Fall 2019 Issue

A Brand New Canvas

The Muscarelle Museum of Art is open for business ahead of renovation

By Ashley K. Speed

Eight tubes of lipstick, each partially used, sit on a table. A quote from Coco Chanel accompanies the artwork: “If you’re sad, add more lipstick.” The wearer in the etching favors a bright shade of yellow — the lipstick tube is nearly empty.

In a painting a few yards away, a mother feeds a child sitting in a high chair. Halos adorn their heads. Applying lipstick or feeding a child may seem routine, but the exhibit — “Objects of Ceremony: Effervescence, Decay and the Everyday” — forced the viewer to pause and find meaning in everyday tasks and objects. The exhibition was curated by William & Mary students under the guidance of Professor Alan Braddock, and was on display at the Muscarelle Museum of Art this past spring and summer. The exhibition was evidence of the museum still thriving in the midst of a construction zone.

Ultimately, the Muscarelle will be part of The Martha Wren Briggs Center for the Visual Arts — a multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art facility slated to open in 2022. The center will be centrally located in the William & Mary Arts Quarter, which will include a completely renovated Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall and a new music building. The Muscarelle is currently open, but is expected to close in 2021 as construction on the new center begins.

Fresh Perspective: Interim Director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art David Brashear HON ’07 wants visitors to view the museum as a place that is presenting provocative ideas and artwork, and as an important venue for education in the realm of the arts. Photo credit: Alfred Herczeg Top photo: Tourist Season, 1988 | Acrylic and pastel on paper | © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith | Purchase, Museum Purchase Funds | Muscarelle Museum of Art

David Brashear HON ’07, interim director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art, says that it’s important to keep the museum open for as long as possible before its demolition to make way for the new facility. Brashear says by remaining open “we keep art accessible to students and the public, and also are able to remind donors that we are an institution worthy of their investment in philanthropy.”

“We are here to be a resource and a center of learning for William & Mary, and we also want to be a resource in the broader community, a cultural asset that really enhances the lives of people who live in Williamsburg, on the Peninsula, and in the greater region stretching from Richmond to Norfolk and Virginia Beach,” Brashear says. “We want visitors to view the Muscarelle as a museum that is presenting provocative ideas and provocative art and is a continuing canvas of activity and education in the realm of the arts.”

A New Home

The future facility will encompass several levels and approximately 60,000 square feet. The new structure will include an auditorium and spaces for teaching and special events, as well as much needed space for staff offices and collection storage.

Robert S. Roberson M.B.A. ’73, chairman of the Muscarelle Museum of Art Foundation board, says the museum’s exhibitions and rich programming allow those with an interest in the visual arts to immerse themselves in the creative world. Roberson says the new facility is necessary in order to create the best experience for students and visitors.

“The Muscarelle is literally bursting at the seams,” Roberson says. “There is not enough gallery space to adequately present professional exhibitions exploring a wide variety of art topics, while also allowing room for students and faculty to investigate important art themes and museum practices. More space is needed on all fronts. The plans we are developing for the new museum address all of the current needs, while also enabling the museum to operate in a way that represents current best practices in the museum world.”

While the inside of the future structure will better meet the museum’s needs, the new facility’s exterior is expected to make a statement. The Muscarelle’s current south façade features the iconic multicolor tubes designed by Gene Davis. Brashear says the plan is to ensure that the new design is as creative as the current one and serves as a signal to the public that the structure is more than another building on campus.

“The building is the most important piece in the collection,” Brashear says. “A new museum ought to be a work of art and it should demonstrate that it is the most important work in your collection. It should be done really well by great architects.”


Fall Exhibitions

Brashear says there are several exhibitions planned for the fall, including “1619/2019,” which will explore the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia, in conjunction with the statewide commemoration. The theme of the contemporary art exhibit will be inequality and the journey of Africans as they became African-Americans over four centuries.

A current exhibit, “The Adjacent Possible,” takes a scientific look at how abstract art is understood by the brain. The exhibit is being curated by Elizabeth Mead, professor of art and W. Taylor Reveley Interdisciplinary Faculty Fellow.

The new building will allow the museum to have space to showcase more exhibitions in the future and accommodate more art workshops and opportunities for teaching students and the community. William & Mary is the first university in the nation to collect art and the first to include the arts as part of its curriculum.

“We have a bright future at the museum as part of the new visual arts center, and I think the impact we’ll have on William & Mary and the student experience going forward is substantial,” Brashear says. “Our new museum will be a great opportunity to broaden our mission.”

Engaging the Community

Sarah Gunn M.B.A. ’87, who served on the Muscarelle’s foundation board for 15 years, says the museum needs the support of the entire William & Mary community in order to raise additional funds for the new building.

“We need to get alumni as well as the community involved because the Muscarelle has been such a great resource for the public for years,” Gunn says. “Where else can you go to see artwork by Botticelli or Michelangelo? It’s very rare for a college museum to have such a prestigious standing in the art world.”