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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.

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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Bulbancha (Green Silence) (detail), 2019, Athena LaTocha (American, born 1969), ink, Mississippi River mud, and Spanish moss on paper, 132 x 204 in. © Athena LaTocha , L2023.1.3
Athena LaTocha: The Past Never Sleeps

In this installation of monumental works on paper, Athena LaTocha invites viewers to meditate on the landscape as a geographic space, a repository of history, and a personified living entity. Her works often incorporate materials and elements taken from sites referenced in their titles. These sites are layered with history that underpins their vibrant and visceral presence. In extracting materials from each site for use in the paintings, LaTocha draws attention to the physical and cultural scars that are incised into the earth through industry, habitation, and traumatic events that underscore the ongoing unrest within the social and political landscape.

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On View in the Lewis Galleries for Mid to Late 20th-Century Art

Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled [Cy, North Africa (I)] (detail), 1952. ©Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Cy Twombly, Morocco, 1952/1953

This pioneering exhibition charts the early pilgrimage of one of the most influential figures in 20th-century American art. Cy Twombly, Morocco, 1952/1953 captures the artist’s enduring and style-defining fascination with archaeology and the historic landscapes of Morocco through the pages of his sketchbooks, photographs, and two paintings. Archival materials from VMFA’s Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman Library add depth, contextualizing the artist’s travels and interest in North Africa and the broader Mediterranean region.

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Jennie C. Jones: High as the Listening Skies and The Edges of Heaven, Rest

This immersive installation at VMFA features two sound works. The first composition, High as the Listening Skies, features three gospel choirs from Houston, Los Angeles, and Baltimore, performing the song “A City Called Heaven.” The song was popularized by gospel icon and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson. The second featured work, The Edges of Heaven, Rest, is primarily tonal and associated with the concept of music as having healing energy. Jones layers audio samples—effectively collaging composition from Black composer Alvin Singleton.

The two works, which can be experienced together in the chapel located in the museum’s Sculpture Garden, create a striking balance between the crescendo of a spiritual ecstatic and a meditative calm. Interwoven, they emit a sonic framing that bridges the physical world to the ethereal realm, offering the transcendent and transformational possibilities of sound. 

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Artist Talk | Sir Isaac Julien

On December 4th, Sir Isaac Julien shared insights on his film installation, Lessons of the Hour—Frederick Douglass, which contemplates the life and times of Frederick Douglass.

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.