Thursday, December 8, 2011

Purchase Order

The Moses bus caught the lecturer's eye.

VMFA's Curator of African Art, Richard Woodward,was speaking at Studio 23, that bastion of indie printmaking on Main Street about their new exhibit, "Land of a Thousand Greeting: Multimedia from Rwanda."

I've been in the studio many times, but tonight it was especially welcoming with the garage door rolled up to the warm, barely sprinkling weather.

Inside, a small crowd gathered slowly, leaving time to check out the show before the talk.

There were photographs, drawings and fabrics inspired by the artists' trip to Rwanda, including one of a brightly covered bus labeled Moses.

That was the one that caught Woodward's eye; he ended up buying it before the night was over.

His talk looked for a link between the VMFA's African collection (the most recent piece of which was acquired in 1960 or 1970, he said) to the Anderson Gallery's recent "Environment Object" show of contemporary African art.

He explained why Congolese chiefs were kept in check, how brutal many of the colonizing forces were and how divination worked.

He assured us that now if we go to the African galleries (not that I haven't already been) we'll know everything that's written on the wall cards.

And for the first half of his lecture, he had a soundtrack of cars driving down a very wet Main Street outside.

For the second half, the front door was rolled down but the wind and rain made it sound like bullets on the roof.

The Q & A period was brief and I didn't ask my question because I didn't want to put such an interesting speaker on the spot.

But why doesn't the VMFA have a piece of African (not African-American) art more recent than 40 years old?

I'm already on record as saying I think the Sokari Douglas Camp sculpture at the Anderson belongs in the VMFA's collection.

But since no one was asking my thoughts on museum purchases, I left for, where else these days, Pasture to meet a friend.

He had not been to the new restaurant on Grace Street yet, so I ended up there again so he could check it out, having contributed to its opening.

We went all caveman, ordering nothing but meat to go with a bottle of Mont Gras Carmenere.

It was my first crack at the ham plate (Kites, Olli, Edwards) with beer mustard and  pickles; I'll go with the speck as my favorite.

Then we had the beef tartare, which I'd had but he hadn't (as in not ever in his life).

He became a tartare convert, especially with the chili ketchup.

We finished with the pork rillettes. "Do you like rillettes?" the chef asked. "I love potted meat," I answered.

Is there any difference?

Arriving in a little Mason jar, the layer of fact on top was a delightful surprise to my friend, the rillettes virgin.

He made me laugh with a personal horror story (being in the Mall of America on Black Friday) and then told me about the restaurant project he's currently brainstorming.

Even better, he was honest enough to say that men are simple creatures and recommended a great hand lotion.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.


  1. Hi Karen,

    Good to hear about your interest in VMFA and in Richard's talk at Studio 23. In response to your question, we do, in fact, have contemporary African art in the collection. A painting by Julie Mehretu (born Ethiopia) and a large print by William Kentride (South African) hung in the Lewis Galleries and then in the 21st-Century Gallery for years, until a recent rotation. Recently, we bought photographs that were part of the Darkroom exhibition, held here in 2010, of work by South African and South-African-connected artists: Sue Williamson, Zwelethu Mthethwa, David Goldblatt, Alf Kumalo, Ian Berry, Jurgen Schadeberg, Nonsikelelo Veleko. Some of these will go on view in the permanent collection galleries in the next few months. We also own a 1970 painting by Twins Seven Seven. In addition, both the African and Modern & Contemporary departments are continually looking for more ways to include contemporary African art in the collections and exhibition program. Best, John Ravenal, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, VMFA

  2. I am thrilled to hear that you have added some photographs from last year's "Darkroom" exhibit, one of my all-time favorites at the museum.

    Likewise, the Ife exhibit, while overshadowed by Picasso and missed by far too many people, was an astounding opportunity to see art I would have never otherwise have been privileged to see. Those of us who did will never forget it.

    Please don't think I was being unkind because my devotion to the VMFA is boundless. As the museum has repeatedly told the public, it's "our" art and I take that to heart with frequent visits.

    I was, however, curious when Richard mentioned not having added any pieces of African art for decades.

    Thanks for updating me. I'll keep my eyes peeled for what you do have and look forward to any future acquisitions.

  3. Karen,

    John Ravenal has provided a good update. What I can add is that I wish you had asked the question. I would have been happy to respond and it would not have been putting me on the spot. Curators always love to talk about collections and collecting.

    In the talk, I gave an overview of the African collection, which included noting how old and how new some of the works are. Don't take that as we haven't added works for decades. Indeed, we have just added some Ethiopian art to the collection in November.

    Africa is often considered a continent without a history. My efforts have strongly focussed on representing, indeed, what is a rich and very deep (read ancient) history. And it is especially important to do this while works are yet available. Also to that end, the Ife show was truly, truly important. Thank you very much for recognizing how wonderful the exhibition was! It is one of the great chapters in the history of sculpture, period.

    Thanks for attending my talk and for writing about it!

    Best regards,

    Richard Woodward

  4. You don't have to thank me for attending. I am happy for the chance to learn more about art whenever and wherever I can.

    I found your talk to be most engaging and you've convinced me never to hold back during a question and answer period again!