Installation view (partial) of “Storm in a Time of Shelter” (2018) by Paul Rucker. | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine

 

ENCOUNTERING 52 MANNEQUINS outfitted in Ku Klux Klan-style hoods and robes is unsettling, to say the least, even when the racist get-ups are made from brightly colored and patterned fabrics, including kente cloth and camouflage.

Titled “Storm in a Time of Shelter” (2018), the installation by Baltimore-based artist Paul Rucker was featured in “Declaration,” the inaugural exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, when the new museum opened earlier this year.

The work includes related artifacts and ephemera such as newspapers, books, pamphlets, photographs and posters from the artist’s own collection displayed along with the mannequins. Taken as a whole, the ominous work is intended to start a conversation and offer a lesson in American history about a culture of hate, violence, and White Supremacy that lingers in the contemporary moment.

“If I cannot claim the words and symbols of those who killed and oppressed and make them my own,” Rucker has said about the provocative work, “then I will turn them into an object of curiosity at least.”

Rucker’s entire installation was recently acquired by the nearby Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). Also located in Richmond, the museum announced 250 new additions to its permanent collection. The selections included gifts and purchases approved by the VMFA Board of Trustees on Dec. 12.

A wide range of works dating from circa 2040-1786 B.C. to the present were acquired, including a handful of significant works by African American artists—20th century figures Hale Woodruff (1900-1980) and Charles Alston (1907-1977), and contemporary artists Nick Cave, Samuel Levi Jones, and Rucker. The museum also acquired a series of 15 works by Congolese artist Tshimbumba Kanda-Matulu (1947-c. 1982), whose genre paintings depict his nation’s history.

Additional acquisitions include, “View on the Magdalena River” (1857), a landscape by Frederic Edwin Church; 44 etchings made by Salvador Dali in 1934; Matthew Day Jackson’s “Aerial Crop Painting” (2011); and “Chill,” a 2011 painting by Candida Alvarez. There are also scrolls, screens, and ceramics by Japanese artists and ancient Egyptian jewelry.

The museum acquired multiple works by many of the artists. The 250 new works being brought into the collection were produced by 27 artists (including one unknown Japanese artist and one unknown Egyptian artist). Remarkably, Alvarez, the Chicago-based painter, is the only female artist included in the museum’s latest crop of acquisitions.

Remarkably, Cadida Alvarez, the Chicago-based painter, is the only female artist included in the museum’s latest crop of acquisitions.


Far left, Installation view of CANDIDA ALVAREZ, “Chill,” 2011 (acrylic, pencil, oil, and enamel on canvas, 84 × 72 × 1 ¾ inches / 213.36 × 182.88 × 4.45 cm), “Candida Alvarez: Here,” Chicago Cultural Center (April 29–August 6, 2017). | Photo by Tom Van Eynde via Chicago Cultural Center

 

ON A QUARTERLY BASIS, VMFA curators present potential acquisitions to the museum’s board of trustees. The body reviews and votes on the artworks that are added to the collection. I inquired why only one female artist was represented among the acquisitions approved earlier this month.

Michael Taylor, VMFA’s chief curator and deputy director of art and education, said “This was not a conscious decision…” and the curators “are working diligently to address gender inequality in the collection and in the galleries.”

In a statement to Culture Type, Taylor said in March the curators would be presenting the trustees with works by several female artists—including Deborah Roberts, Ming Smith, and Mildred Thompson—for acquisition consideration. VMFA has a notable collection of works by African American artists and he also emphasized that building on those holdings is a priority. Taylor’s full statement said:

    We are extremely proud of the range, quality and vitality of the acquisitions that VMFA’s Board of Trustees approved at their December meeting. The curators have done a terrific job of identifying exceptional works to acquire in their respective fields, while also following the museum’s strategic plan initiative of building a world class collection of African-American art. The addition of key works by Charles Alston (1907-1977), Nick Cave, Paul Rucker, and Hale Woodruff represent an important step towards achieving this goal.

    A large scale painting by female artist Candida Alvarez was also part of the museum’s December acquisitions, but you are correct in saying that there were not many other works by female artist on the agenda for this particular quarterly trustees meeting. This was not a conscious decision and in March 2019 we are presenting works by Georgette Agutte, Kathe Kollwitz, Deborah Roberts, Ming Smith, and Mildred Thompson, among others, and are working diligently to address gender inequality in the collection and in the galleries. Acquisitions in the past year include important works by Betty Blayton, Rosalyn Drexler, Mikki Ferrell, Jennie C. Jones, Marilyn Nance, and Cheryl Pope.

“This was not a conscious decision…” and the curators “are working diligently to address gender inequality in the collection and in the galleries.” — Chief Curator Michael Taylor


HALE WOODRUFF, (American, 1900-1980), “The Banjo Player,” 1929 (oil on canvas, 23 ¾ × 28 ¾ inches / 60.33 × 73.03 cm). | The J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Arts

 

SIMILAR TO RUCKER’S INSTALLATION, some of the new acquisitions have appeared in recent exhibitions. Last year, the Chicago Cultural Center presented “Candida Alvarez: Here,” the artist’s first major institutional exhibition. Described as long overdue, the show featured works by Alvarez spanning 1975 to the present, including “Chill,” the striking abstract painting now in the collection of VMFA.

