Richmond’s newest museum opened last spring. Housed in a dramatic building in downtown, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Richmond, has no permanent collection. That means this Fall there’s an entirely new set of artwork. The latest exhibition is called "Hedges, Edges, Dirt."
For a brief moment, on a weekday morning, the airy upstairs gallery of the Institute of Contemporary Art became a chapel.
Members of the First African Baptist Contemporary Choir sang before a towering metal structure laden with ceramics, books and roughly carved busts of shea butter -- But mostly, plants. Lots of flowing green plants.
“To me it felt like it is an altar,” said choir director Michelle Lightfoot. “An altar for me really ties into the church. Where you go and you pray. And you have positive energy if you will. Because it’s like you’re speaking directly to the father.
That appeals to artist Rashid Johnson.
“I really do like the idea that a work like this can be an altar, something to speak to, something that has kind of an inherent spiritual quality to it,” said Johnson.
Performances are an integral part of Johnson’s exhibition. David Riley, one of the museum's employees, says there are plans to host choirs, jazz musicians, and DJ’s.
“We also have poetry coming through. Spoken word. Rap. Experimental music. Some maybe martial arts, yoga, movement, dance,” said Riley.
Johnson’s installation, called Monument, is just one in a museum now full of new artwork. Walk into the first floor exhibit room and you’re immediately stopped by a wall of plants. The cedars give off a faint scent, and the sound of a windchime seems welcoming.
But chief curator Stephanie Smith says the exhibit -- like this row of tall hedges -- is meant to explore the intersection between hospitality and hostility.
“In the ways that they designate yours and mine. Public and private,” Smith said. “And have a long history of being used not only as attributes of beauty but also in a kind of hostile way -- even to create a sense of division.”
That’s a repeated theme that plays out in lush, green motifs throughout the museum’s “Hedges, Edges, Dirt” exhibit. Posing the question: Are we a native species, or an invasive pest?
Many of the plants in the exhibit were provided through a partnership with Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. Horticulturist Ryan Olsen spent months gathering fresh green material for a piece by Iranian-born artist Abbas Akhavan.
“The artist was actually skyping us from Canada,” recalled Olsen. “And me as well as some of the museum installers, and a gardener I brought - Jim Coleman - we came and laid out everything. We had iterations of the artists’ other works that we were going off of. But other than that he just wanted us to make it look natural.”
The exhibit "Hedges, Edges, Dirt" runs through January. Performances in the upstairs gallery are every Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.