May 30, 2018
Art, The Fralin Museum of Art

If you’d like to bring more art into your life but you’ve always felt intimidated by gallery settings, it’s time to head for the great indoors.

Through Sept. 30, the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia is presenting “In My Room: Artists Paint the Interior 1950-Now.” The new exhibition is taking the concept of the landscape and switching the perspective around. This time, the focus is on rooms and other indoor spaces that can offer multiple ways to engage and layers of insights to consider. And the interior you end up exploring may be uniquely your own.

“We bring our own biographies, our own experiences, to the art,” said Matthew McLendon, the Fralin’s director and chief curator.

The exhibit, co-curated by Rebecca Schoenthal and visual artist and former art critic Ryan Steadman, includes works by Andrew Wyeth, Alex Katz, Richard Diebenkorn and Becky Suss, to name a few. The scenes depict everything from sitting rooms to stadiums. And as you move from painting to painting, pay attention to any details or aspects that stir your curiosity. Do you find yourself wondering where that hallway leads, or whether someone’s shuffling back to rest on that rumpled pillow?

“There are so many layers — layers we can investigate,” McLendon said. “You can investigate it from a design standpoint and how much design changes over time.

“You’re looking at unpeopled interiors. What happened in that room? What’s going to happen in that room? You’ve made a connection.”

And if you’re still looking for that elusive toehold in the art world, you’ve got this. There’s nothing in this exhibition that you’re supposed to “get” or react to in a certain way. Your engagement with the works is completely your own.

McLendon said he hopes “In My Room” can strip away the intimidation factor that keeps some people out of galleries. Art belongs to you as much as to anyone, and McLendon said this exhibition is accessible because “there’s already a comfort level.”

“I think people are often intimidated by art,” he said. “But we know what a room is. I’m hoping people who think they don’t understand art, or it’s not for them, hopefully they’ll take that feeling of comfort and say that art is for them.”

Attend with a friend or two, and you can share ideas about the works. That’s part of why Charlottesville’s First Fridays phenomenon is so popular; it offers a stimulating opportunity to reflect on and converse about something outside your hectic daily routine.

“Art can be a solitary moment just between you and the object, but it can be a social moment as well,” McLendon said.

And if you’ve always assumed galleries are stuffy places, take heart; you won’t be asked to buy something or move along. You’re expected, and encouraged, to take whatever time you feel is right to linger and look.

You’ve got the luxury of time to look at the works individually, to step back and observe them in context with each other, to see how the light strikes them and make your own connections.

“These experiences can help take you out of the stresses of everyday life. It can give you license to slow down,” McLendon said.

“You are invited to come in the museum and sit down for a long time. We just get to step out of our own frenetic lives and have a different experience with time and duration.”

And, sometimes, we just need a quick reboot in the presence of something that’s simply beautiful.

The works in this show “are aesthetically pleasing,” McLendon said. “We’re not necessarily surrounded by beauty these days. I think we need that.

“We’re giving people license, giving people permission, in a place where they know they’re welcome.”

Beauty can smooth down the rough edges of a stressed-out soul. But that’s not to say the Fralin backs away from tough topics. Visual art’s focus on perception has a way of bringing both the head and the heart into play. Because art offers a safe environment for discovering viewpoints and validating individual experiences and reactions, it’s a comfortable place to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. Challenging exhibits bite into politics, death, injustice, pain and other controversial subjects we’d rather avoid.

“We’re one of those places you can have a difficult conversation in safety and comfort,” McLendon said.