♦ City & Colony: Collection Development in Urban and Rural Settings

Olivia Blackwell
  1. Virginia Commonwealth University's Anderson Gallery   2. The College of William & Mary's Muscarelle Museum of                                                                                                          Art

University art museums, unlike other art museums, are unique in the way they go about acquiring works of art.  This difference regarding acquisition practices exists for a variety of reasons: economic, a university’s status as a public or private institution, and the community’s artistic needs, just to name a few.  Collection development at the Anderson Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University (Figure 1) and the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary (Figure 2) varies greatly.  The names of these two institutions, one being a gallery and the other being a museum give students and the public an idea of what to expect in terms of each collection. A comparison of collection development at the Anderson Gallery and Muscarelle Museum of Art provide an excellent picture of each museum’s past, present, and future, as a source of learning in their respective communities.

            Collection development, or acquisition, at a university art museum must begin with the establishment of a university or college.  William & Mary opened its doors to students in the year 1693.[1] Virginia Commonwealth University, referred to here on out as VCU, became an institution of higher learning much later, in the year 1968.[2]  In this particular case, the year each school was established and which parties played a role in each school’s founding have an impact on acquisition. 

            William & Mary, the nation’s second oldest college, began building its permanent collection in 1732.[3]  It was in this year that the third Earl of Burlington presented the college with a portrait of Robert Boyle, a physicist.  However, the establishment of their permanent collection was not done purposefully. With the Robert Boyle portrait being only the beginning of many gifts given to William & Mary, it was more of a coincidence, perhaps even a convenient one at that, which allowed them to start collection building.  VCU started to build its permanent collection more than 200 years later, in 1971, with a gift of 800 works from Dr. Henry H. Hibbs.[4]  Each school now has a starting point for collection building, both in the form of gifts. These beginnings, and once again, the status of the people involved, proved to have an impact on the future of collection building at the Anderson Gallery and the Muscarelle Museum of Art.  The art is present, but the question then was, where to house it?  Due to the up-and-coming position of university art museums in the United States, colleges and universities alike came to consensus.  Each institute of higher learning needed a home, preferably a permanent home, for their artworks.  

            Although William & Mary began building their collection in 1732, there was no official place to house and display art until 1983. A painting by Georgia O’Keeffe was stumbled upon by Dr. Miles Chappell  and so began the search for more art around the campus.[5]  With this cache of art unearthed, it was deemed essential to construct a space to preserve these precious works.  With the financial help of Joseph L. Muscarelle and his wife Margaret Muscarelle, the Muscarelle Museum of Art was established in 1983.

            VCU’s path toward a space to house and display art proved to be much different; in this case, the space preceded the artwork. In 1930, Colonel Abraham Archibald Anderson funded the establishment of the Anderson Gallery, through the gift of $10,000 to the Richmond Professional Institute.[6]  Colonel Anderson, an artist himself, desired a space in the city of Richmond that would allow art to flourish and reach out into the community.  Throughout the decades, the building that would become known as the Anderson Gallery went through renovations and served functions other than just a space for art.  However, in 1970, the Anderson Gallery was officially VCU’s museum and gallery.[7]

            Although William & Mary began collecting art 239 years earlier than VCU with the gift of a portrait from Britain, VCU devoted a building to house art 18 years earlier than William & Mary.  This timeline is interesting considering the current acquisition practices of each school.

            As it stands today, the Anderson Gallery holds 3000 works in its permanent collection.  As stated above, Dr. Hibbs donated his collection, totaling 800 works to the Anderson Gallery in 1971, establishing the gallery’s tradition of collection building through gifts and donations.  Due to his varied tastes, the gallery possesses a very diverse permanent collection.  Highlights in Dr. Hibbs’ donation include works by prominent, world renowned artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, and James McNeillWhistler.[8]  Keeping with VCU’s tradition, and perhaps even preference, of works on paper, the bulk of Dr. Hibbs’ donation includes prints, ranging from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.[9]  In 2003, over 300 of Theresa Pollak’s drawings and sketches were given to the gallery.[10]  Pollak was the founder of VCU’s School of the Arts.  Although the collection is not open to the public, the collection is open to VCU students and staff for educational use.

            The permanent collection includes a variety of artistic mediums, such as drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and textiles.  However, the majority of the artworks in the Anderson Gallery’s permanent collection are works on paper, such as drawings, prints, and photographs.  In a gallery staff’s opinion, works on paper may be easier to store, and easier to care for in general.  However, an unfortunate consequence of having the majority of the Anderson Gallery’s permanent collection being works on paper is that the lack of variety may severely limit the types of mediums available for study to students and staff.  It is clear to see that the Anderson Gallery relied heavily on donors local to Richmond and VCU to build its collection. Currently, the Anderson Gallery has no acquisition budget, and relies solely on donations to continue building its collection.

