At a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts opening for an Indian art exhibition some years ago, a woman of a certain age skeptically surveyed a colorful buffet table. It was laden with curried dishes and other exotic Eastern delicacies. The caterer may have been creative, but something was amiss for a woman who'd attended museum receptions for decades. Disoriented and verging on panic, she eyed someone familiar: “Jack, Jack!” she pleaded in a quivering Southern lilt, “Where're the ham biscuits?”
Come May 1, ham biscuits may, or may not, be served at events surrounding the grand reopening of VMFA, but rest assured that visitors won't find their grandfather's art museum near the intersection of Boulevard and Grove. What opened in 1936 in the midst of the Great Depression as a fledging, state-owned institution with a sparse collection housed in a modest but elegant European palace-inspired gallery, has grown into the nation's 10th largest art museum, one that strives to become even more welcoming, egalitarian and with-it.
The reopening will reveal that the museum has embraced its entire 14-acre tract with a $204 million expansion that includes a major new wing, an impressive sculpture garden, a 600-space parking deck, new eateries and a complete reinstallation of its holdings. Visitors will enter through a modernist pavilion designed by London-based Rick Mather Architects. This fifth major expansion in 75 years has produced a markedly lighter structure from earlier wings. Broad expanses of clear and frosted glass are designed to make the museum enticing from the Boulevard. School buses will unload students in a new motor court near the front door. And after dark the museum will glow from within. It will be a big tease.
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The new VMFA will be nothing like your grandmother's art museum.
by Edwin Slipek Jr.
VMFA's expansion balances transparency and serendipity.
by Peter Galuszka
With a grand reopening on the horizon, Director Alex Nyerges sits in the hot seat.
Interviewed by Don Harrison
Former director Michael Brand left his mark on VMFA.
Interviewed by Martha Steger
Former Arts & Culture editor Brandon Reynolds and editor Jason Roop share their behind-the-scenes experience of the VMFA in video.
by Brandon Reynolds and Jason Roop
The VMFA turns the spotlight on outside works.
by Alexander Chang