After a seven-month search, the Fralin Museum of Art has installed Matthew McLendon, the former curator for modern and contemporary art at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, as its new director and chief curator.
“The intellectual capital of the University of Virginia is legendary,” McLendon said in late December after he was named the previous month. “That’s something exciting when you’re a museum director—working at the heart of that culture, with the resources available to you for collaboration and sparking new ideas.”
McLendon speaks often about collaboration. Given his background, it’s not surprising. During his six-year run at the Ringling, McLendon is credited with strengthening the museum’s modern and contemporary collections and helping to cultivate cross-disciplinary relationships. Under his leadership, the Ringling saw a boost in donations highlighted by a $500,000 gift that funded a new 2,400-square-foot gallery.
“What Matthew did diligently was think about audience development as a whole,” says Anna von Gehr, senior director of development for the Ringling. “He did an excellent job creating symposiums that would engage the prime four universities in the area with our work. Those partnerships with faculty, particularly on the fine arts side at Ringling College of Art and Design, were a great way of making sure students were aware of what was going on at the museum.” Now, McLendon brings that expertise, vision and diverse skill set to Charlottesville.
Both McLendon and UVA’s vice provost for the arts, Jody Kielbasa, credit former director Bruce Boucher, who left the Fralin last spring after seven years at its helm, with expanding the museum’s role on Grounds and, as Kielbasa says, “moving it to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness.” McLendon will look to continue that forward momentum.
“One of the things that resonated with us [about McLendon] is that he comes steeped in the work of masters and classical art, but is deeply interested in contemporary art. That will serve the Fralin and the University community really well,” Kielbasa says. “He has a true interest and passion for working cross-discipline.”
McLendon earned bachelor’s degrees in music and art history from Florida State University and master’s and doctoral degrees in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London.
“One of the metaphors I always use [concerning a museum’s purpose] is the etymology of the word ‘museum,’ which means ‘seat of the muses,’” McLendon says. “These goddesses who looked over all these disciplines of art and learning—it’s not just one muse, it’s all of the muses, so I want to make sure that departments and disciplines know that the museum is relevant to them and a place for their discourse as well.”