Glass welcomes the Institute for Contemporary Art – a major contemporary space in Richmond, Virginia

THE recent opening of the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond marks an important moment for the city. The striking, silver-hued building, with its titanium-zinc and etched-glass exterior, is the first significant arts institution in the region to be committed to the display of contemporary art. As well as imparting an endless resource to students at the university, which is home to a nationally ranked school of the arts, the ICA offers several opportunities for the wider community. “Our goal is for everyone to feel welcome, regardless of their knowledge about art,” explains chief curator Stephanie Smith. “We’re building intentionally inclusive programmes that are grounded in Richmond, but connect to global currents in art and society.”

Institute for Contemporary Art at VCUView of the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, Belvidere Street entrance at dusk. Photograph: Iwan Baan

The community of Richmond is noticeably rich when it comes to its arts scene, grounded by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which dates back to 1936, as well as thriving artist-run and not-for-profit spaces such as 1708 Gallery and SEDIMENT. “We’re excited to collaborate with cultural and civic partners to build dynamic programmes,” adds Smith. What has been missing in the region, however, is a serious contemporary art institution that could serve the university as well as the city as a whole. Suffice to say, the task of envisioning and delivering such an establishment from scratch takes time and determination. The idea for providing Richmond with such an asset was initially proposed in the early 2000s by local gallerist Beverly Reynolds; nearly two decades later, the outcome of such an ambition is now visible.

Institute for Contemporary Art at VCUView of the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU Garden at dusk. Photograph: Iwan Baan

The location of the ICA is a sign in itself of the gallery’s determination to seamlessly flow into the lives of its audiences. Situated at a bustling intersection of two major thoroughfares, where retail and dining spots flourish, multitudes of cars pass the building at all hours, not to mention the continual human traffic. With its obvious sculptural monumentality, and its unlikeness from surrounding architectural neighbours, the building is a sign that something interesting is happening on this street corner.

Institute for Contemporary Art at VCUView of the Royall Forum at the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU. Photograph: Iwan Baan

Showing its multifaceted character, the ICA also offers a peaceful place to rest and reflect. The courtyard-style area that takes up a considerable amount of the site extends seating as well as attractive foliage. It is one of the most thoughtful elements of the building, designed by Steven Holl Architects, a New York City firm that has a track record of working on game-changing museum projects.

Institute for Contemporary Art at VCUView of the Royall Forum at the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU. Photograph: Iwan Baan


As well as this beautiful outdoor green space, the 41,000 square feet construction features flexible exhibition spaces, as well as an impressive 33-foot entrance forum, an auditorium, café and classrooms for educational programming. “We’ll have free admission and free membership, which we hope will encourage participation,” continues Smith. There is little doubt that the ICA will succeed in connecting Richmond with itself, as well as to various forms of contemporary art.

by Derby Jones

Institute for Contemporary Art, Virginia Commonwealth University, 601 W. Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23220

Tel: +1 804 828 2823

 

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