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Volume 24, Number 5 — May 2017

Mellon Grant puts African art at center of research and conservation project

July 18, 2016

RICHMOND, VA — The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts a $1.5 million grant that will support in-depth technical examination, conservation and art historical studies focused on the museum's stellar African art collection. This significant award will help launch VMFA's newly conceived center for advanced study in art conservation, designed to bring conservators and curators together with scientists, art scholars, and global experts for focused collaborative research.

"We are thrilled to have received this recognition from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation," Chief Conservator and Senior Deputy Director for Collections Stephen Bonadies said. "This generous gift enables us to initiate an ambitious research program that will enhance scholarship and understanding of our world-class African Art collection and be the pilot for the new conservation center."

The African Art project will allow museum staff to concentrate on works where analysis can lead to well-informed conservation treatment, yield new knowledge through the combination of scientific and cultural examination, and help prepare complex works for display. The Mellon grant will make it possible for the museum to acquire scientific equipment designed to analyze the structure of complex assemblages, determine pigments, assess metal alloys, and identify organic materials employed in creating African works of art. Bonadies further elaborates, "We anticipate that the project will prove transformative for scholars in their understanding of the collection as well as for conservators in their knowledge of the technical and cultural aspects of the objects in our care."

Under guidance of Curator Richard Woodward, VMFA's African collection has grown to include some 1,200 works of art which span approximately 100 cultures throughout the continent. This funding enables museum staff to investigate the cultural and creative impulses that underlie African art and the techniques used in their fabrication. To further extend the impact of these studies and provide training opportunities to the field, the Mellon grant will support an advanced fellowship in art conservation as well as summer internships. The reinstallation of the African collection accompanied by a scholarly catalogue and a wide variety of programs will present the findings of the studies to the public.

"This major grant aligns with goals included in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' ambitious 2020 strategic plan, which places an emphasis on both African art and conservation," Director Alex Nyerges said. "We anticipate significant discoveries that will yield new scholarship and elevate our museum to be an essential destination for research." Adopted last year, VMFA's 2020 strategic plan outlines a five-year agenda to expand diversity among museum visitors by increasing awareness of the museum's renowned African and African-American Art collections through exhibitions, public programs, scholarly research and major acquisitions.

A! ExtraTopics: Art