Setting the Record Straight on Free Admission and Attendance at the BMA

There have been several recent blog posts (Know Your Own Bone*, Hyperallergic) that question the impact of free admission on museum attendance and provide a compariBMA_Freeson of the BMA’s attendance between 1997 and 2014 as an example of why free admission is not effective in driving audiences. The BMA is very interested in these questions and the data that has been gathered on this issue. Unfortunately, the attendance figures being used to represent the BMA have been taken out of context and don’t provide an accurate representation of our experience since we became free in 2006. (*NOTE: After this blog was published, Know Your Own Bone revised its original statement to add more context.)

In the mid-1990s when annual attendance was over 300,000, the BMA was hosting major exhibitions on Alexander Calder, Dale Chihuly, Andrew Wyeth, as well as treasures from the Victoria and Albert Museum that proved to be very popular with audiences. In 2000, the BMA began focusing more on building recognition of the Museum’s great collection and showcasing new scholarship from our talented curators. This resulted in several nationally travelling exhibitions which, while not blockbusters, attracted thousands of visitors to Baltimore, as well as to museums across the country from New Jersey to Florida and California to Arizona.

When the BMA and Walters Art Museum launched free admission in 2006, the goal of eliminating admission fees was to make the world-renowned collections of both museums more accessible to audiences with limited financial means—from families and seniors to students and teachers. The BMA earned approximately 2% of its operating budget from admission revenue and recognized from the free programs we offered at the time that we could better serve Baltimore’s diverse populations without it. The BMA experienced an extraordinary increase in participation in family programs as a result of free admission that has continued to this day. New research on the Museum’s visitors shows that the mean age has decreased from age 56 to 44 and there are many more African/African-American and Asian/Asian-American visitors than before 2006, though we can’t attribute those results entirely to free admission.

The multi-year renovation that began in 2011 has had a far greater impact on the BMA’s attendance than anything else. We dramatically transformed galleries for the Museum’s contemporary, American, African, and Asian art collections to much acclaim, reopened the historic front entrance, and greatly improved visitor amenities. We kept the Museum open to serve our visitors during this time, but attendance necessarily decreased below 200,000 visitors in 2014, when 60% of the building was closed for the renovation and we couldn’t offer as many exhibitions, programs, or school tours.

We anticipate post-renovation attendance will continue to increase as it has since the spring reopening  of the African and Asian art galleries. We are also looking forward to the completion of the renovation in October 2015 and the many exciting and thought-provoking exhibitions we will be presenting this fall and next year.

Writing in Response to Gedi Sibony’s All Her Teeth Are Made of Slate

Gedi Sibony (American, born 1973) All Her Teeth Are Made of Slate, 2013 Wood, paint, and screws 96 x 40 3/4 x 8 in. (243.8 x 103.5 x 20.3 cm.) The Baltimore Museum of Art: Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2013.287 Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Gedi Sibony (American, born 1973). All Her Teeth Are Made of Slate, 2013. Wood, paint, and screws, 96 x 40 3/4 x 8 in. (243.8 x 103.5 x 20.3 cm.) The Baltimore Museum of Art: Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2013.287
Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York


delicately placed
or carelessly misplaced    Wood
made slate    Walls made mouths

 

Danika Myers, poet and recent speaker at the BMA’s Big Table Connections

As a poet, I often find that writing in response to other art helps me to both sort through my thoughts about the work I’m interacting with and takes me writing in new directions. A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to work with Pam Stiles from The Loading Dock and several members of the community to consider and respond to Gedi Sibony’s sculpture All Her Teeth are Made of Slate. The writing exercise we incorporated into the event is a variation on one I often use to begin to respond to something in the world that compels me. If you have a chance to spend some time with Sibony’s sculpture, perhaps this exercise will help you find words to sort through your own responses to the evocative piece.