            With the lack of an acquisition budget, there exists no chance to acquire new works to add to the Anderson Gallery’s collection.  Unfortunately, this collection practice has a negative impact on not only the gallery, but also the VCU and Richmond community at large.  Given the present economic climate, there is currently little chance of building up the collection by depending on donations alone. The inability to collect, along with the lack of a strong desire to do so, may, unfortunately, put the gallery in a rut. While the Anderson Gallery does focus more on special exhibitions and solo, thematic shows (hence the namegallery) there exists the possibility that the institution may miss out on opportunities to obtain works that may fit well into their collection and attract the attention of the community. What’s more, Richmond and VCU’s rich art scene may suffer if the collection remains at a standstill and fails to evolve.

            However, it is also important to consider the audience that the Anderson Gallery is catering to and the location of the gallery itself.  Their collection is unique to VCU in that it is small and quirky with odds and ends from local artists. Unlike the Muscarelle, which is located in the historically significant colonial town of Williamsburg, the Anderson Gallery is located in the middle of a city that is already rich with culture and art.  VCU’s School of the Arts, VCUarts, is rated as the number one public art university in the U.S.[11] Along with this ranking comes the need for a top-notch gallery for art students to both learn and create in; a sprawling and prestigious collection is not necessarily essential. Therefore, to some individuals, the Anderson Gallery’s practice of special exhibitions and shows may fit in better with the goals of VCUarts, and VCU as a whole.

            What’s more, minutes down the road from the Anderson Gallery is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the VMFA,  “…one of the top 10 largest comprehensive art museums in the country…”[12] With a rich collection like the VMFA’s, a collection that spans across nearly every art period, the Anderson Gallery’s staff deem it nonessential to put forth the funds and time required to create a more varied and prominent permanent collection.

            While it is true that VCU students and staff do indeed have easy access to the VMFA, it is unfortunate that the Anderson Gallery seems to have no issue with directing students down the road when they cannot provide the artwork or education desired by individuals at VCU.  VCUarts is such a prominent and well-respected art school; it is a shame, and perhaps even an embarrassment, that the Anderson Gallery’s permanent collection and practices do not reflect VCUarts’ high standing amongst the nation’s art schools.  If VCUarts intends on not only maintaining it’s high ranking and notoriety amongst the nation’s art schools, but more importantly also keeping their students “in the know” and giving them access to a variety of artworks, it is vital that they change their attitude toward building a stronger and more diverse permanent collection.

            Collection practices at the Muscarelle Museum of Art differ greatly than those that are in place at the Anderson Gallery.  The Muscarelle began collecting in 1732, and currently holds 4,000 works.[13]  While the Anderson Gallery does feature a diverse collection with locally and internationally known works, the Muscarelle’s collection is certainly richer and spans across a much greater period of time.  The Muscarelle boasts works in just about every medium and material from Colonial America, Japan, expressionist Germany, and the American Abstract Expressionist period to name a few.[14]  Concerning specific mediums, the Muscarelle prides itself on its collection of seventeenth and eighteenth century portraits from England and Colonial America.[15]  Their American Abstract Expressionist collection is comprised of oil paintings, watercolor paintings, drawings, and sculpture.[16] 

            Again, it is important to consider location when analyzing a museum’s collection practices.  The Muscarelle is located in Williamsburg, a colonial town, and to a certain extent, a tourist town. The Muscarelle may very well be the only museum in Williamsburg that houses and displays art other than that associated with Colonial America. Art students attending William & Mary require a local and accessible facility that provides them with a rich and vibrant permanent collection that covers as many art periods and movements as possible. Through its vast permanent collection, the Muscarelle serves the needs of students as well as the desires of local art lovers who would like access to more than cobblestones and colonial portraits. 

            The Muscarelle also does one vital thing that the Anderson Gallery does not. The Muscarelle actively adds to its permanent collection by aggressively pursuing works and purchasing them. Buying new works not only adds to the Muscarelle’s collection, but it also adds to the prestige and wealth of their museum. Students and the public gain access to works that they would otherwise have to travel across the world to view and study. The Department of Art and Art History at William & Mary also benefits from having such a fine permanent collection at its disposal.     

            Understanding the mission of the Muscarelle is essential when analyzing collection practices.  The Muscarelle’s mission statement is, “To foster the full integration of a dynamic art museum into the life and liberal arts mission of The College of William & Mary and to serve as a model of curatorial excellence and a catalyst for art exploration at The College and in the surrounding community.”[17]  The key words here are “dynamic art museum.”  In order to become, or maintain a “dynamic art museum,” the Muscarelle must be bold in procuring works for its permanent collection.  The mission of each institution is paramount to understanding why each one collects, or doesn’t collect, what art it does.

