outside perspective, because we’ve become so comfortable with the way we talk about a particular part of town. [The competition] really invites that outside perspective that will hopefully inspire some new ideas about what we can do as a community to make sense of what is this really interesting and challenging street.”
Martin made it clear that while he hopes the exhibit will spark meaningful dialogue and inspire people to question what the monuments represent, it is not intended to do the physical work of change.
“This is the perfect role for a museum, to encourage a broad range of ideas and to challenge people to think differently about the history of this city and about themselves,” said Martin. “This is an opportunity to discuss some of the broader, deeper issues that the community faces… but also step back and maybe not take ourselves as seriously occasionally.”
Top Photo via Facebook. Other photos via VCU Capital News Service