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Modern and Contemporary Art

VMFA’s Modern & Contemporary collection includes European art after 1900, American art after 1950, and a global collection of 21st-century art.

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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.

Lewis Focus Gallery Exhibition

Ebony Patterson

Experience the visuals, sound, and emotion in a large-scale video installation created by Jamaican-born artist Ebony Patterson. Shown slowly in reverse, Patterson’s film portrays a trilogy of three men, each on a separate screen, dressing themselves while tears quietly roll down their cheeks. Like the triptych paintings often found on the altar pieces at the front of churches built during the Renaissance, these figures occupy a chapel-like space where viewers can sit and contemplate their presence. The voice of a young boy reading the poem “If We Must Die,” by Jamaican-born Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay, frames the scene. McKay wrote his poem, published in 1919, following weeks of race riots dubbed “the Red Summer,” in which hundreds of African Americans were killed during attacks on Black communities in several cities across America. One hundred years later, Patterson reiterates McKay’s words as a soundtrack to her visually arresting work, exposing the continued vulnerability of Black bodies in our present society.

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Julie Mehretu @ VMFA

Artist Julie Mehretu talks about the concepts, processes, and implications of her "Stadia" series, including "Stadia III" in VMFA's permanent collection.

Hank Willis Thomas @VMFA

American artist Hank Willis Thomas discusses his work and the construction of black identity through popular culture.

The interview was conduced by John B. Ravenal (Syndey and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art), VMFA.

Robert Pruitt @VMFA

American artist Robert Pruitt discusses his inspirations, his process, and elements of the absurd in this artist talk.

Gee’s Bend Quilters

Gee’s Bend, later named Boykin, is located southwest of Selma, Alabama. The area is not only rural but isolated. Bounded on three sides by the Alabama River, Gee’s Bend was once home to numerous cotton plantations named after their owners, including Gee, Bennett, Pettway, and Irby. Many of the quilters were and are direct descendents of enslaved Africans who took the surnames of these plantation owners. Living in unheated shacks, Gee’s Bend women made quilts for warmth and utility. Drawing upon aesthetic legacies, creative vision, and patterns from the world around them, these quilters have constructed some of the most iconic textiles of the African American South.

VMFA’s collection of Gee’s Bend quilts is featured in an online exhibition by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation titled 100 Years of Gee’s Bend Quilts on Google Arts & Culture, where you can explore by decades beginning with the 1920s – 1930s.

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.

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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.

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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.

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