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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Commissions Painting by Ryan McGinness for Display in McGlothlin Wing
Artist Ryan McGinness (left) visited VMFA in June for a tour of the McGlothlin Wing with curator John Ravenal. Photo by Travis Fullerton, © 2009 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

RICHMOND, VA. When the doors of the expanded Virginia Museum of Fine Arts open on May 1, the first work of art that visitors will see is “Art History is Not Linear (VMFA),” a Ryan McGinness painting commissioned by the museum.

The painting, which will be installed in the entry concourse of the new James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Wing, will serve as an introduction to the expanded museum and will measure 8 by 32 feet – 16 panels altogether, layered with 200 iconographs based on objects in the VMFA collection.

This will mark the first time that McGinness has created an installation in which the imagery is site-specific and directly linked to a diverse museum collection. The project is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts Fund for American Art.

“McGinness has received international acclaim for his unusual marriage of abstraction and representation,” says VMFA Director Alex Nyerges. “He has drawn inspiration from 6,000 years of art in our collection to create a completely contemporary expression. This commission, to be prominently on view within the transformed VMFA space, will be an ideal welcome for visitors.”

McGinness, 37, is a New York artist who was born and raised in Virginia Beach. He creates paintings, sculptures and environments by using the visual language of public signs, corporate logos and contemporary iconography. He says his work evolved from his interest in design, illustration and popular culture.

McGinness develops his initial hand-drawn sketches into more finished drawings and then digitally scans them. Once these computer versions are complete, he regenerates them as silk-screens to be printed onto canvases, or, in this case, 16 acrylic-on-birch-plywood panels that are each 4 feet square.

“McGinness favors a dense, layered approach, often piling up his images to achieve an exuberant, decorative result,” says John Ravenal, VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

“The various iconographic images he uses represent the VMFA collection – from ancient to modern works – in a lively, contemporary manner. Literally at the front door, visitors will have a preview of what else awaits them as they explore the new galleries,” Ravenal says.

McGinness says his VMFA commission marks “the first time where I’m kind of making a series – of drawings and screens and paintings, of course – based on one kind of body of work.”

He told curator Ravenal in a videotaped interview in June that “what’s also funny about that is that I don’t really like art about art, like I really don’t like ‘inside’ art . . . and here I am making this whole body of work in this piece based on that idea. So I’ve kind of had to come to terms with that.”

In early 2006, as McGinness’ work was rapidly gaining national attention, VMFA acquired his painting “He Who Pays the Piper, Names the Tune.” Now, just three years later, McGinness is one of the top artists of his generation, according to Ravenal.

“This newly commissioned work is a key addition to the museum’s Contemporary collection, and, because it will be the first work seen inside by visitors, it will represent the fresh, new face of VMFA for years to come.

“Our commission will feature an internationally acclaimed Contemporary artist while also celebrating a Virginian. In addition, it will offer our public a work that combines beauty, enjoyment and art history in equal measures,” Ravenal says.

When the expanded VMFA opens May 1, gallery space will be 50 percent larger and special-exhibition space will double. Some 165,000 square feet will be added to VMFA's previously existing 380,000 square feet. More than 5,000 works of art will be displayed, significantly more than were previously on view. The cost of the project, which includes the expansion of the museum, a 600-car parking deck that was completed last year and the E. Claiborne and Lora Robins Sculpture Garden, is approximately $150 million.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts | commission | Ryan McGinness | National Endowment for the Arts | American | art |

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