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Photo courtesy VCU
Officials and contributors try splatter painting at the ICA site.
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VCUArts dean Joe Seipel operates a backhoe to cut out a chunk of asphalt.
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Seipel and ICA director Lisa D. Freiman
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Trey Sorrells Quartet
As part of the groundbreaking ceremonies at Belvidere and Broad streets for Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute for Contemporary Art, significant contributors and officials donned white Tyvek suits, resembling the founding members of Devo, and upon high-rise lifters attempted a splatter action painting demonstration. While colors matching those of the ICA’s logo splashed and squirted onto a mural medallion on the asphalt, a lone trumpeter, leaning out of a white SUV paused at the stoplight, played a spontaneous jazz overture.
On this late spring, Richmond hair-frizzing, moist towlette of an evening came an important benchmark for an idea first proposed 15 years ago, when VCUArts dean Richard Toscan began working on this concept alongside people such as gallerist Bev Reynolds. VCU President Michael Rao acknowledged Reynolds’ involvement, saying, “Five years ago at the first event, she made a beeline to me and said to me, ‘You are going to have an ICA.' ”
The proof of its imminent arrival came when current VCUArts dean Joe Seipel slipped on a blaze yellow vest and operated the controls of a backhoe to cut out a chunk of asphalt. Seipel isn’t unfamiliar with heavy machinery. During the mid-1960s in Wisconsin, he worked with his older brother, Don, who drove a backhoe for pipeline construction. “I was his grade man,” Seipel recalled. "But it's been a while," he added with a chuckle.
He swung around the cabin and the large arm of the machine and took up more of a chunk from the black top than was done in an earlier practice. What did NOT happen after that was the rumbling emergence of a GWAR-like creature growling, “I am awakened from a slumber of 10,000 years!” Nor, I should add, did the ICA shoot out of the creative crème brulee of asphalt with an ear-popping SPROINNGGG!! gleaming and glistening in the late day sun, which would’ve allowed ICA director Lisa D. Freiman to say to the confounded crowd of about 350 assembled for the event, “Think that’s something? Wait’ll you see what’s inside!”
The ICA is slated to rise from this plot of parking lot in two years. You can even watch the progress on a real-time camera from across the street. (Scroll down)
Indeed, today the earth boring started for the geo-thermal wells, according to Dimitra Tsachrelia, project supervisor for Steven Holl Architects which is designing the building. “This is going to be a LEED platinum building,” she enthusiastically related, referring to the high environmental efficiency of its design. “People don’t yet realize how incredible it’s going to be.”
This corner of town, cluttered by gas stations, a pizza delivery joint and VCU buildings, has some interesting history. Prior to the 1960s when it was an automobile dealership, it was the site of Elba Station, a busy rail and electric trolley transit stop (1879 to 1918) with a foundation shaped like a bent arm and nicknamed “Elbow Station.” Holl’s design was influenced by the site's history and follows that footprint. On nearby Grace and Belvidere streets, at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries, stood a dilapidated mansion house owned by Maj. James Dooley. His niece, Nora Houston, and associate Adéle Clark, both educated and well-traveled artists, taught formative classes at theRichmond Art Club to Theresa Pollak, who would later in life founded what has become VCUArts.
The center, when completed, will look ready for a gala exhibition opening, wearing a pre-weathered, satin-finish zinc. The sun will shine through clear and translucent glass walls. The center is to feature a 250-seat auditorium, a sculpture garden, a café and a courtyard. Here, the community will see modern visual art, theater, music, dance and film. It should be a major conduit from the outside world to Richmond and allowing us to upgrade the power of our own broadcast.
The 43,000-square-foot building with interdisciplinary exhibition and presentation galleries and spaces comes with a $37 million price tag; some $31 million has been obtained, with a $20 million endowment campaign ongoing, according to spokeswoman Carrie Culpepper. While most of the funding comes from private sources, the VCU Board of Visitors last month voted on a $27 million loan that allowed yesterday's groundbreaking to go on. The loan provides a revolving line of credit for repayments as gifts and pledges are received.However, Freiman was able to announce “more magic” under the humid tent, with the Martin Agency passing along $100,000 and an anonymous donor's contribution of $400,000. Perhaps the combination of lofty expectations and the cool jazz of the Trey Sorrells Quartet playing under the hot tent made those gifts more possible.
The ICA building will be named the Markel Center, due to a contribution in May by the Markel Corp. “Most people think we’re just a boring, old insurance company,” joked Steve Markel, the company's vice chairman. But he cited how the ICA mission connects with the “Markel style” that embraces a disdain for bureaucracy in favor of resiliency, creativity and individual achievement. He and his wife, Kathie, are co-chairs of the fundraising campaign.
Ed Trask was delighted when he was approached to create a design to mark the spot of the ICA’s appearance. He teamed with Kevin Orlosky of Art On Wheels to turn tricycles into art-making devices for the art medallion. “It’s a game changer for Richmond,” Trask says of the ICA. “We can’t imagine the impact of a place like this.”
That’s starting before the ICA’s physical existence. A current exhibition at the Virginia Center for Architecture featuring buildings voted by the public as Virginia’s Favorite Architecture includes the ICA, between the 1818 James Brockenbrough house by Robert Mills (aka White House of the Confederacy) and 1815’s “Point of Honor” in Lynchburg.
The proof will arise during the next two years.