Modern & Contemporary Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Modern & Contemporary collection of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts includes European art after 1900, American art after 1950, and a global collection of 21st-century art.

German Expressionism
Most of VMFA’s German Expressionist art was originally purchased from 1905 to 1925 by Ludwig and Rosy Fischer, forward-thinking collectors from Frankfurt, Germany. The collection later passed to their sons, Max and Ernst. In 1934, Ernst and his wife, Anne, left Germany and eventually settled in Richmond. In 2009, VMFA acquired Ernst’s half of the collection, about 200 works, through a gift-purchase agreement. Two additional works represent Max Fischer’s half of the collection.

The Sydney And Francis Lewis Collection
Sydney and Frances Lewis donated over eighty percent of the art from the 1950s to 1980s currently on view at VMFA. Their collecting began modestly in the early sixties, but by the end of the sixties, they reached the top tier of those collecting American contemporary art. In 1985, the Lewises gave the best of their private collection to VMFA. VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Galleries now represent one of the top postwar collections in a comprehensive museum in the United States.

Twenty-First Century Art
With works by global artists, VMFA’s collection reflects the expanded nature of contemporary art. Mobility and diversity have given 21st-century art a kaleidoscopic quality with no dominant style, medium, or movement. New technologies inflect work made in both innovative and traditional formats. Over the past several years, gifts from donors like Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr. have catalyzed the growth of VMFA’s collection, with an especially strong commitment to African American artists.

The Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection of German Expressionism and the T. Catesby Jones Collection of French Modernism provide outstanding examples of European art in the early twentieth century. The Sydney and Frances Lewis collection represents iconic American art from the 1950s through the 1980s, plus European art from the 1980s. With the support of donors such as Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr., our dynamic and diverse collection of contemporary art continues to grow.

Six Dancers
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, German, 1880 – 1938
By painting both the skin and costume of each of these dancers the same intense mauve color, Kirchner rendered them doll-like. Their stiff, awkward poses further this impression, suggesting that Kirchner was as interested in staging the overall rhythm and harmony of the picture as in the figures themselves. Kirchner’s attention to patterning, coupled with his bright palette, parallels the art of Matisse and the Fauvists, while the distinctive brushwork and flattened space recall the work of Cézanne.

Mother Goose Melody
Helen Frankenthaler, American, 1928 – 2011
The painter makes something magical, spatial, and alive on a surface that is flat and with materials that are inert. That magic is what makes a painting unique and necessary. Painting, in many ways, is a glorious illusion. —Helen Frankenthaler

In Mother Goose Melody, Frankenthaler combines the gestural splashes and drips of Abstract Expressionist painting with the innovative stained-canvas technique she helped pioneer in 1952. The array of colors, shapes, and lines makes this composition rhythmic and dynamic. The spiraling red form on the right counters the dense area of color on the left, while the broad yellow band stretching across the bottom unites both. The artist noted that the three brown shapes could refer to herself and her two sisters, and that the red and black lines “made a sort of stork figure—the whole thing had a nursery-rhyme feeling.”

Synopsis of a Battle
Cy Twombly, American, 1928 – 2011
“What I am trying to establish is that Modern Art isn’t dislocated, but something with roots, tradition and continuity. For myself the past is the source (for all art is vitally contemporary).”—Cy Twombly (From the 1952 fellowship application to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

The vibrant, freewheeling compositions of Virginia-born Cy Twombly often allude to historical and mythological subjects. In Synopsis of a Battle, what appear to be random, chalklike scrawls on a slate gray blackboard are actually drawn and painted signs and symbols that refer to a specific event—the Battle of Issus (333 BC), in which Alexander the Great defeated Darius of Persia’s much larger army.

Among the work’s cryptic, graffiti-like markings, the words “Issus” (top left) and “flank” (left and right) provide clues to the painting’s military subject. The radiating, or flanking, form suggests diagrams of troop movements.

Twombly combines the energy of Abstract Expressionist gesture with the simplifying urges of Minimalism. The painting also reflects the inquiring attitude of Conceptual Art. Twombly is interested in language as both a visual form and a mental construct, here capable of bringing the past vitally into the present.

Between the Clock and the Bed
Jasper Johns, American, born 1930
“I was riding in a car, going out to the Hamptons for the weekend, when a car came in the opposite direction. It was covered with these marks, but I only saw it for a moment—then it was gone—just a brief glimpse. But I immediately thought that I would use it for my next painting.” —Jasper Johns

Hatch marks appear as details or as an overall pattern in many of John’s paintings and prints, beginning in the early 1970s. In Between the Clock and the Bed, what at first seem to be random marks are, in fact, a carefully structure system of repeated and reversed patterns. The left- and right-hand sections of the three-part painting mirror each other nearly exactly.

John’s paintings are often densely layered visual puzzles that explore the paradoxes inherent in the twin poles of painting—abstraction and representation. This piece’s title, Between the Clock and the Bed, comes from a late self-portrait by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), after Johns noticed the resemblance between his own hatch-mark pattern and the pattern of Munch’s bedspread.

Triple Elvis
Andy Warhol, American, 1928 – 1987
“In my art work, hand painting would take much too long and anyway that’s not the age we’re living in. Mechanical means are today . . . Silkscreen work is as honest a method as any, including hand painting.” —Andy Warhol

Warhol based this macho signer-turned-gunslinger portrait of Elvis Presley on a publicity photograph for the 1960 western Flaming Star. This public persona, as carefully packaged as Campbell’s Soup, was ideally suited to Warhol’s aims and to his focus on surface appearance rather than psychological interpretation. Warhol’s repetition of identical images and his silkscreen technique often allude to the pervasiveness of consumer culture. The overlapping multiple figures here also suggest individual film frames and cinematic motion, while the work’s metallic background evokes Hollywood’s silver screen.

Art History Is Not Linear
Ryan McGinness, American, born 1972
“Art history is not linear; although it is often taught as such. Culture is a multidimensional network that feeds and builds upon itself in a mash up that transcends time.” —Ryan McGinness

Born and raised in Virginia Beach and now based in NewYork, McGinness is internationally known for his exuberant marriage of abstraction and representation. His early interest in design, illustration, and popular culture led to a flat, clean-edged style of bold logolike images. He refers to his images as icons, a nod to his interest in merging corporate culture and fine art.

This multipart painting was commissioned specifically for its current location. Its two hundred icons are based on works in VMFA’s collection, which McGinness studied over several years through direct observation, book research, and visits to the museum’s Web site. McGinness reinterpreted the works through a process of hand drawing and computer design, producing a repertoire of new representational icons. With intuition as his guide, he then collaged the new images using the silkscreen-printing process to create a set of vibrant, densely layered paintings that together serve as an introduction to the museum‘s holdings.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, United States
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, or VMFA, is an art museum in Richmond, Virginia, in the United States, which opened in 1936.

The museum is owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia, while private donations, endowments, and funds are used for the support of specific programs and all acquisition of artwork, as well as additional general support. Admission itself is free (except for special exhibits). It is one of the first museums in the American South to be operated by state funds. It is also one of the largest art museums in North America. VMFA ranks as one of the top ten comprehensive art museums in the United States.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, together with the adjacent Virginia Historical Society, anchors the eponymous “Museum District” of Richmond (alternatively known as “West of the Boulevard”).