Trace of a Fictional Third: Interviewing Curator John B. Ravenal
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment on a two-part series on the Diana Al-Hadid Exhibition at the VMFA.
One of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ ongoing special exhibitions is Trace of a Fictional Third by Diana Al-Hadid.
I recently had an opportunity to talk with the exhibit’s curator about the sculpture and his job.
John B. Ravenal is the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Folks might be curious about exactly what is a curator: Ravenal uses the analogy of the printing industry. An author (i.e. the artist) creates a work and with the help of an agent will get it printed and sold by a publishing house.
And within the art world, the agent becomes the various art galleries and the museum is the publishing house. Like an editor, a curator thoroughly examines the artist’s work and arranges for its publishing.
Also, the museum has a large permanent collection of artwork and artifacts. Curators are tasked to research within the collection in order to create special exhibitions and publications. Furthermore, they act as educators by providing tours, writing labels, and training docents. Thus, a curator has multiple facets of scholarship related to their job.
As a contemporary art curator, Ravenal is tasked with furthering the VMFA’s permanent collection of contemporary art. He has chosen works in a variety of ways. For example, he followed one artist’s career for over 25 years before he suggested that the museum buy a piece of their work. In another case, he was walking down a street in New York City, and saw a painting in a gallery and bought it for the museum.
Ravenal defines his collecting philosophy for contemporary art as buying established artists with reputations. The works should represent artists from around the globe and be useful as a resource for Virginians.
Ravenal has been following Al-Hadid’s career since she arrived in Richmond for schooling at VCU. She is a 2005 graduate of VCU’s MFA program, which is currently ranked top in the nation. The program use to host open studio periods and he was first exposed to her work at one of these events. This first encounter impressed him due to her works’ quality, personal drive, and articulateness. This positive encounter logged a mental note to follow her career because it seemed promising and successful. A few years later, a gallery called him and asked if the VMFA would like to exhibit the Trace of a Fictional Third sculpture.
Trace of a Fictional Third is a very engaging sculpture due to its size, complexity, themes, design, and relevance. Al-Hadid’s most recent work has dealt with the human form in a very direct and upfront manner. This sculpture illustrates all her styles of work like incorporation of the body, (de)constructing architecture, and material use.
Ravenal explained how even the pedestals are part of the work because of their architectural design. An interesting fact about the sculpture’s constructing is that Al-Hadid casts the fiberglass herself with dishes.
I asked Ravenal about where the third body was located and he replied, “It’s you.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction on July 8: An earlier version of this article misstated the title of the exhibit as “Traces of a Fictional Third.” Instead, it is “Trace of a Fictional Third.”
The VMFA has extended the sculpture’s exhibition until November 25. For more information on “Trace of a Fictional Third,” please visit http://www.vmfa.state.va.us/Default.asp
Jon Henry comes from the small town of Washington, Virginia. Xe finished xes degree at the University of Richmond and was named GayRVA.com's Out.Spoken. Richmonder of the Year for 2011. When not in class, xe is either in the studio or rabble rousing with other queer activists. Follow xem on Twitter.
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