When the doors of the expanded Virginia Museum of Fine Arts open on Saturday, 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 monumental work, which is 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 images based on objects in the VMFA collection.
This marks 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 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 more than 5,000 years of art in our collection to create a completely contemporary expression. This no painting 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, 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 studied VMFA’s collection for several years through direct observation, research, and visits to the museum’s Web site. He 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 through the silkscreen-printing process to create a set of vibrant, densely layered paintings.
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 last year 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.
About the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
With a collection of world art that spans more than 5,000 years and a wide array of special exhibitions, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) is recognized as one of the top comprehensive art museums in the United States. In May 2010, VMFA opens its doors to the public after the largest expansion in its 74-year history. Programs include educational activities and studio classes for all ages, plus fun after-hours events. VMFA’s Statewide Partnership program includes traveling exhibitions, artist and teacher workshops, and lectures across the Commonwealth. Admission is free. For additional information, telephone 804-340-1400 or visit www.vmfa.museum.