On August 28th, after a 17-month closure, the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia opened to the public. Admission is free. Per UVA guidelines, masks are required indoors regardless of vaccination status. The museum is closed on Monday and open 10 am to 5 pm the rest of the week (12-5 on Sundays).
Housed in the historic Bayly Building on Rugby Road in Charlottesville, the museum is surrounded by the fraternity and sorority buildings that overlook the Madison Bowl (a.k.a. the “Mad Bowl"), located across the street from the central Grounds of the University.
There are a few parking spaces available behind the museum and in the A-6 lot adjacent to Madison Bowl. Cash metered parking ( FREE after 5 pm and on weekends) is available in the Culbreth Garage, a short walk to the museum. When I visited on a Sunday, there were plenty of parking spaces available in the garage, plus I got to hear the UVa marching band practice on my walk down Culbreth. Make no mistake, you’re right in the thick of university life. As you make your way up the steps to the museum, don’t forget to take it all in: the Greek signs, the sculptures, the rush of students going to and fro, the enthusiastic cries from a soccer game in The Mad Bowl.
The permanent collection of The Fralin consists of nearly 14,000 objects, some of which are on display in the main lobby. This includes European and American paintings, African art, Asian art, Pre-Columbian art, and Native American art.
Built in the 1930s, thanks to a gift from the Bayly family, the University of Virginia Art Museum’s early years were linked to the School of Fine Arts, a predecessor of today’s School of Architecture. When I first moved to Charlottesville in the 1990s, I remember the museum was referred to as the “The Bayly.” In 2012, Heywood and Cynthia Fralin announced their intention to donate their extensive collection of American art to the University. Thus, the Bayly became “The Fralin.”
Currently, there are a few temporary exhibitions. The biggest standout to me was the beautifully curated “Skyscraper Gothic” exhibition. Running from August 28th to December 31, 2021, this exhibit shows how European Gothic architecture influenced the iconic skyscrapers built in the United States in the first three decades of the 20th century. The makers of these modern marvels adapted historic prototypes of medieval Gothic architecture, which they perceived as the pinnacle of urban grandeur. Advocates of modern architecture also wanted to visually express the impressive underlying frame built with steel and concrete. The step-like profile of these towering skyscrapers, most of them built between World War 1 and the Great Depression, transformed everyday American life. New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and other major city-skylines became what we know them as today. Through prints, photographs, furniture, textiles, and even toys, the exhibition demonstrates how skyscraper Gothic design permeated material culture in the early 20th century and became an emblem of modern American life. You can see through architectural blueprints and illustrations, how Gothic skyscrapers such as the Woolworth building in NYC (1913), the Tribune Tower in Chicago (1925) drew influence from European Gothic cathedrals. By the 1920s and 30s, Art Deco streamlined this celebration of modernity with its emphasis on urban luxury and glamour, widely recognized in structures such as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in Manhattan.
Other smaller exhibits at The Fralin include “Delicate Trades: British Porcelain, Global Connections,” “The Langhorne Collection of 18th-Century Prints,” "Focus On: Sally Mann & Pamela Pecchio," and “Solitude.” Solitude will run until November 14, 2021. I was impressed by this exhibit curated by students from the 2020-2021 University Museums Internship class. Situated in its own room, this exhibit draws on the shared experience of the COVID-19 Pandemic, focusing on the feelings that isolation produces using works from the permanent collection.
Whether you're visiting Charlottesville for a weekend, or you're a local who is looking for something inspiring to do this fall, the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia is well worth your time and worthy of a donation.
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