  1. Spend at least five minutes looking at and thinking about Sibony’s sculpture. Write down any thoughts that come to you–descriptions of the sculptural components, judgements, associations. Think about the title of the piece as well as its appearance and the material used to construct it.
  2. Find a quiet place to sit and write a bit more. You don’t necessarily need to be able to see Sibony’s work in order to move through the next steps. Try to move quickly and without over-editing or worrying about whether you are coming up with anything “good”—you’re just warming up.
  3. First close your eyes and think about your teeth. Run your tongue over them, open and close your jaw a few times and feel your upper and lower teeth connect, clench your jaw and then release it. When you open your eyes, list the first 3-8 words that occur to you in a column.
  4. Now think about your mother’s, your grandmother’s, or another woman’s teeth–preferably someone you know well and have strong feelings for. Picture her teeth, then add another 3-8 words to your list.
  5. Think about your daughter, your niece, or another person you knew as a child; think about her teeth when she was a baby, a child, and an adolescent. Add another 3-8 words to your list.
  6. Go to the top of your list, and next to each word, jot down the word that seems to you to be the opposite of the first word.
  7. Opposites are easy, but sometimes they aren’t all that interesting; let’s go someplace more interesting! Now, next to the word that is the opposite of the first word, write a word that sits just next to that word–a word that is somehow still in tension with the first word, but not directly opposing it.
  8. Finally, one more list: this time, use sound to help you come up with one more list of words. Choosing a word that sounds like the opposite but means something more like the original word might evoke both. Choosing a word that sounds like the original and means something only slightly different might just get you to a word that’s more precise and interesting. Ultimately, you might end up with a bunch of lists like these:

Original        Opposite        Tension            Sound
ivory                grey                faded                green (sounds like grey)
crooked          straight          polite                stacked (sounds like both straight and crooked)
filled                pristine          silver-lined       phony (sounds like both filled and pristine)

At this point you have a fairly large bank of words that you can use to move yourself in interesting directions as you return to All Her Teeth are Made of Slate. Go take another look at the piece, and then write a short poem or a paragraph that collects one response to it. Try to include at least one of the words from your word bank in each line of your poem, or at least two words from your bank in each sentence of your paragraph.

Still not sure how to start? Try using several of your words in a haiku, like the one created above! I’d love to see you share your poem or short response in the comments below.


headshot_danikaMyersDanika Myers is a poet and is a member of the First Year Writing Program faculty at the George Washington University. Her work has appeared in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, and in Forklift, Ohio.

Monkeying Around with a Meiping Vase

Jingdezhen kilns. Meiping with Lotus Decoration. c. 1500. Origin: Jiangxi province, China. Gift of William C. Whitridge, Stevenson, Maryland. BMA 1979.126

Jingdezhen kilns. Meiping with Lotus Decoration. c. 1500. Origin: Jiangxi province, China. Gift of William C. Whitridge, Stevenson, Maryland. BMA 1979.126

Melanie Lester, Goh’s Kung Fu

This Sunday, students and instructors from Goh’s Kung Fu will perform a lion dance and martial arts demonstration on the BMA’s iconic stairs for the Museum’s Asian Art Celebration. We have partnered with a team of visual artists from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) to produce props and costumes for the show. (Full disclosure – I teach at both schools.)

Choosing the right artwork for the performance
When we first started planning the performance we knew that we wanted to include visual elements pulled from pieces in the collection.

Because fragile artworks and martial arts don’t always go together we decided to recreate this Meiping vase out of foam. The foam replica vase is a catalyst for the narrative of our show. It entices the monkey character, gets stolen, and angers our sleepy lions into action. The show culminates when the vase is returned finally and the lions have a joyous celebratory dance.

This is not something you’d want to do with a 500 year old porcelain vase.

This is not something you’d want to do with a 500 year old porcelain vase.

The Meiping vase stood out to us for a few reasons: jugs and vases have historically been used in certain styles of Chinese kung fu (like drunken styles), the large motif would be easily visible to the audience, and the lotus symbol on the vase sometimes represents qualities martial artists strive to gain from their practice, such as longevity, humility, honor and tranquility.

Making the Vase
The first steps were to come up with a pattern and decide on materials. Kevin Law used open source software to create a 3D model of the vase.

