While the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) current exhibits have been nearly two years in the making, their relevance to the present moment of social justice could not be overstated. Four pieces from the current exhibits have kept me thinking. 

Current Exhibits
“Shifting Gaze: A Reconstruction of The Black & Hispanic Body in Contemporary Art” presents a selection of works from Robert B. Feldman’s extensive collection of contemporary art.

The 25th anniversary of the juried “New Waves” exhibition of work by Virginia artists, with juror Susan Thompson, associate curator at the Guggenheim Museum.

The first solo show of Virginia native Hampton Boyer, “hampton boyer: there’s no place like here.” 

Titus Kaphar, Columbus Day Painting, 2014 © Titus Kaphar. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
On Display National Gallery, Collection of Dr. Robert B. Feldman

“Shifting Gaze”: “Columbus Day,” Titus Kaphar

Created in response to his son’s classroom lesson on the October holiday, “Columbus Day” re-examines the oft-told hero story of the famed 1492 landing and asks the viewer to shift their gaze and question how they see hierarchy in art, history and life. 

Radcliffe Bailey, Zion Crossing, 2016 © Radcliffe Bailey. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Collection of Dr. Robert B. Feldman

“Shifting Gaze”: “Zion Crossing,” Radcliff Bailey 

Originally part of an exhibit on the slaves that settled in the Great Dismal Swamp, the combination of railroad spikes and painted canvas is equal parts intriguing and bracing, referencing the underground railroad, ancestry, memory and the specter of violence in black history. With multiple interpretations, “Zion Crossing” invites the viewer to create the piece’s narrative while solemnly speaking to touchpoints in American history from the black and brown experience. 

Roberto Jamora, First Born (Homage to Jack Whitten), Oil and beeswax on canvas over panel, 24 x 20 x1 inches

“New Waves 2020”: “First Born (Homage to Jack Whitten),” Roberto Jamora

Reflecting on the skin color of his unborn, mixed-race child with his new bride, a white, Filipino artist, Jamora accidentally blended the top layer of colors producing an uneven gradient atop a previously painted canvas. Strategically removing it reveals a hidden world of colorful paint below. With the anticipation of the colored lines nearly touching and the titular reference to Whitten, the groundbreaking black contemporary artist, “First Born (Homage to Jack Whitten)” thoughtfully explores what it means to be a mixed child in a color-coded world. 

Hampton Boyer, Catastrophe, 2019. Oil, acrylic, gouache, graphite on paper. 16 x 22 inches. Courtesy of the artist

“hampton boyer: there’s no place like here”: “Catastrophe,” Hampton Boyer

As part of his first solo museum show, “Catastrophe” represents a turning point in Boyer’s work, departing from the colorful accessibility of his previous works to an exploration of his race and identity, something he had previously not delved into as inspiration for his work. With the freedom of collage–the moving and playing around of shapes and color with the ability to take away and add at will–Boyers pushes past a creative roadblock and into a deeper understanding of himself as a black man native to, and living in, southern Virginia. 

With Hampton Roads’ long and storied history regarding race relations, understanding the past provides the perspective to lead to real progress. James Baldwin wrote it best in “The Fire Next Time”: 

“To accept one’s past—one’s history—is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”

“Shifting Gaze,” “New Waves 2020,” and “hampton boyer: there’s no place like here” will remain on display until January 3, 2021. Sentara Healthcare graciously underwrote free admission to the current exhibitions for all visitors. You must reserve tickets online at virginiamoca.org. Guided tours are available in English and Spanish on your mobile device.