Woodruff’s “The Banjo Player” was on view this fall. The 1929 painting was included in “Truth & Beauty: Charles White and His Circle” at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York City. Another acquisition, Alston’s drawing “Portrait of a Man” (1929), was donated by Michael Rosenfeld and halley k harrisburg.

A navy blue Soundsuit by Cave was a gift from Richmond collectors Pam and Bill Royall. The Chicago-based artist’s 2011 work is composed of fabric embellished with sequins and embroidery. “Nick Cave is one of the most iconic artists of his generation,” Valerie Cassel Oliver, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art, said in the acquisition announcement. “His Soundsuits have reshaped how art and movement are inextricably linked.”

“Until” Cave’s largest and most ambitious work to date is currently on view at Carriageworks in Sydney, Australia.

Gifts also included “Progress (The Advance of Civilization)” by Asher B. Durand, which the museum described as “one of the most important works of American art in private hands.” The Hudson River School painting came to the museum from an anonymous donor and is estimated to be worth more than $40 million.

In a statement about the Durand acquisition, VMFA said, “This is the highest valued gift of a single work of art in VMFA’s history, and represents the first time the painting has been held outside of private collections since it was painted in 1853. Because of the extraordinary generosity of the donor, this beloved, canonical painting now enters the public domain…”

VMFA is presenting some of the new acquisitions in the museum’s collection galleries. Cave’s Soundsuit is displayed in the center of a gallery near a pair of works by Jones, who “paints” using book covers. Fifteen paintings by Kanda-Matulu hang gallery style on two adjacent walls. Five of Rucker’s Klan mannequins are also on view. Taylor said the museum plans to exhibit the entire work in the near future. CT

 

NEW ACQUISITIONS BY ARTISTS OF AFRICAN DESCENT

  • Charles Alston (American, 1907-1977), “Portrait of a Man,” 1929 (pastel and graphite on paper, 21 ½ × 16 ¾ inches / 54.61 × 52.55 cm). | Gift of Michael Rosenfeld and halley k Harrisburg
  • Hale Woodruff (American, 1900-1980), “The Banjo Player,” 1929 (oil on canvas, 23 ¾ × 28 ¾ inches / 60.33 × 73.03 cm). | The J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Arts
  • Nick Cave (American, b. 1959), “Untitled (Soundsuit),” 2011 (fabric, sequins, embroidery, mannequin, 102 × 36 × 36 inches / 259.08 × 91.44 × 91.44 cm). | Gift of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.
  • Samuel Levi Jones (American, b. 1978), “Deeper,” 2017 (color aquatint and flatbite on Rives BFK paper, 67 × 51 inches / 170.18 × 129.54 cm). | Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
  • Samuel Levi Jones (American, b. 1978), “Psychosocial,” 2018 (deconstructed medical books on canvas, 60 × 55 inches / 152.4 × 139.7 cm). | Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
  • Paul Rucker (American, b. 1968), “Storm in a Time of Shelter,” 2018 (52 mannequins, cloth, historical ephemera and artifacts, various dimensions). | Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
  • Tshimbumba Kanda-Matulu (Congolese, 1947-c.1982), 15 paintings, circa 1970-1973 (acrylic on flour sack, various dimensions). | Gift of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.

SEE full list of acquisitions (scroll to bottom of document)

 

TOP IMAGE: Installation view (partial) of PAUL RUCKER, “Storm in a Time of Shelter,” 2018 (52 mannequins, cloth, historical ephemera and artifacts, various dimensions), Institute of Contemporary Art, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. (Aug. 23, 2018). | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine

 

FIND MORE about Samuel Levi Jones on his website

FIND MORE about Candida Alvarez, her work, and recent exhibition

 

READ ABOUT about Sotheby’s auction exclusively featuring women artists that will benefit Miss Porter’s School

READ ABOUT Tate Britain’s forthcoming exhibition featuring 60 works from its collection by female artists

 

BOOKSHELF
A recent volume “Nick Cave: Until” documents the artist’s installation at Mass MOCA, his largest work to date. Nick Cave’s “Until” was “an immersive environment populated by a dazzling array of found objects, echoing some of Cave’s and America’s most confounding dilemmas: gun violence, racial inequality, injustice within our cities’ police departments, and death.” Earlier publications, “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College” and “Charles Alston (The David C. Driskell Series of African Amerian Art)” explore the work of 20th century painters Hale Woodruff and Charles Alston.

 


NICK CAVE (American, b. 1959), “Untitled (Soundsuit),” 2011 (fabric, sequins, embroidery, mannequin, 102 × 36 × 36 inches / 259.08 × 91.44 × 91.44 cm). | Gift of Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr.

 


TSHIBUMBA KANDA-MATULU (Congolese, 1947-c.1982), “Les Refugies de 1960-63 á Lubumbashi,” circa 1970-1973 (acrylic on flour sack). | Gift of Pamela K. and William A. Royall, Jr., © Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu

 

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