"Speed" sets the stage for a multitude of questions at the forefront of our culture today. They are simple yet overwhelming: Where are we coming from? Where are we going? And what, if anything, are we losing along the way?
The curator attempts to broach these questions using the vast museum collection, including ancient Egyptian, African and Indian sculpture and manuscripts, 19th-century European painting and sculpture, and American art from the 20th century.
More than answering any particular questions, though, the show is really an art historical exhibition, meant to show the viewer the many ways artists have depicted "Speed" and movement in art. There are obvious themes featuring runners, sports, violence and modes of transportation, and subtler ones, such as the movement of the artist's hand, of light and of technology.
As intriguing as these observations are, the real meat of the exhibition lies in ideas of where, exactly, we are going. Several pieces look into the idea of advancement, of one technology surpassing the other. But the show, as a whole, is unable to address this idea to its fullest because of its lack of work using technology.
There is one video work in the show, and some wall text which mentions the Internet, but in a show about "Speed" one might expect more focus on current advancements concerning our ability to communicate instantly and the multitude of artists that are engaging with this possibility in their work.
Without this branch into the 21st century the viewer is left to ponder the question of "Speed" as we have come to experience it today, an unprecedented era no longer concerned solely with the velocity of objects, but with the velocity of information and ideas.
The exhibit does deliver a fantastic mixture of artifacts, old and new, which raise primal questions and give us the heart of the argument: that human beings have understood that the pace at which we advance is directly proportional to our survival as a species. S
"Speed" is at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Boulevard, through Jan. 7. Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. A series of events surrounding the exhibit, including free guided tours Oct. 11 and 15 at 2:30 p.m., can be found at www.vmfa.museum. 340-1400.