Anderson Gallery legacy of artistic innovation will endure on campus at James Branch Cabell Library

May 14, 2015

The Anderson Gallery, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts exhibition facility, will close May 18, but the gallery’s rich permanent collection of artwork will become more accessible than ever after it moves to VCU Libraries.  

A leading venue for contemporary art in the Southeast for more than 40 years, the Anderson Gallery is well-known for presenting the work of regional, national and international artists, as well as the annual graduate and undergraduate student exhibitions.   

Two new VCU venues will welcome the gallery’s large following. The Depot on Broad Street, which opened last fall, provides significantly increased exhibition opportunities for student artwork, while the Institute for Contemporary Art will become a showcase for cutting-edge art and performance from around the world.

The School of the Arts is partnering with VCU Libraries to care for and safeguard the Anderson Gallery’s permanent collection, which will transfer to Special Collections and Archives in the new, expanded library on the Monroe Park Campus. The improved, climate-controlled housing will ensure the longevity of the collection, which comprises more than 3,100 pieces.

“This project — the closing of the gallery and moving the collection — has been carefully and thoughtfully planned over a roughly two-year period,” said Joseph H. Seipel, dean of the School of the Arts. “It strengthens an already close connection of VCU Libraries collections to VCUarts, which is a chief user of materials from the book arts and comic arts collections. For the first time, items from various artists instrumental in the history of VCUarts will be consolidated in one place.”

For instance, Special Collections already houses Theresa Pollak’s papers and will now gain as part of this transfer the Theresa Pollak reference collection of drawings, prints and paintings.

With the move, the Anderson Gallery collection will become a more accessible teaching collection offering a broad array of research opportunities for all students. Special Collections and Archives is open to all and works closely with students, faculty, visiting scholars, K-12 educators and community researchers.

“I think once the collection is relocated, just by virtue of the physical circumstances, it’s going to be so much more accessible,” said Ashley Kistler, director of the Anderson Gallery. “As we’ve been reviewing the collection with a fine-tooth comb, in preparation for this move, I’m reminded of the wealth of potential research projects that are just waiting to happen. The move will really encourage and foster those future projects.”

VCU Libraries will display items from the collection throughout its buildings on a rotating basis, providing greater visibility for these works. More than 2 million people visit VCU Libraries facilities each year, and the new building has space on every floor designed and built for exhibitions.

“It’s important for people to understand that the heart of the Anderson Gallery is not the building; it’s the organization, including the collection of extraordinary art,” said John Ulmschneider, university librarian. “Those things that really define the Anderson Gallery — its art collection, student showcases and innovative exhibitions — are going to continue. Not only continue but expand with Special Collections, The Depot and the ICA respectively."  

It is rare for a university to transfer gallery holdings to an academic library and for the library to rotate art displays. The move has inspired the libraries to work toward hiring a full-time arts and exhibits curator, a unique position, Ulmschneider said.

The Anderson Building will continue to serve a vital role for VCU School of the Arts as an instructional space combining classrooms and studios. 

By Leila Ugincius, published by University Public Affairs

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