On a street that once marked the boundary between black and white communities in Richmond, Va., a gleaming new Institute for Contemporary Art is set to open this spring with an exhibit called “Declaration” that will boldly confront pressing social issues in a city that was once the capital of the Confederacy.
Designed to explore contemporary art’s power to catalyze change, the inaugural exhibit will feature many site-specific works by 33 emerging and established artists from Richmond and around the globe, including Paul Rucker. His site-specific installation “Storm in the Time of Shelter,” an ominous crowd of larger-than-life-size Ku Klux Klan robes reproduced in fabrics including camouflage and African Kente cloth, is unlikely to be viewed here without recalling the white nationalist rally that erupted in violence last August in Charlottesville, just 70 miles away.
This is Richmond’s first free-standing institution devoted to contemporary art. Designed by the star architect Steven Holl, it is a dramatically sculptural building clad in luminous glass and zinc, and deftly situated at a historic pivot point in the city, on the edge of the main campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.
“This is the front door, if you will, for all of the different constituents to get together and look at art which will be everything from beautiful to controversial and a place to sift and winnow ideas,” said Joseph Seipel, interim director of the institute and dean emeritus of the university’s School of the Arts, ranked second for arts and design schools nationwide by U.S. News & World Report’s Best Graduate Schools.
Discussion of building an art institution on campus reaches back across two decades among civic and university leaders, including Mr. Seipel, who wanted to create something commensurate with the ambitious graduate school of the arts, according to Michael Rao, president of Virginia Commonwealth.