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Goh’s Kung Fu recently built a new space for our martial arts studio and had leftover foam from the floor that we were able to recycle for this project. It is the perfect material because it is lightweight and durable.

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Foam proved to be the perfect base.

After we cut and shaped the vase in foam we painted a base coat.

After we cut and shaped the vase in foam we painted a base coat.

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While we were working we kept an image of the actual Meiping vase and tried to stay true to its shape.

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We sanded and painted several times to seal the surface of the foam.

Jhenny Adams meticulously copied the motif.

Jhenny Adams meticulously copied the motif.

Jhenny blocked in colors and shapes first and then went back to add detail.

Jhenny blocked in colors and shapes first and then went back to add detail.

With paints leftover from other projects and purchased with a generous grant from the Office of Community Engagement at the Maryland Institute College of Art we made the piece of foam look as close to the Meiping vase as possible.

This is our monkey character played by Nicholas Wright-Sieloff doing an aerial while holding the vase during rehearsal.

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I hope to see you at the show!

Thanks to the BMA for letting us share some of our process during the build for this performance. Thank you to Goh’s Kung Fu for having amazing martial artists to work with. And thank you to the MICA Office of Community Engagement for funding the supplies used to create our visual elements.

The BMA’s Asian Art Celebration will be held from 11am – 5pm on Sunday, June 28th, 2015. All are welcome to attend this fun-filled day of music, dance performances, and activities inspired by the newly renovated galleries for the Asian art collection.

MelanieLester_bw


Melanie Lester began teaching costume and other garment related topics at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2006.  She started practicing kung fu at Goh’s Kung Fu in 2005.  Though seemingly very different fields, both garment construction and martial arts require similar repetition and practice to achieve even the slightest improvement.  “Focus, repetition and practice” is the mantra behind all of Melanie Lester’s teaching philosophy.

The BMA Looks Forward

2015 Front StepsDirector Doreen Bolger’s retirement at the end of June has prompted the Board of Trustees to begin the search for a new director to lead the BMA as it enters its second century. A committee has been formed to conduct an international search and they are also interested in harnessing ideas from everyone to help them find the next leader for our beloved institution.

BMA Trustee Michael Rosenbaum was named chairman of the nine-member search committee, which is comprised of Trustees with a broad range of public and private sector experience. The other committee members are Clair Zamoiski Segal; former Board Chairs Suzanne F. Cohen, Stiles Tuttle Colwill, and Margot W.M. Heller; and Trustees William Backstrom, Alexander C. Baer, Patricia H. Joseph, and James D. Thornton.

The committee has already had its first meeting and plans to engage an international search firm to ensure candidates are considered from a diverse array of backgrounds, professional experience, and geography. They also want to hear from individuals and groups who are currently or in the past have been involved with the BMA, as well as others who may never even have considered how their interests and concerns connect with those of an art museum.

As of now, they are not yet soliciting thoughts about specific director candidates or qualifications for the new director. Instead, they would be most grateful for your thoughts about the following questions:

  • What do you want to see from the BMA in the coming years?
  • What would you like to see the BMA become in the next decade?

Summer in the BMA gardens

June 21 marks the first official day of summer, and a good time to explore the BMA’s Sculpture Gardens. Here in the Archives, the Photograph Collection holds images of many outdoor BMA events, from groundbreaking ceremonies for the Museum’s John Russell Pope building to children’s tours to the 1998 Caribbean Festival complete with steel drum band.

Maybe it’s the sunshine and trees, but as I’ve archived photos of these events I’ve noticed that people seem a little more at ease, and a little more willing to participate in activities than they might be in a traditional gallery setting. These two East Garden events from the early 1970s embody the spirit of the time:

Summerlight, an “environmental form” from the artist Robert Harding. May 23, 1970.

Summerlight, an “environmental form” from the artist Robert Harding. May 23, 1970.

Young participant in an outdoor sculpture event. August 12, 1972.

Young participant in an outdoor sculpture event. August 12, 1972.

