Monday, February 23, 2009
Members of VMFA's Canvas group examine sculpture
on the rooftop exhibition space at the Broad Art
Foundation in Santa Monica. That's the
Pacific Ocean in the background.
When I began as an intern at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in May, I never expected I would be traveling across the country to see a renowned art collection and having dinner at a museum director’s home. As coordinator for the Canvas support group at VMFA, I organized a trip over President’s Day weekend for 40 members to travel to Santa Monica and Los Angeles to see the Broad Art Foundation, the Getty Center and the Getty Villa. On Friday afternoon we toured the Broad Art Foundation, which, I found out, only offers around 2,000 tours a year.
The Getty Center was our first stop on Saturday, with its remarkable architecture, beautiful views and gardens I could never have imagined. That evening Michael and Tina Brand welcomed the group (yes, all 40 of us!) into their home for a wonderful dinner. As my mother and I admired a large photograph at the top of the stairs, Michael came over, pulled the exhibition catalog from the hallway’s bookshelf and proceeded to tell us about the photographer and their fascinating trip to Cambodia to salvage and document statues and other priceless works of art. My photographs from the weekend in L.A. will not be large-scale works of art. However, I can look at them in the same nostalgic way and recall a wonderful adventure through the museum that allowed me see incredible venues and meet some fabulous people along the way.
VMFA Canvas Staff Coordinator
Friday, February 20, 2009
Candy Banks is pictured with "Autumn of the Red Hat," a 1982 collage and watercolor by Romare Bearden, from the VMFA collection
We grew up in New Jersey, where the sewing machine was a staple in our home. I have three sisters, and my mother made all of our clothes. She created patterns out of paper bags to fashion our dresses, hats, and coats. In the early years, my father was a taxicab driver in New York City. He had a great friend who worked in the Garment District, and she gave him bolts of fabric for our mother. Actually, I had an Easter coat made from a lustrous blue fabric that was just like the mirror in “Autumn of the Red Hat” by Romare Beardon view now in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts exhibition “Labor and Leisure: Works by African-American Artists from the Permanent Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.”
Candice Banks, Executive Assistant to the Director
This image was shot last year at 3rd Thursdays
Our after hours program 3rd Thursdays incorporates art, music, dance, and cuisine in themed evenings set in our Virginia Museum of Fine Arts gallery spaces. One of the components of the evening is a DJ-driven dance party featuring salsa, Caribbean (soka, zouk, chutney and jump-up), or country music. In August we will showcase music from Louisiana.
I've been a longtime fan of Louisiana's rich musical heritage and the people and musicians who shaped these unique regional sounds. Cajun, zydeco, Mardi Gras, swamp pop, second-line jazz and country music can all be found in some part of Louisiana.
Cajun music comes from the French people whose ancestors migrated from Nova Scotia to Louisiana. Zydeco music was born from the Creole people who were descended from French-Spanish, African-American, or Native American people who settled in Louisiana from other parts of America or the Caribbean. Both musical genres feature accordion and rub board, and the lyrics are often in French. If you listen closely, you can hear country roots in Cajun music and r&b and blues in zydeco. There is no mistaking that musicians playing either style expect their audiences to dance and let the good times roll.
The first time I went dance-hall hopping in southwest Louisiana, I was thrown into a part of America that seemed to be a foreign country. The wonderful smell of crawfish etouffee, the blasting pulse of French songs, and the sounds of dancing feet pounding to the songs' rhythms were intoxicating. Music, food and language all seem to go together in Louisiana. I’d like to share the joy and pride that people in Louisiana have in their cultural heritages with the Richmond audience at 3rd Thursdays, which kicks off March 19.
Coordinator of Performing Arts
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Jacob Lawrence's "Subway - Home from Work," 1943
Watercolor on paper.
