A Conversation with the New Director of UVA's Art Museum

Feb 14, 2017

Matthew McLendon, new director and chief curator of The Fralin Museum of Art, started his new position in January.
Credit Dan Addison / University of Virginia Office of Communications

Matthew McLendon is the newest director and chief curator for the University of Virginia's art museum. McLendon began as director of The Fralin Museum of Art in January.

When you think of the Ringling family, you probably think of the circus. But The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota is an impressive center of the arts, with a large collection by the old masters.

That's where Matthew McLendon was curator of modern and contemporary art.

"The original museum built by Ringling had 21 permanent collection galleries," he says.

In addition, it houses contemporary art, McLendon's specialty, along with one of the largest art libraries in the southeast and a state of the art conservation lab.

At the University of Virginia, which owns more than 14,000 pieces of art, McLendon vows to provide a sanctuary for people who want to escape the frenetic pace of modern life.

"We are so lacking in the experience of duration or close looking or extended looking or extended thought in our day to day lives that coming into the museum, finding that respite is critical to prepare us both mentally and physically to exit back out into the freneticism in which we all find ourselves," says McLendon.  

And while museums are to some extent about history, he pledges an ever changing experience.

"Yes, you might have come last month or last year but if you come today you're going to have a completely different experience because we have new programming every week, the exhibitions are always changing."

McLendon is excited to be at the center of a university, one that's preparing to celebrate its bicentennial, a chance to reflect on where the museum has been and what its future might hold.