Meanwhile, Janet and Alan Wurtzburger, at that time already major BMA donors of African and Pacific Islands art, were amassing a collection of sculpture at their Baltimore County estate, Timberlane. This collection was realized in the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden, which opened thirty-five years ago this month.

Guests interact with the sculptures at the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden dedication. June 7, 1980.

Guests interact with the sculptures at the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden dedication. June 7, 1980.

Eight years later, in June of 1988, the Ryda and Robert H. Levi Sculpture Garden opened to the public. The garden showcases works from the second half of the 20th century, and as BMA Senior Registrar Melanie Harwood has blogged, the installation of large-scale sculptures has often provided quite the challenge for BMA staff. Thankfully, the rest of us are free to simply enjoy the gardens, whether on a reflective solo stroll or during one of the BMA’s many festive events, such as the Jazz in the Sculpture Garden summer concerts, which have been held since the 1980s.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden audience, June 30, 1994.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden audience, June 30, 1994.

BMA Photographs Collections are being processed through generous support from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC). The BMA Sculpture Gardens are free to the public and open Wednesday-Friday 10am to dusk, and Saturday-Sunday 11am to dusk.

Another famous race horse: Iroquois

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion (detail). 1881-1889.

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion (detail). 1881-1889.

American Pharaoh has won the Triple Crown of American horse racing—the first thoroughbred to do so in 37 years. His name will be remembered alongside that of Secretariat, Affirmed, and other great horses. However, he will not be commemorated in a Stevengraph.

Stevengraphs were woven silk pictures made during the later decades of the 19th century at the firm of Thomas Stevens in Coventry, England. Stevens was a ribbon manufacturer, who faced possible bankruptcy when fashion dictated that feathers rather than ribbons were the proper trim for ladies’ hats. To avoid this fate, Stevens turned his looms to producing woven bookmarks and small pictures in silk. These depicted famous people and events, including the winning of the Epsom Derby in 1881 by Iroquois, an American bred horse. Iroquois and his jockey Fred Archer continued on to win the St. Leger, the second of three races in the English Triple Crown. Despite a second place showing in the first of the three races (the 2,000 Guineas), the horse and jockey enjoyed fame both in England and America. Iroquois’ reputation even boosted attendance at American racetracks. Perhaps that is why Kate Mattingly Edwards of West Virginia had a Stevengraph depicting Iroquois and included it in her elaborate crazy quilt, which is currently on exhibition in the Jean and Allan Berman Textile Gallery at the BMA.

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion. 1881-1889. Silk, including velvet, ribbons, and Stevengraph; silk embroidery threads, cotton lining Origin: West Virginia, United States. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. A. Taylor Bragonier. BMA 1956.201

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion. 1881-1889.
Silk, including velvet, ribbons, and Stevengraph; silk embroidery threads, cotton lining
Origin: West Virginia, United States. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. A. Taylor Bragonier. BMA 1956.201

Grappling with Challenging Topics in Art Museums: Sande Society masks at the BMA

Installation view. (L-R) Artist Unidentified. Sande Society Helmet Mask (Ndoli Jowei). 1930-1940, Sherbro Region, Sierra Leone, 1984.251 Artist Unidentified. Sande Society Helmet Mask (Ndoli Jowei). Early 20th century, Mende Region, Sierra Leone 1987.149 Artist Unidentified. Sande Society Helmet Mask. Early 20th century, Sherbro Region, Bonce Island, Sierra Leone 1989.389 Nguabu Master, Sierra Leonian, birth and death unknown . Sande Society Helmet Mask. 1920’s-1940’s. Mende Region, Sierra Leone, 1984.50 Nguabu Master, Sierra Leonian, birth and death unknown. Sande Society Helmet Mask. 1920’s-1940’s. Mende Region, Sierra Leone, 1991.127.

Sande Society helmet masks on view in the BMA’s newly reopened African Art galleries.

