Coastal Virginia Fall Arts Preview

Feed your art lover’s soul with these 10 socially distanced exhibits at local galleries and museums this fall.
Brian Murphy Fort Monroe In Plein Site
Brian Murphy Fort Monroe In Plein Site
An oil painting of Fort Monroe Harbor by Newport News-based Brian Murphy, part of In Plein Site at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

By some estimates, 90% of the world’s museums—art, science and everything in between—were forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic. In July, they began to open back up as governments eased restrictions, some with staff furloughed or laid off. But the loss of months of revenue from events and facility rentals hit the bottom line hard as these institutions valiantly mounted virtual exhibitions and other programming to maintain their audiences during the closure.

By UNESCO’s tabulations, some 13% of these institutions globally may not be able to rebound. Those that have been able to hang on are social distancing and sanitizing with the best of them, cancelling exhibitions or pushing back opening dates and modifying reception protocol. Others, including some university galleries, remain closed out of an abundance of caution or the need to focus on other priorities. Despite these dire statistics and not to be deterred, museums and galleries in Coastal Virginia are among those serving up a slate of worthy exhibitions that the art-starved will want to see.

“This spring was certainly challenging and presented plenty of unknowns, but we feel now more than ever that people desire safe opportunities to leave the house and reflect,” says Courtney Gardner, executive director of the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, where The Wyeths: Three Generations will be on display along with a companion installation by Richmond-based sculptor and CNU adjunct professor Ryan Lytle through November 8. “It feels fortunate we are able to present beautiful masterworks by the Wyeths at a time when we all are considering the importance of family. It’s doubly exciting we are also presenting an original installation of artwork by an artist with local ties like Ryan Lytle. We feel proud we can support our community.”

Included here are our picks for the must-see visual art exhibits this fall. Enjoy.

Abstract Paintings by Susan Tolbert

Offsite Gallery (MacArthur Center)
Through September 18

Known largely for her realistic paintings of toys with their characteristic birds-eye view perspective, Susan Tolbert eventually found working from observation limiting and working from a flattened photographic record of reality boring. Now she meticulously paints, as faithfully as possible, every detail of the consumer culture-driven collages she makes from “snipping and clipping” her way through a couple of decades of magazines.

Admission free:


The d’Art Center
Through October 3

The next iteration in the d’Art Center’s series of nationally juried art exhibitions, Divulge features 2- and 3-D explorations of themes and conflicts related to mental wellness as manifested in thoughts, emotions, and behaviors from artists around the country. Whether created for the purpose of communication, self-expression, group interaction, diagnosis, or conflict resolution, the work, in a range of media, raises awareness about mental health The d’Art Center recently announced that it would be leaving its current location on Duke Street in Norfolk for a new larger space in the NEON District. They are scheduled to open in the new location at 740 Boush St. in January of 2021.

Admission free:

Unknown Outcome: A Coastal Virginia Collaboratory

The Hermitage Museum & Gardens
Through October 2

What started as a community forum in the summer of 2019 resulted in some 50 artist proposals and the selection of a dozen projects by individuals and pairs from the region all based on the theme of sea level rise and concomitant environmental issues. In many cases, artists stretched well outside their wheelhouses creating conceptual greenhouses, rain chains, garden totems and other installations both inside the museum and throughout the gardens.

Admission free:

American Vision: A Tribute to Carroll Owens Jr.

The Muscarelle Museum of Art
Through October 18

The Muscarelle Museum of Art on the campus of William & Mary is a fortunate beneficiary of The Owens Foundation. Through their Foundation, Carroll Owens and his wife, Patrisia, both alums of the college, provide departmental support while also awarding the Monroe scholarship to one undergraduate student per class and contributing several key loans to the Museum. In Mr. Owens’ honor, this exhibition features paintings from his collection by American greats, Thomas Cole, Childe Hassam and Robert Henri, among others.

Admission free:

Ryan Lytle: Cabbages and Kings

Peninsula Fine Arts Center
Through November 8

As a companion installation to The Wyeth’s: Three Generations on view at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, Richmond-based sculptor and CNU adjunct professor, Ryan Lytle has reinterpreted the story and illustrations from the children’s book, Cabbages and Kings, written by Elizabeth Seabrook and originally illustrated by Jamie Wyeth. Using his signature felted sculptures, Lytle reimagines a special friendship that emerges between a young asparagus stalk and a cabbage in Farmer Green’s garden. Together they face common threats from nibbling rabbits, the farmer’s family, and the household dog. Bright colors, appealing characters, and a (sanitized) interactive felt board offer all-age appeal.

Admission $1 through Labor Day; $4-$7.50 regularly:

The Wyeths: Three Generations

Peninsula Fine Arts Center
Through November 8

Seventy-four paintings and drawings by three generations of Wyeths come together in this revealing survey drawn from the Bank of America Collection and made available through their Art in Our Communities program. Realism, technical brilliance, and a narrative sensibility characterize the work by N.C. Wyeth, one of America’s finest illustrators; his son Andrew, an important realist painter; and Andrew’s son Jamie, a popular portraitist; as well as members of the extended family.

Admission $1 through Labor Day; $4-$7.50 regularly:

Dan Dailey: Character Sketch

Chrysler Museum of Art
Through November 29

Based on the artist’s direct observation of the world, the 33 character-studies-in-glass in this exhibition are subjective and narrative in nature. With a reputation for being one of the most unique voices within the field of contemporary glass, Dan Dailey presses his industrial palette, precise draftsmanship, and technical craftsmanship into service in the production of portrait busts that are simultaneously familiar, funky, and fresh.

Admission free:

In Plein Site

Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts
Through December 22

A joint project of the Suffolk Art League and the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts (SCCA), this exhibition celebrates the French Impressionists’ practice of painting outdoors which was made possible by the advent of the box easel and transportable paint tubes. Work included in this exhibition will be curated from the SCCA Plein Aire Invitational, a period of three days in September during which artists go on location to paint Suffolk’s historic downtown, verdant farmland, and picturesque waterfront.

Admission free:

Joan Thorne—Light, Layers, Insight

Barry Art Museum
Extended through January 3, 2021

The first-ever temporary exhibition at the recently opened Barry Art Museum is a retrospective of 30 paintings by Joan Thorne, one of the few women included in the prestigious 1972 Whitney Annual (now, biennial) Art Show. Color, intuition, movement, pattern and a sense of place merge in her large-scale metaphysical abstractionist work, a fitting companion to the museum’s collection of 20th century American modernist painting.

Admission free:

Shifting Gaze: A Reconstruction of the Black and Brown Body in Contemporary Art

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Through January 3, 2021

Scheduled well before protests roiled around the world, Shifting Gaze appears to be in direct response. Chosen from Dr. Robert B. Feldman’s extensive collection of contemporary art, the exhibition explores themes related to the varied experience and perspectives of people of color through the presence—or, occasionally, absence—of figures in the work of nearly 30 artists. Organized by the Mennello Museum of American Art and curated by Shannon Fitzgerald, its executive director, the show features powerful presences in work by the likes of Titus Kaphar, Toyin Ojih Odultola and Mickalene Thomas.

Admission free:

Betsy DiJulio
+ posts and articles

Betsy DiJulio is a full-time art teacher, artist and curator with side hustles as a freelance writer, including for Coastal Virginia Magazine, and a vegan recipe developer and food stylist and photographer for Tofutti Brands.

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