Checking out Art in Richmond, VA

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Richmond, VA is an old city – first settled in 1609. It is tucked amidst rolling farmlands along the James River, about 100 miles south of Washington, DC.  Richmond has a little something for everyone: there are the blue-blooded aristocrats of America’s first families and then the young urban hipsters. It’s a college town, so there are plenty of students; there is the grunge set (my brother calls them the pin cushions and comic books, in reference to their piercings and tattoos.) The restaurant scene is decidedly southern – plenty of chickens, hams, and turkeys, but it trending toward farm-to-table, small batch liquors, gastropubs and based on the number of food trucks popping up around town, it is experimenting with variety like never before.

Last week I took some time to check out the local art scene. There is a vibrant artist community with a bevy of studios and galleries, and it boasts one of the best state-level art museums in the country.  Thanks to major benefactors, the museum’s collection of antiquities and European impressionist paintings surpasses most other museums in this class and it has an impressive collection of contemporary work as well.

The galleries I checked out were clustered downtown and in uptown – mostly on Broad and Main Streets, respectively, each in about a 3-4 block span. A couple of them seemed to focus on gifts and crafts and then a few were either co-ops or run as nonprofits while others were commercial galleries. Unfortunately, only one out of a dozen gallerists actually engaged me to talk about art, their artists and their business. For that, I am grateful to Jennifer Glave Kocen of Glave Kocen Gallery – her space is terrific, the inventory of contemporary artists seems solid and the support, both for the gallery artists and the community seems genuine…it will be the first place I go to when I am back in town.

Additionally, I did make a daytrip over to Lexington, VA to check out my Alma Mater and see a couple old friends (not exactly old, but it has been 25 years, so I guess we are getting there.) Much of the campus remains the same with the beautiful red brick colonnade. The town seems to be a bit of a time capsule from a lost era, but there were some major differences including W&L’s new arts center.  It was funny because I was momentarily lost, trying to place it in the context of my old landlords – the renowned photographer Sally Mann & her husband Larry.  Turns out the new complex sits on the land where they used to live. The state of the art facility houses a 450-seat theater, classrooms, studios and a gorgeous gallery, showing work by Barb Bondy. I managed to poke my head into a couple of galleries in town, with Studio Eleven being the one that drew me in the most. The gallery had two very different bodies of work being presented by Barbara Crawford; I wasn’t certain that I would have shown them together, but I did like hearing about the artist: she is a professor at a nearby school and, as I understand it, Crawford’s interests are primarily focused on art of the Italian Renaissance.

For this trip, my top 10 were:

  1. Early 20th Century European Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
  2. The Contemporary Art Collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
  3. Metapsychosis by Jessie Mann, Sally Mann, Liz Liguori and the Mountain Lake Workshop at Reynolds Gallery
  4. Courtney Johnson: Light Lure at Candela Books + Gallery
  5. Frankie Slaughter: Unravel at Glave Kocen Gallery
  6. Sarah Bednarek : Geometron at ADA Gallery
  7. Captiva Works: Sounds and Photographs by Steven Vitiello and Taylor Deupree at Reynolds Gallery
  8. William Wylie’s This Heavy Veil: Recent Photographs from Naples at Page Bond Gallery
  9. Barb Bondy: Suspension at Staniar Gallery (in Lexington, VA)
  10. Kendra Dawn Wadsworth: Murmurations at Quirk Gallery
Chihuly at VFMA

Chihuly at VFMA

Barb Bondy at Staniar Gallery - drawing suit with charcoal nubs attached

Barb Bondy at Staniar Gallery – drawing suit with charcoal nubs attached

Degas sculptures at VFMA

Degas sculptures at VFMA

LeWitt Variation #6 by William Wylie at Page Bond

LeWitt Variation #6 by William Wylie at Page Bond

Frankie Slaughter at Glave Kocen Gallery

Frankie Slaughter at Glave Kocen Gallery

Sarah Bednarek at ADA Gallery

Sarah Bednarek at ADA Gallery

Electric Football at ADA

Electric Football at ADA

Six Dancers By Ernst Ludwig Kirchner at VMFA

Six Dancers By Ernst Ludwig Kirchner at VMFA

Matapsychosis by Jessie Mann, Sally Mann, Liz Liguori and the Mountain Lake Workshop at Reynolds Gallery

Metapsychosis by Jessie Mann, Sally Mann, Liz Liguori and the Mountain Lake Workshop at Reynolds Gallery

Ryan McGuinness at VFMA

Ryan McGuinness at VFMA

William Christenberry at W&L

William Christenberry at W&L

Murals in Richmond

Murals in Richmond

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FX Harsono: Transitions

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Usually I write about the art I have seen pretty close to the time that I see it – it’s my way of making notes and really thinking about what I have seen.

