The late Bev Reynolds, founder of Reynolds Gallery, left an undeniable impact on the Richmond arts community. Such big shoes — of a petite woman — offer a daunting proposition for any new director of her namesake gallery, which was founded in 1977.
Who better to continue the task as co-directors than Julia Monroe, her gallery assistant for the last six years, and Alice Livingston, Reynolds’ daughter who attended her mother’s first art opening as a six-month-old?
Monroe took on the title in June while Livingston assumed the role last fall while Reynolds’ health worsened. Monroe is an alumna of University of North Carolina and a doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University, studying contemporary art history. She brings an academic mindset about art-making.
Complementing Monroe’s role, Livingston, a Hollins University graduate who cut her teeth in marketing and advertising for Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors in New York, contributes a connoisseur’s eye and business background. Before returning to Richmond in 2008, Livingston opened Georgia, a high-end women’s boutique in Charlottesville. The gallery was always a part of her life, she says, “so I learned about art through mom.”
The pair of new directors spoke about the transition and their plans for the year on a recent afternoon. They emphasize that continuity is key.
“We want to focus on the core of our gallery because we have a strong gallery artist base,” Monroe says. “Continuing to foster community is another important long-term project.”
But the continuity must be blended with new endeavors, they say, and there is need for a transition. “Things will have to change,” Livingston says. “We can’t recreate what Bev did.” Monroe agrees: “We want to make it our own.”
The need to hold onto successful precedents while taking new risks figures prominently in the gallery’s exhibition season, tentatively scheduled through the end of the year. Because it was planned well in advance, Reynolds had some direction over the next 12 months. In the latter stages of her three-year battle with cancer, she began handing the reins over to Monroe and then Livingston, encouraging the younger women to seek out fresh talent to add to the core group of artists associated with the gallery. The 2015 schedule is an amalgamation of Reynolds’ vision and that of the new co-directors.
The schedule makes it clear that Reynolds Gallery will retain its commitment to showing local artists with a Virginia connection. VCU connections abound, the summer group show features gallery artists and photographer Sally Mann is tentatively on the docket for September. Likewise, Monroe and Livingston plan to continue the gallery’s philanthropic sponsorship of such projects as the Faison School Art for Autism gala.
Highlights will include the Mann exhibition, if it makes it to Richmond. This isn’t like “Metempsychosis” from the fall of 2013, which offered alterations of Mann’s photographs. It’s an exhibition of Mann’s new work and an autobiography. Mann’s lyrical writing often is the only accompaniment to her exhibition catalogues — she shies away from having others critically analyze her work.
Other exhibitions to watch for include a drawing show featuring Ben Durham and Alison Hall’s graphite work, which opens March 5; “Almost Famous,” which hopefully will branch out from repeating the formulaic graduate-group-show; and the tentatively titled “Smile,” a group exhibition centered on themes of laughter and love, which will feature video works by Dean Fleischer-Camp, creator of “Marcel the Shell,” a stop-motion animated film. The latter two begin concurrently June 5.
The season opens Jan. 16 with Ron Johnson’s “Unboxed,” Joan Gaustad’s “Collaborations and Sensations,” and Miwako Nishizawa’s “Multiples,” all running through Feb. 28. A gallery talk is planned for Jan. 17 with Nishizawa at 4 p.m., and Feb. 19 with Johnson and Gaustad at 7 p.m. Johnson has shown with Reynolds several times since 2004, and Gaustad, though new to the gallery, has shown throughout Virginia. Nishizawa has a show running concurrently through March 29 at VMFA titled, “Twelve Views of Virginia.”
There also are stark signs of transition. Many of the newly implemented initiatives are geared toward younger audiences, as seen by the exhibition themes. Monroe and Livingston also hope to tap into the international art fair market.
“We have already tried events like Saturday afternoon casual wine and gallery tours,” Monroe says. “Our hope is that we can encourage people in their 20s, 30s and 40s to become more engaged with contemporary art across the Richmond community. Hopefully that translates into museum going, attending exhibition openings, and supporting nonprofits like the ICA, 1708 and VisArts.”
Reynolds Gallery isn’t alone in this endeavor. Other local arts venues are actively enticing a younger crowd. But it’s crucial that the caliber of art remain at the forefront. Audiences come and go, but successful art sticks around regardless of entertainment value.
That’s what Bev Reynolds knew and that’s why her gallery became a flagship in the community. As the Richmond art community continues to garner international attention, it must keep critically re-examining the art and artists it features.
Monroe and Livingston remain committed to Reynolds’ vision while pushing forward. Reynolds’ desire for building a vibrant art community has been passed onto the next generation. And the beat goes on. S