Virtual MOCA brings the art museum to you!

Words by Moriah Joy.
Images courtesy of the artists (as listed).
Featured Image: Emily Hughes, Touch Series #1, 2019
Gouache on card stock

Many have found comfort in the arts in these troubled times, whether that’s engaging in free classes online, tuning into watch various streaming shows, or finding different arts activities to keep the kids occupied. The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art has gone one step further to make all of these available in one place. Since the museum had to close its doors to the public in late March, their creative team has managed to launch a virtual museum website and keep the community engaged. 

Two ladies in off white and brown dresses sit in chairs, their hair naturally in giant afros, surrounded by bags and two black statues of naked women, with two other women looking out from around large black arches in the back.
Shawn Theodore Not So Satisfactual (Future Antebellum Series), 2017 Image courtesy of artist

The website features various educational tools, activities (new ones released every Friday), and videos about the artists and their work exclusively for MOCA. Brad Tuggle, the Director of Audience Development at MOCA, discussed their solution to the shut down.  “My job with MOCA as marketing director is to bring people in… so we had to get creative. Thankfully we have an amazing team here and they were able to get the website together in eight days to launch- it’s grown a lot since then.”

There are four exhibitions available for preview on their website; “New Waves”, “Shifting Gaze”, “Hampton Boyer”, and “Past 10 Years”. The “Past 10 Years” exhibition is exclusively available through the website and features various works the museum has had on display within the past decade. The “New Waves” exhibition features the work of 29 Virginia artists as a contest hosted by the museum. The museum has called upon the talents of Susan Thompson, who is the Associate Curator at the Guggenheim, to select and judge the pieces for the show. 

Somewhat abstract painting in blues and yellows with an american flag center, and masked figures marching surrounding a crowd of chained prisoners in orange.
Mark Thomas Gibson Procession 1, 2017 Image courtesy of artist

“We had over 1,500 artists apply with almost 19,000 works and narrowed it down to 29 artists and pieces, so you can imagine what a difficult task Susan had,” said Tuggle.

The contest has been put on hold as part of the contest calls for Susan to see the works in person, which has yet to happen. Whenever the museum opens back up, she will judge the collections and give out various prizes as well as a grand prize. In the meantime, you can see the collection and vote for your favorite piece in the exhibition.

A woman wearing a blue shirt holds a mirror which shows a figure with a bright orange face. It looks like she may be either putting the mirror up on the wall, or taking it down. The wall is papered in crumpled brown kraft paper.
Nathaniel Donnett Reflect 6, 2014 Image courtesy of artist

“The Shifting Gaze: A Reconstruction of the Black & Hispanic Body in Contemporary Art” is a truly unique exhibition. The pieces are a collection from Dr. Robert B. Feldman. Dr. Feldman’s interest in upcoming artists has made the exhibition a beautiful progression of the work of various artists along with a shift in the lens of Black and Hispanic self-reflection. The collection is truly a sight to behold as it features different mediums each with a clear and powerful impact on the viewer. 

Hampton Boyer is a local artist living in Norfolk with a studio in Hampton (which he is named after). He has been working with MOCA for a little over a year and has collaborated with them on various projects such as the mural leading up to the entrance of the museum. His exhibition was specifically created for the museum and features all new work.

Etched glass looking hanging plaque which reads "When you were in elementary school all of your Euro-American friends asked you, "what are you?" You replied confidently, "my mom's from South Korea, I'm half Korean" with a sense of pride in your voice. You didn't mention your dad was Afro-American. You didn't have to, You knew that was all they saw. Even back then, you knew they saw Asians as the elite minority. By stating you were Korean, you were becoming part of an acceptable whiteness. Once you knew they would feel more comfortable around."
LaRissa Rogers The Radical Other, 2019 Acrylic sheets Image courtesy of artist

Thankfully MOCA has worked with the collectors and the other museums where the exhibitions were supposed to be moving to in August and have extended their stay to January of 2021.

MOCA is going one step further with their community engagement as they are launching their Instagram takeover tomorrow, Thursday, May 7th. Through Instagram they will be hosting various meet and greets with artists as well as exclusive looks into their studios. The next two Instagram Live Chats with the museum will feature Annie Layne (May 8th @ 4pm) and Ryan McGinness (May 14th @ 6:30pm).

A portrait of a black women looking into the near distance. She wears a white shirt with stripes drawn incompletely to the waist. Her hands are intertwined in front of her, and what parts of her arms are visible look more like muscle and bone than skin-covered arms.
Agnes Grochulska Lia, 2019 Oil on wood panel Image courtesy of artist

The museum also hosts “Coffee and Conversation” once per month with Curator, Heather Hakimzadeh, featuring a new special guest each time. Before the pandemic, they hosted the event in person at the museum and, like many other programs, have since moved to Zoom. This past “Coffee and Conversation” was their most attended with 27 people on the Zoom call as they discussed the work of Michael Kagan with a NASA employee. MOCA intends to keep their virtual website operational to keep community engagement attainable for everyone.

“Sometimes people aren’t able to visit the museum because of finances, time, or they may live out of state,” said Tuggle, “or they don’t want to come because of the stigma that often comes with museums. However, through [the website and other resources] hopefully people will see that it is accessible and that art is for everyone.”

Their upcoming “Coffee and Conversation” will feature Hampton Boyer on Tuesday, May 12th at 11am. Please visit their website to register.

Orange background with two yellow bursts at the top, a green person-like figure, and a cat in the center. An abstract tree and possibly path to the left side, on the right the cat stands on a black area with an orange rectangle below.
Hampton Boyer Catastrophe, 2019. Oil, acrylic, gouache, graphite on paper. Image courtesy of artist

For those who wish to help the museum continue arts education in the community during these difficult times, they are fundraising with the help of Virginia Beach artist, Michael Kagan. The fundraiser will feature a piece that was specifically painted  for Michael Kagan’s father. He has been very generous and  is allowing MOCA exclusive rights to the print with all of the funds going to the museum. Only 200 prints are available for purchase and will be going on sale tomorrow for $500 each.

Brad hopes that art has brought people comfort through the chaos and he is excited to see what pieces will be coming to the museum that have been inspired by this time. He is also excited to see the community continue to connect through the arts both in person when the museum opens and through their virtual ventures. 

For a tour of their virtual museum as well as educational tools and more information on the artists please visit the Virtual MOCA website.

For more information about their Instagram Live events please follow them on Instagram @VirginiaMOCA

For updates on the museums reopening, making a donation, or purchasing an exclusive Michael Kagan print please visit their website.