MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Earlier in the show, we met a women who says her thing is making art people can wear. Now, we're going to move to another kind of art by a very famous artist, coming to a museum near you. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. And to kick things off, it's presenting an exhibit of the works of Pablo Picasso.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Now, in a way, you could say the VMFA has long been a sleeping giant in the national art scene. It has a rather sizable collection for a regional museum, but it hasn't quite gotten a lion's share of national attention. As Jesse Dukes tells us, what with the recent renovation and the new Picasso show, all of that could very well change.
MR. JESSE DUKES
It's the week before the new exhibit is set to open at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and I'm in the basement. That's where curators from Paris's National Picasso Museum are supervising the installation of 176 original works by the famous inventor of cubism. The VMFA is the only East Coast American stop on the exhibit's seven city international tour.
MR. ROBIN NICHOLSON
What is extraordinary about this exhibit is that it really reveals the whole scope of Picasso's genius.
Robin Nicholson is the VMFA's Associate Director for Art and Education.
I think you walk away from this exhibition really realizing what it means to confront genius in the face. It reflects every aspect of the extraordinary versatility he had as an artist.
Alex Nargis agrees. He's in his fifth year as the museum's director and I ask if he thinks the exhibit will raise the museum's profile to the top national tier.
MR. ALEX NARGIS
Well, I think we're there. I don't think we have to break into the top ten at this point. Our collection has always been there. Our visibility has not.
To get an art insider's perspective on how the VMFA is doing, I turned to Blake Gopnik, the former senior art critic at The Washington Post. Gopnik is attending a conference for art curators and critics, but he takes a break to chat on the phone from the busy lobby. He agrees with Nargis, the VMFA probably has a better collection than reputation, but he's not ready to concede the new Picasso exhibit is worth the hype.
MR. BLAKE GOPNIK
I think it's fair to say that the Picasso exhibit opening at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is not an important exhibition in any normal sense of the word. It will have many attractive, interesting Picassos in it, but it won't be in any sense a landmark in Picasso study or even around Picasso exhibitions.
Gopnik believes exhibits should have some kind of organizing principle or story or argument and he says the only one holding this exhibit together is that all the art comes from the National Picasso Museum, which is currently renovating.
Many of us in the museum and art world call those kinds of exhibitions reno-shows. And the only reason those shows exist is because, one, a museum is getting renovated and instead of putting their works into storage, they send them out on a trip around the world.
Director Alex Nargis says the term reno-show is just made up.
We've never heard the term. He created it. Nobody will ever use it again.
Nargis counters the Picasso Museum has more than 3,000 works of which the curators have selected just 176 to tell a particular story about Picasso's career. While Blake Gopnik does say the show has some great art, he also says most curators are privately embarrassed by renovation shows.
But Robin Nicholson, who handled the VMFA side of the curating, doesn't seem embarrassed. His eyes really do light up when he remembers flying to Moscow last February to see the exhibit for the first time.
No other collection allows you to see this eight-decade metamorphosis of his career where he is always changing. He was always presenting something new and so every work that he does he's struggling to find some new way of seeing the world.
Nicholson says many people in Virginia and elsewhere have a healthy skepticism about modern and contemporary art. They say it can be an insider's game or too self-referential. And this exhibit is a chance to challenge that skepticism.
And I think Picasso's great because I think he has the benefit that people have probably heard of his name. And they may leave saying, I still don't like Picasso. But I think my hope is that they will leave saying, I still don't like Picasso, but I understand why he was so important.
Nicholson says this kind of public engagement is exactly what a state run museum should be doing. And if they can raise the visibility Alex Nargis talks about while they're at it, then they'll be very pleased by Picasso's stay in Richmond. I'm Jesse Dukes.
The exhibit masterpieces from the National Picasso Museum in Paris opens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond this weekend. For more on the show and to see some of its artwork, check out our website, metroconnection.org.
After the break, evening up the score in Georgetown by telling the truth.
And some of the people said the reason Georgetown doesn't have a Metro is that we're snobs and we didn't want people from other parts of the city coming into Georgetown. Well, that's not true.
It's just ahead on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.
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