Unexpected Art Treasures at the Virginia Historical Society
There is no question that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is the star of Richmond’s art scene. However, its neighbor, the Virginia Historical Society, also has a few gems from the art world that stand out in its collection. My two favorites are relatively modern works, both valuable and unique editions from prominent artists. Though both are less directly related to Virginia than many of our collections, they unquestionably improve the depth and diversity of our holdings. The first, Cy Twombly’s Souvenirs of D’arros & Gaeta, is a beautiful collection of the artist’s work from 1990. Cy Twombly (April 25, 1928–July 5, 2011) was an accomplished painter and sculptor who achieved great success in the twentieth century, with many of his works currently on display in the Louvre and the Museum of Modern Art. The Lexington-born painter spent much of 1990 on the island of D’Arros (Seychelles) and in the city of Gaeta, Italy, working on a collection of untitled drawings. All of them were created with acrylic, crayon, and pencil on paper and collected into this book in 1992. The last page features a picture of Twombly with his back to the camera as he walks through a forest of palm trees on the island of Praslin (Seychelles). Only 1,000 limited copies were printed, and of those only the first 100 were signed by the artist. The Virginia Historical Society has number 84 of those 100. The second piece of artwork is a fascinating oddball of a book, Stephen King and Barbara Kruger’s My Pretty Pony. King (b. September 21, 1947) is an extremely popular award-winning author of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Kruger (b. January 26, 1945) is an American artist noteworthy for her acclaimed conceptual and pop art. Together, they combined to create a unique book for the Whitney Museum of Art, of which 250 editions were issued and signed by the author and artist/designer. It combines a Stephen King short story and Barbara Kruger’s artwork within a dramatic stainless steel cover inlaid with a digital clock. The story focuses on the passage of time, illustrated through a man speaking to his grandchild. Though not as overtly dark as many of King’s other works, it is a slightly grim meditation that ends up characterizing time as a pony that is “pretty, but with a wicked heart,” although the narrator admits that “having a pony to ride was better than having no pony at all, no matter how the weather of its heart might lie.” Interspersed between King’s text are Kruger’s images, each bearing a word or two that by the end of the book complete the sentence: “Time ain’t got nothing to do with how fast you can count.” Both of these books are generous gifts from Frances A. Lewis, who is a winner of the National Medal of the Arts, one of the founders of Best Products with her husband Sydney Lewis, and a kind and generous benefactor of the Virginia Historical Society. Both of these wonderful artistic creations can be requested in the Virginia Historical Society’s reading room.
Tony Walters is a library clerk at the Virginia Historical Society.