            With both the Anderson Gallery and the Muscarelle’s collection development methods laid out, one question lingers.  Is there necessarily a better or best way for a university art museum to acquire works of art, develop, and maintain their collections?  There is no definitive answer.  The methods a university art museum practices are, hopefully, suited to fit the needs of its students, staff, and community at large. What is clear, however, is that both the Anderson Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary are attempting to manage and develop their collections in ways that they deem are most beneficial to their respective students and communities.

 


[1] “W&M at a Glance,” William & Mary, accessed March 4, 2011, last modified 2011, http://www.wm.edu/about/wmataglance/index.php. 
[2] “History- About VCU,” Virginia Commonwealth University, accessed March 8, 2011, last modified March 7, 2011, http://www.vcu.edu/about/history.php. 
[3] “Muscarelle Collections,” Muscarelle Museum of Art, accessed March 4, 2011, last modified 
2008, http://web.wm.edu/muscarelle/collections/index.htm.  

[4] Traci Horne Garland, “Anderson Gallery,” Anderson Gallery VCUarts, accessed March 3, 2011, last modified 2011, http://www.vcu.edu/arts/gallery/.

[5] “A History of the Muscarelle Museum of Art,” Muscarelle Museum of Art, accessed March 4, 2011
last modified 2008, http://web.wm.edu/muscarelle/about/history.htm. For more on the story of the
beginnings of the Muscarelle Museum see Dr. Miles Chappell's introduction to:
Michaelangelo: Anatomy as Architecture, Drawings by the Master, exh. cat. Williamsburg: Muscarelle
Museum of Art, The College of William & Mary, 2010.

[6] Traci Horne Garland, “Anderson Gallery,” Anderson Gallery VCUarts, accessed March 3, 2011, last modified 2011, http://www.vcu.edu/arts/gallery/.

[7] Traci Horne Garland, “Anderson Gallery,” Anderson Gallery VCUarts, accessed March 3, 2011, last modified 2011, http://www.vcu.edu/arts/gallery/.

[8] Traci Horne Garland, “Anderson Gallery,” Anderson Gallery VCUarts, accessed March 3, 2011, last modified 2011, http://www.vcu.edu/arts/gallery/.

[9] Traci Horne Garland, “Anderson Gallery,” Anderson Gallery VCUarts, accessed May 1, 2011, last modified 2011, http://www.vcu.edu/arts/gallery/.

[10] Traci Horne Garland, “Anderson Gallery,” Anderson Gallery VCUarts, accessed March 3, 2011, last modified 2011, http://www.vcu.edu/arts/gallery/.

 [11]  “VCUarts Overview- National Rankings,” VCUarts, accessed March 3, 2011, last modified November 18, 2010, http://www.vcu.edu/arts/overview/national_rankings.shtml.

[12] Zachary Reid, “Artful ascendancy: VMFA moves into the big leagues,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 25, 2010, accessed March 3, 2011, http://www.grpva.com/news-publications/item/ artful_ascendancy_vmfa_moves_into_the_big_leagues/. 
[13] “Muscarelle Collections,” Muscarelle Museum of Art, accessed March 4, 2011, last modified 
2008, http://web.wm.edu/muscarelle/collections/index.htm. 
[14] “Muscarelle Collections,” Muscarelle Museum of Art, accessed March 4, 2011, last modified 
2008, http://web.wm.edu/muscarelle/collections/index.htm. 
[15] “Muscarelle Collections,” Muscarelle Museum of Art, accessed May 1, 2011, last modified 

2008, http://web.wm.edu/muscarelle/collections/index.htm.

[16] “Muscarelle Collections,” Muscarelle Museum of Art, accessed May 1, 2011, last modified 
2008, http://web.wm.edu/muscarelle/collections/index.htm.  
[17] “Mission and Vision,” Muscarelle Museum of Art, accessed March 4, 2011, last modified 2008, http://web.wm.edu/muscarelle/about/mission.htm.  

Figure 1. Anderson Gallery “Anderson Gallery.” Anderson Gallery. Anderson Gallery VCUarts.

Accessed March 9, 2011. http://www.vcu.edu/arts/gallery/.

Figure 2. Muscarelle Museum of Art.  Jrcla2. “Muscarelle Museum of Art.” April 23, 2008. Jrcla2. Wikimedia Commons. Accessed March 9, 2011. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: Muscarelle_Museum_of_Art.jpg.