What's Behind at The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

by Jack Anglin 36X48 inches / for sale

a fanciful scene on the grounds of the wonderful Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia.

The painting featured above is one of my most recent oils, Chloe Enjoying the Park, a fictional view of the very real place at The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. There are some fascinating aspects about the place which I’ll comment on below.

I was always attracted to the pretty scene on the park grounds found in the back of the museum, of the well groomed areas with people enjoying the benches and lawn. The many sculptures, some great old trees, and the fountain pond with red Chihuly glass and natural green reeds are all attractive, it's a very nice place to visit. I considered making a painting of it from my photo reference and sketches, but made several more trips there before moving ahead with my project. As I prepared the study, it dawned on me that I could add an element of a statue that would give Chloe a scaled size 'hand' placed near the pathway and in a position to be able to flick passersby. I thought that was funny, Magritte-like, and playful, while preserving the beauty of the park and the amazing statue of Chloe.

When I had this painting fairly well completed, I showed a photo of it to a friend and he immediately looked at the hand and associated it with the new neo-Nazi salute, where a hand is extended with the index finger and the thumb touching at their tips, sort of like an “OK” sign. OMG! At least my 'hand' has the index finger behind the thumb in a primed flicking position, but It still might carry that negative salute connotation for some observant people.

Hearing my friend’s reaction got me thinking more about this scene. After all, it is located at a great art museum in a historic southern city, near the famous boulevard where controversy erupted over the removal of Confederate figure’s statues that had long dominated the area. Now the boulevard in front of the museum is renamed after a successful black man, a breakout pioneer in the mostly white sport of tennis, and a famous civil rights figure —Mr. Arthur Ashe. Quite a turnabout!

But at such a beautiful park, at a fantastic museum, with a new address, in the rear of the museum building can be found a very large statue of a woman’s head, a 24 foot tall white statue, of a Caucasian woman at that, at least she looks to be white in most people's estimation, in more ways than one.

Unveiled in 2016, “Chloe” has slept peacefully in this idyllic garden setting for years until the uproar after Charlottesville and the deaths of black people around the country at the hands of bad cops and some vigilantes brought protests and controversy to Richmond and to the nearby monuments. Somewhat prescient, the artist/sculptor Jaume Plensa had presented his head of Chloe with her eyes closed (as some of his other sculptures appear, or with eyes covered). She was placed before much started but nearby where all that recent protests and demonstrations have been about the changes and the many feelings on all sides that remain present about race, the Civil War, the history of slavery, neglected facts of black people’s contributions, the ongoing struggle for equality and fairness, dignity, and grace. Through all this,…Chloe has remained asleep, or perhaps, since the head isn’t supine—maybe she was just not looking, closing her eyes intentionally, and staying blissfully ignorant while so close physically to the scene of change.

Chloe is a more powerful work of art when seen this way, as one who is behind the scenes, so to speak, but sees nothing as her eyes are shut and yet she serenely dominates the park. Plensa's intention? Chloe has a further role she plays now, as a curious personality like many unconscious privileged whites who might understand themselves in this mirror. Who connects these things? Maybe the artist and museum patrons will enjoy my addition of the hand, and my commentary on the park, and the museum’s position in these historic moments. Getting a flick, a metaphorical thump to the head to wake up, as well for citizens to open our eyes and see what’s really going on with us and around us, well, I imagine many will then find this painting and its somewhat secret meaning of interest, and come to view Plensa's statue of Chloe differently. --Jack Anglin

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