A Space Designed for Maximum Impact

Apr 18, 2018

The corner of Broad and Belvidere is one of Richmond’s busiest intersections, and it’s about to get a bit busier. The intersection is now home to Richmond’s newest, and long anticipated, art museum.


“One of the problems of the busy urban intersection, is the noise,” says New-York based architect, Steven Holl. He stands on the corner, the rush of traffic filling the air.

But step under the broad metallic awning of the new museum, close your eyes, and the vision of Holl sneaks in to the senses. The sound of trickling water starts to compete with car horns.

“If you have a little bit of water you create a kind of space,” Holl says.

This weekend, VCU’s Institute of Contemporary Art will finally open to the public. The $41 million dollar institute is housed in a futuristic building. Walls of zinc and glass were designed in direct opposition to the brick neighborhood. Architectural Digest named it one of the most anticipated buildings of 2018.

It’s easy to see why.

On the right side of the forking galleries visitors can sit and listen to Stephen Vitiello's 'whether there was a bell or whether I knocked.'
Credit Courtesy of VCU ICA

From galleries with floor to ceiling glass windows, to the sweeping airy lobby, there’s an intentional creation of space using sound and light that defines the new institute.

“The architecture operates at the larger scale, shaping space. The sculpting of the building in the city. And at the smaller scale -- the detail -- the door handles,” describes architect Chris McAvoy.

“But in the intermediate scale is the art. And that’s why the spaces are very serene in a way. So that the artwork has the maximum impact.”

The opening exhibition is called “Declaration.” About 60 bold pieces by more than 30 international and local artists. But don’t expect classical paintings or statues.

 

That's why the spaces are very serene in a way. So that the artwork has the maximum impact.

Moving up into the second floor gallery, the first piece of art is an array of speakers, voices tumbling out. Assistant curator Amber Esseiva says the voices are reading different passages, in different languages, all from the same text. The result is chaotic and creepy.

“Everybody has something to say,” Esseiva says. “Everybody has a political stance but everybody’s speaking at once and it becomes very difficult then to see complexity.”

Paul Rucker's 'Storm in the Time of Shelter' features 52 mannequins in colorful Klan robes.
Credit Courtesy of VCU ICA

Many pieces in the opening exhibition explore today’s political and social tensions. There’s a looped video protesting pipelines, a wall of gendered slurs, and perhaps most striking -- more than 50 full-size Klan robes in vibrant fabrics.

The third and final floor of the building has billowing white ceilings more than 30 feet high. Architect Chris McAvoy claps his hand, demonstrating the sharp reverberant qualities of the space.

“It’s a really great space for certain kinds of music, because of that,” McAvoy says. “The visiting artist is also a cello-ist and he’s come up and played and explored the space. And it’s amazing.”

Future exhibitions will challenge artists to take advantage of the space and those surprising qualities, says chief curator Stephanie Smith.

“That’s something that is kind of an unexpected gift of the building that we’re excited to think about how we can incorporate in the future,” she says.

Chief Curator Stephanie Smith stands before 'WOMEN Words,' by artist Betty Tompkins.
Credit Mallory Noe-Payne / RADIO IQ

Planning for that future is constant. The ICA isn’t a collecting museum, meaning none of the exhibits will be permanent.

“Part of what’s exciting about that is that it means ICA is always fresh, ever changing, and you’ll have opportunities to experience a really rich array of art over time,” says Smith.

The only permanent piece of art may just be the building itself.

 

 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.