NEW ART GALLERY

VCU will open its In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary Art with exhibit that chal­lenges the city’s Con­fed­er­ate history and racial di­vide

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Chelsea Jack­son & Siona Peter­ous, Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

RICH­MOND — With an in­au­gu­ral exhibit that chal­lenges the city’s Con­fed­er­ate history and racial di­vide, Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity will open its In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary Art next week, and it’s gen­er­at­ing ex­cite­ment not only in Rich­mond but also in na­tional and in­ter­na­tional art com­mu­ni­ties.

The 41,000-squarefeet Markel Cen­ter, where the ICA is housed, cost $41 mil­lion and sits at the cor­ner of Broad and Belvidere streets - the city’s busiest in­ter­sec­tion, with an es­ti­mated 60,000 cars pass­ing by ev­ery day. The lo­ca­tion sig­ni­fies the im­pact that of­fi­cials hope the in­sti­tu­tion brings to Rich­mond.

The city’s only stand-alone gallery of con­tem­po­rary art, which will open to the pub­lic April 21, sits be­tween VCU’s Mon­roe Park Cam­pus and the his­toric Jack­son Ward community - a point that for decades was the di­vide be­tween black Rich­mond and white Rich­mond in the one-time cap­i­tal of the Con­fed­er­acy.

Joe Seipel, the in­terim di­rec­tor of the ICA, said the idea for the project has been around for decades. Seipel and the ICA team say they have worked to en­sure that ev­ery­one feels wel­come to come en­joy the art gallery, a goal he hopes to ac­com­plish by keep­ing ad­mis­sion free.

Dur­ing a press pre­view Thurs­day, New York­based ar­chi­tect Steven Holl said he looked to Rich­mond’s deep and com­pli­cated history for in­spi­ra­tion and in­cor­po­rated cer­tain as­pects to bridge a gap be­tween the grow­ing pres­ence of VCU and the larger Rich­mond community. Holl’s firm, known for spe­cial­iz­ing in ed­u­ca­tional and cul­tural projects, was cho­sen from more than 60 that sub­mit­ted pro­pos­als for the build­ing.

“This may be one of my fa­vorite build­ings I’ve been work­ing on be­cause it makes an ur­ban state­ment, be­cause there is a re­la­tion­ship be­tween the cam­pus and the city, and it also is a state­ment on the con­cept of time,” Holl said.

The re­la­tion­ship among time, space and race re­la­tion was a strong in­flu­ence on the ICA’s open­ing exhibit, “Dec­la­ra­tion,” said the in­sti­tute’s chief cu­ra­tor, Stephanie Smith. She con­ceived the idea with Lisa Freiman, Seipel’s pre­de­ces­sor.

“Af­ter the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, my­self and Lisa Freiman de­cided to re­shape the ICA’s in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion given the cli­mate of our coun­try,” Smith said. “We were in­spired to cre­ate a project that we would speak and give a plat­form to a di­verse group of artists whose works re­flect cur­rents in con­tem­po­rary arts but also cat­alyze change, con­vene peo­ple across the di­vide and to speak to im­por­tant but of­ten dif­fi­cult topics that are rel­e­vant here as well as our nation more broadly.”

Freiman abruptly stepped down as the in­sti­tute’s di­rec­tor in Jan­uary af­ter five years of over­see­ing the plan­ning phases of the project. In a press re­lease at the time, Freiman stated it was time for her to re­sume other projects she had put on hold. De­spite her ab­sence, Smith con­tin­ued with the vi­sion that cre­ated “Dec­la­ra­tion.”

The exhibit in­cludes projects from more than 30 artists, many of whom were com­mis­sioned by the ICA and whose work speaks to so­cial is­sues of the en­vi­ron­ment, gen­der in­equal­ity, race and sex­u­al­ity. “Dec­la­ra­tion” fea­tures a range of mixed me­dia plat­forms - from au­dio and film to paint­ing and graphic de­sign.

Ex­pand­ing on one of his pre­vi­ous ex­hibits, Paul Rucker, the ICA’s artist in res­i­dence, cre­ated “Storm in The Time of Shel­ter” for the ICA. It fea­tures Ku Klux Klan robes in ur­ban and con­tem­po­rary fash­ions. The life-size fig­urines wear KKK robes made of col­or­ful fab­rics such as African prints and var­i­ous shades of cam­ou­flage.

On the op­po­site end on the first floor is a mas­sive wall fea­tur­ing a se­ries of in­di­vid­ual screen prints. The piece is the work of Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. and was cre­ated with the col­lab­o­ra­tion of lo­cal bar­ber­shops and sa­lons. Each print is a quote from a con­ver­sa­tion over­heard in the shops, cap­tur­ing the role these spa­ces play in the city’s black neigh­bor­hoods.

The diver­sity of “Dec­la­ra­tion” re­flects VCU Pres­i­dent Michael Rao’s hope that the ICA will make the city an in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tion.

“We hope to be­come through VCUs In­sti­tute of Con­tem­po­rary Art a world-class cul­tural hub,” Rao said. He said the ICA will help “ad­vance the arts and invoke hu­man senses like they have never been in­voked be­fore.”

This story was pro­duced by the Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity’s Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice.

[AP PHOTO/STEVE HELBER]

This is an ae­rial view of the new Markel Cen­ter which houses the Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary Art in Rich­mond, Fri­day, April 13, 2018. The Cen­ter opens April 21 with an in­au­gu­ral exhibit that chal­lenges the city’s Con­fed­er­ate history and racial di­vide.

[AP PHOTO/STEVE HELBER]

An or­chid is on dis­play in the en­trance of the new Markel Cen­ter which houses the Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary Art in Rich­mond, Fri­day, April 13, 2018. The Cen­ter opens April 21.

[AP PHOTO/STEVE HELBER]

Vis­i­tors look over an art dis­play in the new Markel Cen­ter which houses the Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity In­sti­tute for Con­tem­po­rary Art in Rich­mond, Fri­day, April 13, 2018. The Cen­ter opens April 21 with an in­au­gu­ral exhibit that chal­lenges the city’s Con­fed­er­ate history and racial di­vide.

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