Kehinde Wiley’s monumental sculpture, “Rumors of War,” was acquired by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for $2 million.
Calling it “the most expensive acquisition of a sculpture ever made in our history,” the museum did not originally disclose the figure. The purchase price was made public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Richmond Times-Dispatch and other media publications. The amount was first reported by The Virginia Mercury.
To offer a little perspective, “Chloe,” a 24-foot-tall sculptural head by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, was acquired in 2017 for $1.2 million.
Dale Chihuly’s Red Reeds, installed in the reflecting pool outside the museum, were purchased in 2013 for $1.7 million.
The most expensive acquisition the museum ever made was $13 million in 2018 for Frederic Church’s 1857 painting, “View of the Magdalena River.”
The VMFA board approved the acquisition of “Rumors of War” in late June.
Richmonder Bill Royall led the charge, calling on the VMFA board of trustees to make a statement for generational change. Royall is a patron of the arts and the founder of Royall & Co. He and his wife, Pam, own several paintings by Wiley and have developed a relationship with the artist.
Bill is suffering from ALS, a neurodegenerative disease, but that didn’t stop him from attending the VMFA board meeting and leading the charge.
He told his fellow board members that it was a historic moment, that Richmond was the right place, at the right time, and it was the right message.
“We wanted to make sure that our family was associated with this statement because of what it meant for the future of Richmond,” Pam Royall said.
The board unanimously approved the acquisition. Pam estimated that the board itself raised half a million dollars among themselves for the acquisition.
All acquisitions at the VMFA are funded by an endowment of private donations, not state money.
Cast in bronze, “Rumors of War” is an edition of three, meaning there are two other versions of the statue. It has not yet been decided where the other two, created on the same scale, will go.
Nine editions of a smaller version also have been created by the artist. They are available for sale through New York’s Sean Kelly Gallery for an undisclosed price.
Pam and Bill attended the unveiling ceremony for “Rumors of War” in Richmond on Dec. 10, along with thousands of others eager to catch a first look at the statue. Bill, who now uses a wheelchair, had an oxygen tank at the event.
They sat up front and enthusiastically greeted Wiley after the unveiling.
“We wouldn’t miss it,” Pam said. “It’s a statement of who we are today and what we hope for our future.”