Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the amount of money the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has spent on its 12-year renovation. It has spent $200 million, not $50 million. This version has been corrected.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has finally put away its hammers. A few weeks ago, the Richmond museum opened its East Asian Gallery, the final part of a 12-year, $200 million renovation and expansion.
The gallery, featuring 250 objects on view, includes sculpture, painting and textiles from China, Japan and Korea spanning 4,500 years of history.
“The space is serene,” says Alex Nyerges, director of the museum. “The visual expanse and the approach from a design standpoint is much more minimalistic, in keeping with East Asian influences.”
Officials began planning the museum’s renovation and expansion in 2000. They wanted more space, more display items and better capacity for traveling exhibitions. Beyond that, they wanted a better visitor experience, from sight lines to the lighting on the English China.
“The plan was to create a major museum of international stature,” says Nyerges. The VMFA is the ninth-largest comprehensive art museum in the United States, with a 33,000-item permanent collection. The Commonwealth of Virginia funded $48 million of the cost of the renovation.
In 2007, the museum reinstalled its renowned 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century Gans English Silver collection in its own gallery. In 2010, the McGlothlin Wing — which showcases American Art and Art Deco and Art Nouveau collections — added 165,000 square feet to its existing 380,000.The wing includes a library, shop, cafe, restaurant, and art education and conservation center.
The effects of the decade of change have been immediate and transformative: The objects on view doubled to 5,000. Special exhibition space went from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet. “Our motto is ‘bring the world to Virginia,’ and we’re doing it,” Nyerges says.
Attendance has doubled, from 300,000 visitors per year before 2010 to 630,ooo. The budget went from $20 million in 2007 to $32 million this year. “At the same time, we’ve continued to operate in the black with gifts, grants, contribution, restaurant, special exhibition and ticket revenue,” he says. Nyerges likens the success to the making of a great pastry: The museum’s ingredients are layered with Virginia hospitality, free admission and an open-every-day policy.
“What it provides in the mind’s eye is an unfettered ability to visit,” he says. And, “most of all, a great place to see art.”