Well it has been a while, but I have been reflecting on a visit I made to the Singapore Art Museum back in 2010. There were a couple of new acquisitions that caught my eye (like “Status” by Jane Lee and the “Farmers & Helicopters” by Dinh Q. Lê.)  I vaguely remember an exhibit, Realism in Asian Art, that showcased works by 20th Century artists from 8 Asian countries and was arranged into five themes: Realism as form of representation, The rural as an attitude and metaphor, ‘Hail the Worker!’, The Impact of War, and Social Commentary.

The exhibit that I just can’t stop thinking about – FX Harsono:Transitions was a survey of works by FX Harsono.

Harsono is widely known for playing a pivotal role in the development of contemporary art in Indonesia during the New Art Movement of the 1970s. The works in the exhibit ranged from politically charged critiques of oppression, examinations of the disenfranchised to explorations of his own family history, and the haunting loss of his cultural heritage when the Japanese all but removed traces of Chinese identity amongst the immigrant populations in Java. As I recall, there were a cluster of about half a dozen rooms in two galleries that lead viewers through the works representing pivotal stages in Harsono’s career.

When I walked into the gallery, the first piece I saw was a framed toy gun – not my favorite work in the exhibit, but certainly a smart curatorial choice because it demonstrated the use of ready-made objects to compose art. In Indonesia, when artists began challenging the notion that art had to be created at the hands of the artist (be it painting or sculpture) – suggesting that it could be created with the use of everyday objects – it was unique for a country that had no real exposure to the contemporary art movements around the globe.

After the entrance, I passed the wall and immediately was overwhelmed with a powerful installation of burned wooden torsos hovering just above the floor. The lighting cast manipulated shadows that recalled the anguish of more than 100 people who died as they burned in a shopping mall during the riots of 1998.

On the wall there were a series of screen-printed hands that together spell out “demokrasi” (democracy), while the last screenprint is of a bound hand reflecting a sense of helplessness of the people.

Around the corner I saw a mattress bound in chains. I was taken with the hard/soft  construction and understood it to be a question – if oppression becomes the norm, can we begin to accept it or even take comfort in it because it’s familiar?  Do we begin to become ignorant of our own confinement?

One of the most powerful installations for me was The Voices are Controlled by the Powers” (1994); it consisted of 100 traditional masks. It takes a moment to realize that all of the faces have been severed, their mouths cast into the center of the room – representing the voices that are not allowed to be heard in a country with tight controls on free speech.

“Bon Appetit” was a table setting, replete with fine china and stemware.  The course appeared to be a number of beautifully arrange butterflies. The beautiful, fragile creatures were pinned to the aristocratic finery. I didn’t exactly follow the metaphor, but it was clear – the butterflies were not going to get away.

Perhaps the most significant piece for me was an installation of a chair, a desk and countless sheets of paper all bearing his name written in an abandoned Chinese script. This work was one of the clearest depictions of Harsono’s ongoing struggle to understand his heritage as a Chinese Indonesian. When he was a child his parents were forced to take Indonesian names, leaving their Chinese culture behind.

Paling Top, Harsono at SAM

Paling Top, Harsono at SAM

Rewriting the Erased

Rewriting the Erased, Harsono at SAM

The Voices Controlled by the Powers, Harsono

The Voices Controlled by the Powers, Harsono at SAM

Burned Victims , Harsono at SAM

Burned Victims , Harsono at SAM

Rantai-yang-Santai-The-Relaxed-Chain1, Harsono at SAM

Rantai-yang-Santai-The-Relaxed-Chain1, Harsono at SAM

Bon Appetit -- FX Harsono

Bon Appetit — FX Harsono

Voice Without Voice/Sign, HArsono at SAM

Voice Without Voice/Sign, HArsono at SAM