All Aboard

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ famous traveling “Artmobile” from the 1950s is making a comeback in 2018.

The VMFA’s original artmobile.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ popular Artmobile makes a comeback this fall. TheVMFA On the Road tour gives art lovers and students in the state’s most remote corners the opportunity to view work by fellowship artists and more.

From 1953 to 1994, the museum (which coined the word “artmobile” in the dictionary) brought ancient artifacts, paintings and sculptures to people in areas far from Richmond. Four decades of rotating exhibits introduced a wide array of culture and history to people living in “art deserts,” even making an appearance in President Lyndon Johnson’s inaugural parade in 1963.

Ancient Japanese incense burners and silkscreens by Andy Warhol were among the highlights that the Artmobile toted around the state over the years. However, the delicate nature of these works traveling rough roads through humidity eventually became problematic, leading to the project’s demise.

But the new trailer comes with state-of-the-art technology, including humidity controls, security and a better ride quality. Jeffrey Allison, manager of Statewide Programs and Exhibitions at VMFA, has dubbed the new project “Artmobile 2.0.”

“We’re able to do things in 2018 that we could have never done before,” says Allison.

For VMFA On the Road’s first exhibit, debuting Oct. 30 in Fredericksburg, the Artmobile will feature work from the museum’s Visual Arts Fellowship Program. Curated by Allison, the theme of the exhibit is “where creativity can take you.”

Artists include Virginia natives Sally Mann, Cy Twombly, Nell Blaine among others and a video interview with Vince Gilligan, the creator of the award-winning TV series Breaking Bad. Allison focused on the Virginia connection, choosing one of Mann’s photos of Twombly’s first art openings as part of the exhibit. A landscape painter and 1943 fellowship winner, Blaine’s paintings of gardens in the Fan are a tribute to her hometown of Richmond.

“I’ve found through this process that these artists’ creative relationships with one another and their connections to Virginia all affect their work in different ways,” Allison says.

The new VMFA On the Road rig.

Allison envisions VMFA On the Road as an “exciting opportunity to curate exhibits” that follow Virginia school curriculums, allowing students to start learning before the trailer arrives and continue after it’s gone, thanks to materials left with teachers. The museum is collaborating with schools and organizations across the state to provide tours, hands-on activities and remote learning with digital technology.

More exhibits are planned to continue after the inaugural tour, and Allison is thrilled with the response so far. Having witnessed the original Artmobile travel through his hometown of Saltville, he understands the impact it has on people.

“We [the museum] like to say that ‘this is your art.’ If you’re a kid living in Bristol, the chances you’ll see art in Richmond are very slim,” Allison says. “Filling in these dots on the map is one of the most important parts of this program. It’s definitely very exciting.”

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