September 07, 2005 News & Features » Cover Story


Off the Wall 

The Anderson Gallery pushes in a new direction led by two visionary curators.

Volk and the other half of his curating team, German-born wife, Sabine Russ, invited 11 artists from across the world to make art not just on, but with, the wall.

"A wall is something anybody can relate to. Here the walls will be turned into artwork," Volk says. From the excitement in his voice, and his choice of adjectives — like "bedazzling" and "magical" — you know something different is coming to town.

Volk says that he and Russ are not interested in creating shows "about some pressing sociopolitical issue." Instead they like what he calls unorthodox pairings or clever takes on significant ideas. And they've looked around the globe for the artists. They have an extensive international network of them, including many from areas whose art is not often shown in the United States, like Eastern Europe.

Volk, who has taught at other highly regarded art schools such as Yale and Rhode Island School of Design, brings "a critical awareness of the contemporary art scene and a comprehensive knowledge of artists and art issues" says Richard Roth, chair of VCU's painting and printmaking department.

Volk's ties to the New York art scene have benefited VCU's art students, says Joseph Seipel, senior associate dean of VCU's school of the arts. "His generosity is enormous," he says. "One to one, he's helped many students meet people that can help their career. He's been very important to our art school."

Local gallery owner Beverly Reynolds calls his appointment a brilliant move for VCU. "I just think he is an extraordinarily highly regarded critic," she says. "I think the shows he's put together are challenging and innovative in terms of the artists ... and I'm just curious to see his curatorial genius."

"The container of the gallery will all of a sudden be traveling in all sorts of visual and psychological ways," Volk promises.

The Anderson Gallery is a challenging space. Aside from not being compliant with American Association of Museums standards (it doesn't have acceptable climate control or an elevator), it's also a series of many rooms, with lots of walls.

That's exactly what Volk and Russ decided to play up in their show. And they sought out artists who relished the challenge of making art about or on a particular wall in the gallery. The results include works by artists who cut into the wall, paint on the wall, create videos about the wall, and more.

Icelandic artist Ragna RĀ¢bertsdĀ¢ttir collected bits of lava from the volcanoes near her home and will glue them to the wall in abstract arrangements. Volk says they seem to be "flying away," and he sees in them a "gracefulness and turbulence all at the same time."

German artist Karin Sander will sand and polish a section of wall so that it reflects like a mirror. It will be a "nonpainting that responds to reality, actually reflects reality," Volk says. Argentinian artist Karina Peisajovich will make a 3-D work with light, and American Kim Schoenstadt will draw on and cut into the wall to create a large, architecturally influenced work.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the exhibit, at least to the VCU community, is that 10 of the 11 artists will be flying in to install their works at the gallery. Students will work alongside them as assistants.

"Listening to Greg and Sabine talk about how they were going to do this show was like listening to artists talk about making a piece of art," Seipel says. Volk's "passion for contemporary art is infections, his breadth of understanding of what's happening in the art world is … He's top of the line."

The show represents a change for the Anderson Gallery, which has a renewed mission to show emerging artists, says Richard Toscan, dean of VCU's School of the Arts. "We're going back to our history as a cutting-edge gallery, of exhibiting artists that aren't household names."

Toscan says a "vision drift" had taken place over the last seven years, when the gallery began showing mid-career artists, more the type of artists you'd expect to see shown at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Now, as acting director of the gallery, he and an advisory committee of department chairs are refocusing the gallery to play more of a complimentary role to VMFA. "What makes the most sense for our students is exhibiting what's new and unusual and not usually shown in the U.S.," Toscan says.

The new chapter begins with "Surface Charge," which opens Sept. 23. A reception including 10 of the artists will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. After the show's semester-long run, most of the art will disappear.

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