Photo by Ron Jennings, © 2009 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
In our exhibition “Labor and Leisure: Works by African-American Artists from the Permanent Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,” we selected the themes of labor and leisure for their universality. Walking through the exhibition, I am struck, as certainly others are, by the relevance of these themes to today’s turbulent times. As I look at Jacob Lawrence’s “Subway—Home From Work,” (1943), I admire the way his composition of figures and forms, rendered in his characteristic flat, cubist manner, captured the rhythm of Harlem’s streets. Yet to me, Lawrence underscored the hustle and bustle with a somber mood, captured in his bold, yet melancholy, colors and anonymous figures. Perhaps this implied an empathy for the grind of daily toil – a notion quite familiar to Lawrence who had struggled through the late 1930s to find work.
Similar sentiments and motivations underscore Lorna Simpson’s “Untitled,” created almost 50 years after “Subway—Home From Work.” Simpson lists the days of the week – in seemingly random order – on one side of each figure. On the other side are lists of verbs, from “believe” to “fall.” They read like poems that describe the plight of a troubled workforce.
But all is not gloomy. Recent studies suggest that times of economic hardship are met with a return to more simple pleasures. To that, I find solace in the images of leisure. The life-size musician in Charles White’s “Guitarist” reminds me of a group of friends or family gathered in a backyard, on a porch, in a living room, sharing music with one another. James VanDerZee’s “Harry Prampin’s School Recital” also suggests community as one imagines the school’s auditorium packed with folks from the neighborhood.
VMFA Curatorial Fellow, Modern and Contemporary Art
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
"Brunswick Stew," 1930s
Leslie Garland Bolling (American, 1898-1955)
Photo by Travis Fullerton, © 2008 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
In 1933 Leslie Garland Bolling wrote, “Few things this side of Heaven give me the joy that carving does.” That joy is still evident in the work of this remarkable Virginia artist who gained renown in the early twentieth century for his compelling genre figures. The self-taught sculptor carved his highly detailed works from single blocks of wood, each taking several months to complete. Many feature a lively flickering surface that gives evidence of the artist’s penknife. Bolling, who lived from 1898 to 1955, found his subjects among his friends and neighbors in the African American community, capturing not only the particulars of their daily activities but also the quiet dignity with which they performed them.
VMFA trustees recently approved the gift of two of Bolling’s sculptures, “Brunswick Stew” and “Quilt Making,” both created in the 1930s and donated by John M. Camp of Franklin, Va. These unique works will have a prominent place in the museum’s forthcoming American galleries located in new James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Wing, which opens early 2010). But visitors are invited to enjoy them sooner when they make their debut in a special focus exhibit, “Labor and Leisure: Works by African American Artists from the Permanent Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,” on view Feb. 4 - May 3, 2009.
Bolling, who labored as a porter in a Richmond stationery store by day and carved his figures at night, was discovered in the late 1920s by New York art advocate Carl Van Vechten. The sculptor soon gained sponsorship of the Harmon Foundation, the first major organization dedicated to the promotion of African American art. Through the 1930-1940s, Bolling’s figures appeared in several prominent art magazines and over twenty national exhibitions--including one sponsored by the Richmond Academy of Arts, forerunner of VMFA. Attracting 2,500 visitors, the 1935 show marked the first one-man exhibition by a black artist in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Reaching the zenith of his career during the Great Depression, Bolling failed to realize much financial gain from his sculptures and slipped into obscurity in the final decade of his life. However, the artist was rediscovered by scholars in the 1980s and is now included in most major surveys of African American art. His surviving sculptures--today rare finds--were featured in the 2006 retrospective, “Freeing Art from Wood,” organized by the Library of Virginia.
The newly acquired figures now bring the number of Bolling’s sculptures in the VMFA collection to five--all easily representing the artist’s best efforts. The museum is lending two of them, “Cousin-on-Friday” and “Saver of Soles,” to the neighboring Virginia Historical Society for its exhibition “The African American Image in Virginia,” on view Feb. 1 - Dec. 31 this year.
Dr. Elizabeth O’Leary
Associate Curator of American Art