Matthew McLendon, PhD, an art historian and curator of modern and contemporary art, became the director and chief curator of The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia in 2017. An energetic and influential leader, McLendon is widely recognized for his cross-disciplinary curatorial practice, an emphasis on community engagement and education, and activating marginalized voices in the museum setting.
“We are thrilled to have Matthew join The Fralin,” said Jody Kielbasa, UVA’s vice provost for the arts. “The University is approaching its third century and with that, the Museum is looking forward to an exciting new chapter in its own long history. We believe that Matthew provides the leadership The Fralin needs to embark on this new journey.”
Since coming to The Fralin, McLendon has focused on activating the Museum both within the University community and the wider communities served. Under his leadership a broad communications strategy has been implemented earning extensive coverage in national and regional publications. Museum visitorship has increased a staggering 26% in 2018 along with the launch of several new public programs. Among these programs are Greenbrier Global Artists, an afterschool program serving the children of refugees and asylum seekers as well as a partnership with the Violet Crown Cinema Group for “The Fralin Downtown” a series of monthly films and documentaries addressing both the visual and performing arts. Now entering its second year, “The Fralin Downtown” continues its run of sold-out screenings bringing Museum programming into the community.
Notable exhibitions during McLendon’s tenure include sometimes.we.cannot.be.with.our.bodies., a multi-sensory installation by Vanessa German, Unexpected O’Keeffe: The Virginia Watercolors and Later Paintings, an exhibition focusing on the critical yet little-known time that Georgia O’Keeffe spent as a student and instructor at UVA, and From the Grounds Up: Thomas Jefferson’s Architecture and Design, a reappraisal of Jefferson’s influences and impact upon architecture, among others. Each of these exhibitions garnered national attention and increased engagement.
Before coming to The Fralin, McLendon was recruited in 2010 by The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the State Art Museum of Florida under the aegis of Florida State University, to revive its dormant modern and contemporary program. In a museum best known at the time for its treasury of Old Masters, McLendon undertook a series of high-profile exhibitions featuring rarely-seen works from The Ringling permanent collection. In 2011, Joseph’s Coat, the largest Skyspace to date by artist James Turrell was opened under McLendon’s leadership and his original exhibitions began building larger regional and national audiences.
McLendon inaugurated and co-directed the Art of Our Time initiative, focused on living visual and performing artists, beginning in 2011. This cross-disciplinary programming series helped lead the way in The Ringling setting new records in attendance, membership, and support. Other high profile major exhibitions included the first museum survey of artist, composer, and performer R. Luke DuBois and an examination of living artists working with found objects (in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp) in Re:Purposed. McLendon concluded his time at The Ringling with the first museum survey of interactive cinema and live-mix performance pioneer Toni Dove. Major gifts to the permanent collection in support of the Modern and Contemporary program included substantial additions to The Ringling’s photography, sculpture, and works on paper holdings; a new collecting emphasis on studio glass with major collection gifts; and two permanent additions to exhibition space, the Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion and the Keith D. and Linda L. Monda Gallery of Contemporary Art.
As an advocate for emerging and mid-career artists in the museum setting, McLendon has worked with a host of significant voices in contemporary art in both thematic and solo exhibitions, among them: Vanessa German, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Nick Cave, Sanford Biggers, R. Luke DuBois, Mickalene Thomas, Zimoun, Anne Patterson, Beth Lipman, Emily Noelle Lambert, Aurora Robson, Jill Sigman, Mac Premo, Daniel Rozin, Alyce Santoro, Gajin Fujita, Sofia Maldonado, and Luis Gispert, and more.
His books and publications include: Toni Dove: Embodied Machines (Scala); EMIT: What the Bringback Brought (Ringling/Murphy); Re:Purposed (Scala); R. Luke DuBois—Now (Scala); Beyond Bling: Voices in Hip Hop in Art (Scala); Dana Hargrove: Inhabit (Bridgette Mayer, contributing writer); Back to the Futurists: The Avant Garde and Its Legacy (Manchester University Press, contributing writer); Jill Sigman: Ten Huts (Wesleyan University Press, contributing writer), among others. McLendon has served as teaching faculty for graduate and undergraduate students at Florida State University, New College of Florida, and Rollins College, in addition to frequent guest lectures, interviews, and media appearances. McLendon earned his MA and PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art of the University of London. He earned dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music and Art History at Florida State University, with magna cum laude honors. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Association of Art Museum Directors, American Alliance of Museums, and College Art Association, among other professional organizations.
(Photograph by Daniel Perales)