Manchester's Art Walk 

Artspace takes sculpture to the people.

As a nonprofit gallery, Artspace's mission is to "increase cultural and artistic awareness," and with this latest project, it seems to be right on target. With the top sculpture program in the country located at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond presented itself — for those in the know — as an obvious place to do an invitational.

"There's a real movement right now for outdoor sculpture and bringing art out into the community. Sculpture is really big right now in Atlanta and New York," says photographer and Sculpture Invitational co-founder and curator Jennings Sheffield. So they brought the idea to Richmond because there's not a lot of outdoor sculpture.

Richmond does, however, have a lot of sculpture memorializing historic figures. Sheffield is trying hard to get the message across that the Invitational is unlike Monument Avenue's many war memorials or even 2001's Go Fish! project. The Invitational suffered a slight public-relations setback when local artist Martin Bromirski satirized the project on his art blog, www.anaba.blogspot.com, with a picture of Civil War re-enactors riding past the Stonewall Jackson statue on horseback, flying Confederate flags. It's those kinds of misconceptions that the Invitational is trying to shatter.

"As we started to pull everyone together, we found that everyone was really just starving for something like this, because it's not happening around here," Sheffield says.

Sheffield says she and co-founder Vaughn Garland worked hard to include a variety of types of sculpture from artists with different styles, from very traditional to more conceptual pieces, so viewers will see the "waves of progression in sculpture."

A few well-known local sculptors are represented, including Tom Chenoweth, whose work "Tesla" was made specifically for its spot in the parking lot of The Parachute Factory, a warehouse slated to be turned into lofts on Decatur Street in Manchester. Fumiaki Odajima, a recent graduate of VCU's master's in fine art program, created a more conceptual installation of glass plants for a spot in the courtyard outside of Artspace/Plant Zero. Nationally recognized sculptor Wayne Trapp's large, steel "Yellow Tilt" will be installed outside Warehouse 201, one of Manchester's first loft projects.

Sheffield is especially excited about a piece from Atlanta-based artist Jeffry Loy, who she says is "on the cusp" of national stature. Loy's piece, "Light of 1,000 Souls #2," is solar-powered and lights up at night in different colors and patterns. It's part of a larger project he's putting together with pieces in different cities, and it will be installed at Legend Brewing Co. so patrons on the restaurant's deck will be able to appreciate it at night.

"I think a lot of people out living in the community don't know that's what's going on in PlantZero and Artspace," Sheffield says. "We're trying to merge those gaps and many of the local businesses were really excited about it."

With Manchester going through so many positive changes and this being the first invitational of its kind, it is a unique opportunity for many of the artists to be part of something new. Sculptor Loy sees it as an opportunity for the public to connect with the work. "I love that in Richmond it's independent people doing something to show the public what can happen with outdoor installation," he says.

South America-raised, Richmond-based artist Frederick Chiriboga, has seen his work appear in the HBO movie "Iron Jawed Angels," and had his sculpture "Grandma" recently installed in front of the Martin Agency in Shockoe Slip. He's happy to see the exhibition in Richmond.

"In Europe, they do this all the time — you always see sculptures outdoors. In fact, so much so that you take it for granted," he says. "It's a great opportunity for people to see work and show work. There is just so much good art in Richmond."

The final stage of the project will be the judging. A panel of five will visit each of the sculptures to decide which is the strongest and works best in its environment. That person will be given a month-long show at Artspace in 2006.

Artspace already has plans to expand the project next year. Sheffield hopes to have a 20 percent increase in artists, including more female sculptors. This year there's only one because of scheduling conflicts. She also hopes to put the sculptures on city property to increase visibility. They couldn't handle the permit process this year because of the time limit, says painter and co-founder Garland.

Since its move to Manchester, Artspace has helped establish the area as an arts district. The member-run gallery has also been making steps to improve its standing in the national art scene, Sheffield says: "The Sculpture Invitational and Radius250 are the springboards introducing our new vision of Artspace." S

The 2005 Sculpture Invitational runs through Oct. 20. The opening night walking tour Aug. 26 begins at Artspace at 6 p.m. and ends with a reception at Legend Brewing Co. Maps will be available at PlantZero, Legend and on www.artspacegallery.org.

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