U.Va.’s on-campus art museum houses diverse collection
Recognizable by the organic-looking, stainless steel sculpture titled “Oriforme” that sits by its front doors, the Fralin Museum of Art is a gem of variety.
“The University museum is the natural space where art meets medicine meets engineering meets philosophy meets anthropology, etc.,” Fralin Museum director Matthew McLendon said. “I think that’s the true gift of museums in general but of the University museum in particular.”
In fact, the museum holds nearly 14,000 objects that range from 15th-20th century sculpture to art from the Ancient Mediterranean. It holds American, European, Asian and Native American works, and a new gallery will hold space to research African, Native American, Oceanic and pre-Columbian art. Clearly, a cursory walk through the Fralin is not enough to fully explore this diverse collection.
“One of the most distinguishable aspects of the Fralin Museum of Art would be its connection to the University of Virginia,” Mai Pham, the Fralin Museum assistant director, said. “Being a part of Grounds has been a great way for the Museum to continue an atmosphere of learning and exploration through art.”
The Fralin Museum opened in March 1935 — there is a wealth of history in the museum aside from its thousands of works of art. The museum is in the Thomas H. Bayly Memorial Building, designed by former Dean of Architecture Edmund S. Campbell and financed by May Bayly Tiffany, the daughter of University graduate and the building’s namesake Thomas Bayly. The Fralin closed during World War II, but it exhibited significant works of art before World War II, including two Rodin sculptures.
“University museums are among the most dynamic museums anywhere today because we are really laboratory spaces — we have far more license to be experimental in our approach to understanding histories as well as present experiences through object-based learning,” McLendon said.
It was not until 1973 that the Fralin was refurbished in conjunction with the completion of the architecture school. Now, the museum has ongoing programs and changing exhibitions, which allows students in the University community to work with a variety of artists and share in the exploration of art with a wide audience.
“I really enjoy the programming at the Museum!” Pham said. “There is always something exciting happening in this space. I can honestly say there is never a dull moment here and I love that!”
The Fralin Museum holds programs such as Writer’s Eye, Blizzard Lecture, exhibition openings and the “ever popular” Final Friday series that attracts hundreds of students. Final Fridays is a showcase of U.Va. Arts.
“I love being a part of events sponsored at the Fralin, like Final Fridays,” Grace Rovenolt, a rising third-year College student and student docent at the Fralin, said. “I get to see other people enjoying what the museum has to offer”.
The programs attract audiences of all ages from around the community. In addition, volunteer docents design tours for the broad demographic that visits the Fralin Museum.
“Being a docent is a really rewarding way to engage with the museum and its visitors,” Rovenolt said. “Even though I don’t plan on a career in the arts, working in the museum has grown my love for art … I also love interacting with kids on school tours especially … they say the craziest things”.
The Fralin Museum has certainly evolved alongside the University — it is a worthwhile visit for both longtime museum-lovers and those who think they might not find themselves on Arts Grounds otherwise.