The New Virginia Museum – Expect to be Wowed
McGlothlin Wing is "Jewel in the Crown"
By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE FOR THE ARTS | December 28, 2009Nearly four thousand pieces of art — with 35% never on view before — a 27-ton marble pavilion imported from India, a 50% increase in the size of the permanent collection galleries, and a 143,500-volume library are just a few of the improvements that will be on display when the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts holds its post-renovation reopening on May 1, 2010.
The centerpiece of the museum's extensive five-year renovation is the new James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Wing, which strategically joins five VMFA buildings to create a streamlined no-dead-end experience for viewers, who can now explore art collections chronologically and by culture or art movement. One of the most visually interesting features of the new wing is a 40-foot window facing the Boulevard that makes some of the art visible from the street.
In a state capital best known for its historic landmarks, passersby will soon marvel at three brightly lit floors of art and activity through the glass curtain-wall of the new wing, named after its principal donors, native Virginians Jim and Fran McGlothlin, who have homes in Bristol and other parts of the country.
The sleek new building re-orients VMFA's main entrance to the Boulevard for the first time in decades as part of a $150 million expansion program, the largest in the institution's 73-year history.
The McGlothlin Wing alone will be larger than any other art museum in the state. The new wing is the jewel in the crown of a master plan that knits together new elements with the original Georgian-style museum and other historic buildings.
"With the McGlothlin Wing, [London-based architect] Rick Mather gives us a thrilling, glamorous stage from which to present special exhibitions and display more of our global collection," says VMFA Director Alex Nyerges. "Yet he has not only designed a spectacular new museum building; he has also made anew our original building, even restoring to use such beloved Beaux Arts elements as the 1936 marble Grand Staircase."
As visitors enter the three-story main entrance of the McGlothlin Wing, they will step into a soaring limestone-walled interior paved with granite and washed with natural light, with glimpses of the city to the left, gardens to the right, people walking on bridges above, and works of art both far and near.
Stairways and glass-walled elevators will take visitors below to the 12,000-square-foot special-exhibitions galleries and lecture hall or above to two levels of new permanent-collection galleries. Aloft, five aerial walkways span an atrium and connect the galleries in the new wing to those in the original building.
On the second floor of the new wing will be the James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Galleries of American Art featuring VMFA's permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and decorative arts dating from the colonial era to the mid-20th century. Occupying a special place in these eight galleries will be the Worsham-Rockefeller Room, the fashionable 1880s Aesthetic-movement bedroom of Arabella "Belle" Duval Yarrington Huntington of Richmond. The historic interior is a recent gift from the Museum of the City of New York and will be VMFA's only period room on display. For the first time in the museum's history, the full breadth and depth of the American holdings will be available to the public. In addition, a first-ever scholarly examination of selected paintings, sculptures, works on paper and decorative arts in the American collection will be published around the time of the expansion opening.
Two glass-walled bridges connect these galleries and those for 21st-century art with newly transformed galleries in the original building that showcase 20th-century art. Still another bridge on the second level connects holdings of Pre-Columbian, Native American and American art in the new wing with galleries presenting Greek, Roman and Chinese art in the pre-existing museum.
On the third and top floor of the McGlothlin Wing will be a large, white-marble pavilion from Rajasthan, India — the only Mughal-inspired architectural space in an American museum — which will give visitors a taste of the splendor of palace complexes from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, amid other important works of South Asian art.
Also on the top floor will be conservation studios, tripled in size to nearly 10,000 square feet; a board room; and a restaurant where a balcony offers a bird's-eye view of the sculpture garden and a glass-enclosed bar overlooks the atrium's aerial walkways and the outdoors. Two walkways from the restaurant area lead to the museum's world-renowned Art Nouveau and Art Deco exhibitions in the older wing.
The architect says, "The Cochrane Atrium and the Robins Sculpture Garden are key pivots for the McGlothlin Wing. In fact, I came to view the whole of the museum's grounds as a garden and the McGlothlin Wing as a structure that would bring the outdoors inside — like the grand Mannerist residence outside of Rome, the Villa d'Este, which is beautiful during the day and magically lit at night. The walls of the McGlothlin Wing define and engage the gardens as much as they form interior spaces."
From May 29-Aug. 15, 2010, the McGlothlin Wing will feature one of the most significant exhibitions ever mounted of works by the master of American glass, Louis Comfort Tiffany. "Tiffany: Color and Light" will occupy 8,500 square feet of the 12,000 square feet of special-exhibition space in the new wing. VMFA will be the only American museum to display the Tiffany exhibition's approximately 170 objects: blown-glass vessels; lamps; leaded-glass windows; decorative objects such as mosaics, bronzes and jewelry; as well as paintings, watercolors, architectural elements and silver. Four windows, created for a church in Montreal, have never before been shown in the United States. The museum has also coordinated a driving tour of works by Tiffany, mostly ecclesiastical sites, throughout Virginia.
VMFA, the first art museum in the nation to be chartered by a state, will unveil its new home and the complete reinstallation of its millennium-spanning collections May 1. The Grand Opening weekend will feature an array of celebratory public activities, from family programs to guided tours and illustrated talks.
Admission to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is free. For more information, call 804-340-1400 or visit www.vmfa.museum.
McGlothlins Bequeath Art Collection to VMFA
As visitors enter the new McGlothlin Wing, they will step into a soaring linestone-walled interior paved with granite and washed with natural light. Five aerial walkways span the atrium and connect the galleries in the new wing to those in the original building. (Rendering by Rick Mather Architects)
This Aesthetic Movement period room from the New York City home of John D. Rockefeller was gifted to VMFA by the Museum of the City of New York. The bedroom features a suite of ebonized furniture inlaid with stylized leaf-and-vine motifs of Asian inspiration.