The Capital of the Confederacy isn’t exactly considered the Capital of Fine Arts. But then Picasso came to the newly renovated Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
To be frank, I wasn’t expecting much. My impression of Richmond was based on a few wintertime visits. The city seemed dreary. A little seedy. And a bit stuck in the way past.
Spoiler alert: This woman’s impression was changed.
In a mere two hours, two friends and I were picking up another pal who lives in the Fan district, a lively area just past Virginia Commonwealth University and home to Monument Avenue, where statues of confederates (Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart) and other hometown heroes (tennis star Arthur Ashe) stand along the grassy median.
The four of us found ourselves at the museum in about five minutes. In Richmond, everything is nearby.
The first thing that struck me about the museum was the — well, was it Southern hospitality? Or plain-old excitement that the venue was packed with visitors? Whatever the reason, the parking attendant greeted us warmly. The security guard thanked us for coming. The man who took our tickets at the exhibit told us he was so glad we had come. I’m sure if Pablo were alive, he would have tipped his hat at us.
The Picasso exhibit was almost overwhelming. The 176 works from the artist’s personal collection are on loan from the Musee National Picasso in Paris, which is undergoing a renovation through next year. The VMFA is the only East Coast stop for the show, which closes May 15.
The exhibit was crowded. After all, it is Picasso — everyone knows Picasso. (Though there were those just learning about him, too: I had fun watching children lie on couches and turn upside down to get different views of his cubist paintings.)
“It was pretty remarkable to go from room to room and see a lifetime of work unfold,” my friend and Washington Post colleague Maria Glod noted. She and I seemed to make the same observations — about the many women in the artist’s life and how they influenced his art, and the idea that the skewed faces were a direct shot at the Nazis, whose idea of art was classic beauty. Toward the end of the exhibit, photos showed Picasso on the floor, coloring with his children and hugging his dachshund, Lump. How very . . . human.
And, speaking of human, we were starving.
At Amuse Restaurant, a massive glass wall overlooks a picturesque sculpture garden and reflecting pool that cleverly covers the parking garage. This was no ordinary museum cafeteria.
“Can I interest you in champagne cocktails today?” the waitress asked us. We apparently had targets on our heads.
Like giddy schoolgirls getting away with something (and we kind of were — husbands, children and work), we clinked glasses and launched into a leisurely lunch, the type I hadn’t had for, well, did I mention my oldest child is almost 4?