The Exhibition is the First Ever to Explore the Symbolism of the Guitar in American Art
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) is excited to announce its upcoming exhibition, Storied Strings: The Guitar in American Art, slated to be on view at the museum in Richmond from October 8, 2022 to March 19, 2023. Storied Strings is the first exhibition to explore the guitar’s symbolism in American art from the early 19th century to the present day.
“We expect that Storied Strings, an exhibition that will bring to the fore one of America’s most quintessential emblems — the guitar — will have broad appeal and resonate with our visitors,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “Through this multifaceted exhibition, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will highlight the exceptional work of this country’s diverse artists, designers, makers and musicians.”
Curated by Dr. Leo G. Mazow, VMFA’s Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art, Storied Strings will trace how the guitar, as a visual motif, has long enabled artists and their subjects to address topics and tell stories that would otherwise remain untold or under-told.
“As with music, the guitar in visual art is both a storyteller’s companion and a tool through which topics are addressed. The guitar is uniquely capable of symbolizing both poetic and prosaic themes,” said Dr. Mazow. “Because of its portability and relative affordability, the guitar appears in myriad settings and situations. It frequently intersects with matters of race, ethnicity, class, gender and disability, including blindness.”
Composed of 125 works of art created over the span of nearly 200 years, Storied Strings will include paintings, drawings, watercolors, photographs and sculptures by prominent American artists such as John Baldessari, Romare Bearden, Thomas Hart Benton, Elizabeth Catlett, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, William Eggleston, Robert Henri, Lonnie Holley, Frances Benjamin Johnston, William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Annie Leibovitz, Charles Willson Peale, Ruth Reeves and Julian Alden Weir.
In addition, 35 guitars will punctuate the exhibition, including instruments made by Fender, Gibson, Gretsch and Martin. Featured guitars were played by pioneering musicians who helped shape the American sound including Lulu Belle, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, Freddie King, Les Paul and Brian Setzer.
Audio-visual kiosks featuring music and filmed performances will further enhance the visitor experience. A window overlooking an impressive, fully functioning recording studio, installed in the exhibition in partnership with In Your Ear Studios, will enable visitors to view guitarists of national and regional renown as they record songs that demonstrate the power of the instrument to tell stories. Among the musicians confirmed to record in the studio are Tommy Emmanuel, Nels Cline (Wilco), Stephen McCarthy (The Jayhawks) and Yasmin Williams. The resulting videos of their performances will be released regularly on VMFA’s website and YouTube channel as Richmond Sessions ’22–’23.
A comprehensive 276-page exhibition catalogue will be available for sale in the VMFA Shop, online at www.VMFAshop.com and distributed by Penn State University Press. Authored by Dr. Mazow, the catalogue will feature color images of every work of art in Storied Strings and include insightful contributions by Jayson Kerr Dobney, the Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Dr. Phil Deloria, the Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard University.
Tickets for VMFA’s exhibition Storied Strings: The Guitar in American Art will go on sale August 11, 2022. Regularly priced tickets for this special exhibition are $16 for adults, $12 for seniors 65+, and $10 for youth 7–17 and college students with ID. As a participant of Blue Star Museums, VMFA provides free admission to Storied Strings for all active duty, National Guard and Reserve military personnel and their immediate families. Tickets are scheduled to help limit gallery capacity during the pandemic. For current information about the museum’s COVID-19 protocols, visit www.VMFA.museum.