The former stewards of the Confederate Memorial Chapel on the grounds of VMFA hope to convince organizers of this weekend’s InLight Richmond to stay away from the building, saying it deserves respect as a nonsecular space.
Organizers say they’ve been misunderstood.
As reported last week in Style, 1708 Gallery commissioned artists Ander Mikalson and John Dombroski to install a display inside and outside the building as part of the festival (see page 17). They’ve promoted it as a “heightened sensory experience” filled with “high-powered cinema lights” and reverberating sounds.
“The artists’ intention was to create a reflective experience,” says Emily Smith, executive director of 1708. “We recognized this as a historically significant space. The lights call attention to the building itself and the sounds will make you aware of your physical presence within the building.”
But members and supporters of the group that previously held the chapel lease, Lee-Jackson Camp No. 1 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, say it’s completely out of line — especially in the wake of Veterans Day.
“All legislative acts of the General Assembly have stipulated that Pelham Chapel is a perpetual war memorial to our veterans,” a former camp commander, Robert Crouch, says.
“The whole thing is absolutely, totally inappropriate,” Virginia Second Brigade Commander Les Updike says. “It is a chapel and a house of worship and a historical landmark. Not a theater for staging displays.”
“Dignity should be accorded such a sacred memorial,” says the camp’s judge advocate, Bobby Lamb.
Stephen Bonadies, deputy director for collections at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, says the installation should serve as a sober introduction to a “beautiful building” that Richmonders may never have visited.
“In our current culture,” 1708’s Smith says in a release, “contemporary art has been engaged to provide more abstract and conceptual interpretations of historic buildings, allowing the visitors to reflect on these spaces in personal ways.”
Crouch isn’t buying it.
“Invariably, whenever there is a controversial art display, the artists always respond that the offended parties never saw it, do not understand it, or are too provincial and ignorant to appreciate it,” he writes in an email. “I can assure you, that is not the case here. Many of us are familiar with a variety of artistic expressions.”
Mike Meacham says the group has no public protest planned, and notes that the Virginia Flaggers aren’t affiliated with the group. He also hopes local churches will support the installation’s cancellation : “They need to know, if it can happen to us, it can happen to them.”