Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Richmond, VA

804 367-0844


Reopening of Sydney and Frances Lewis Galleries at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts


The Sydney and Frances Lewis Galleries of Modern and Contemporary Art will reopen on April 4, 2000, revealing their first major transformation since 1993. The galleries were closed for a year during the museum's showing of "Splendors of Ancient Egypt."

"Sydney and Frances Lewis' exemplary generosity to the people of Virginia through their gift to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1985 catapulted the museum's collections into an international sphere," says Richard B. Woodward, interim director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Many works acquired by the Lewises, sometimes when the artists were hardly known, have now become recognized masterpieces. The museum is proud to display these works in newly designed galleries," he adds. (left: Class Oldenburg (American, b. 1929), Clothespin Ten Foot, 1974, Cor-Ten Steel, 24 x 44 inches. Clothespin Ten Foot will be on view in the museum's lobby in conjunction with the reopening of the Lewis Galleries. (Photo © 1999 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

"The new installation will present a fresh perspective on the collection for museum visitors, offering new vistas and gallery configurations that emphasize the rich sequence of styles and ideas in the development of Modern and Contemporary art," says John Ravenal, the museum's curator of art after 1900.

Important works that have been in storage since the 1980s, along with many favorites, will represent the museum's holdings of painting and sculpture from about 1945 to the present.

"Building upon the magnificent foundation of works given by the Lewises, the installation will also unveil a number of important works acquired in the past year," Ravenal says. Among those recent acquisitions is a wall drawing by eminent American artist Sol LeWitt (b. 1928). LeWitt's multi-part work will be painted directly onto the walls at the entry to the Lewis Galleries, "making a colorful and monumental introduction to the collection within," Ravenal says. LeWitt first came to prominence in the mid-1960s as a pioneer of Conceptual art, an international movement that emphasized the idea of an artwork more than its physical form.

Also on view for the first time since its acquisition in 1999 will be a 1997 oil-on-canvas-on-wood work, "Summer Wind," by American artist Elizabeth Murray (b.1940). The large and colorful painting measures approximately 10 feet by 9 feet and is characteristic of the artist's fragmented, multi-panel works. "Summer Wind' balances recognizable imagery with dynamic composition and lively paint handling," Ravenal explains. "We seem to look from above at a dark, reclining figure whose distortions suggest the enervation of a day in the sun, when one becomes detached from the ordinary sense of bodily integrity."

Other artists whose work will be shown in the newly installed galleries include Jasper Johns, Philip Guston, Helen Frankenthaler, Anselm Kiefer, Duane Hanson, Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, Richard Diebenkorn, Francesco Clemente, Susan Rothenberg and Alison Saar. (left: Allan D'Arcangelo, US Highway 1, Number 3, 1962, acrylic on canvas, 69.5 x 81 inches)

Two special exhibitions will open simultaneously with the Lewis Galleries under the umbrella title "Transformations." "Vanitas: Meditations on Life and Death in Contemporary Art" will feature international cutting-edge artists exploring the traditional theme of beauty and loss. An exhibition of 19th- and 20th-century photographs drawn from the museum's permanent collection - including works by Walker Evans, Ansel Adams, Lee Friedlander and Sally Mann - will explore the theme of transformation in the landscape. Photographs in the display will range in date from the 1860s to the present and will address themes such as artists' manipulation of negatives and prints, alterations of the landscape by natural and human-made catastrophes, and abstracting the landscape. (right: Duane Hanson, Hard Hat Construction Worker, 1970, painted polymer resin, clothes, wood, metal, plastic, 47.5 x 42 x 35 inches)

"Together, these events create a momentous occasion for the art of our time at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and they present an occasion for us to honor Frances Lewis and her late husband, Sydney, on the 15th anniversary of the opening of the West Wing, which they so generously helped to establish, Woodward says. (left: Alex Katz, Self-Portrait with Sunglasses, 1969, oil on canvas, 96 x 68 inches)

The grand reopening of the Sydney and Frances Lewis Galleries and the "Vanitas" exhibition are made possible by major support from the Agnes Gund Foundation and the Best Products Foundation.


Read more about the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 12/27/10

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