Earlier this week, the Baltimore Sun published an editorial on an important and controversial issue—female circumcision (sometimes referred to as female genital mutilation)—and its relationship to a group of Sande Society helmet masks on view in the BMA’s new African art galleries. The masks are worn by senior Sande Society women in Liberia and Sierra Leone during initiation ceremonies for young girls that mark their transition into adulthood.

Like most museum objects, the helmet masks tell multiple and complex stories. For example, their refined carving and harmonious design demonstrate the incredible variety, innovation, and artistic excellence of their makers. Displayed together––as they are in the BMA––the masks counter the prevalent notion of African art as static and uniform.

A second story highlights concepts of idealized female beauty within the Sande Society and the individuality of the masks’ patrons. The broad forehead represents character and wisdom while the sensuously ringed neck signifies fertility and good health. Narrow eyes show focus and introspection and suggest demure behavior, while sealed lips indicate an ability to keep secrets. The smooth, glossy black surface not only evokes good health and grooming but also refers to the dark forest streams in which spirits reside. The elaborate coiffure serves as a personal statement of style and a reflection of social prestige. While all Sande Society masks carry these standard features, each is highly individualized according to its patron’s taste. One mask wears glasses and earrings while others are adorned with birds, cooking pots, cowrie shells and other symbolic motifs that refer to Sande traditions, proverbs, or teachings. In Africa where masks are typically a male tradition, the helmet masks speak to the power and artistic influence of women in the Sande Society.

Yet another narrative addresses the social and cultural context of the masks. Masks like these are performed at masquerades during significant civic events in society including funerals, honoring important visitors, and the initiation of young women into adulthood. A centuries-old tradition, during the initiation process senior members instruct young initiates in their roles as women: proper sexual behavior, childbearing, and child rearing. Some initiations also include the removal of some or all of the external female genitalia, an operation that is seen by some as a sacred rite of passage and by many others as a human rights violation. Some societies have stopped this practice of their own accord or because the country has made it illegal, in some cases to help stem the spread of the ebola virus.

Female circumcision has been a topic of international discussion. Just this week, Nigerian President Goodluck Johnson signed a bill that criminalizes female genital mutilation or cutting. According to the World Health Organization, more than 125 million girls have experienced female circumcision, to varying degrees, in the 29 countries where this procedure is concentrated. The practice is also on the rise in the U.S., where according to Newsweek, more than half a million woman are at risk of undergoing the procedure or have already experienced it.

How do we as viewers hold these stories—stories of beauty and creativity, culture and tradition, individuality and self-efficacy, pain and suffering—simultaneously? And what is the museum’s role in negotiating and presenting multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings? How do we tell balanced stories that address both the artistic context and potential contentious human experiences that these objects touch? How do we share controversial information without feeding into negative stereotypes or narrow frameworks often associated with African cultures? These are some of the questions BMA staff are grappling with as we strive to be a responsible, reflexive, and relevant museum.

Works of art embody multiple, complex, and sometimes difficult narratives that span the spectrum of human experience. They speak of beauty and joy, pain and sorrow, love and loss—often at the same time. As stewards of cultural heritage, museums are uniquely positioned to provide a space for inquiry, reflection, and dialogue on important historical and contemporary issues.

Much thought, research, and consultation with experts went into the presentation and interpretation of the Sande Society helmet masks. Our discussions have included how to provide information about the masks that highlights their artistic value and how to provide broader insights about the culture from which they came that extends beyond this one practice. We have also discussed the best format to use in presenting the information. Museums have a variety of tools at their disposal, from printed wall texts, workshops, and lectures to newer technologies and social media.

With every exhibition our goal is to provide accurate, complete, and accessible information on works of art and the ideas that surround them, and at the same time honor the interpretations and narratives that our visitors bring to their experiences with objects. We are taking a closer look at how we present information about the Sande Society masks and other challenging issues in art throughout the museum in order to create the best possible experience for all our visitors. As we work toward finding new and better ways of communicating difficult information, we welcome your response to the questions below.

  • What role should art museums play in presenting difficult historical and contemporary issues?
  • How can we address the different stories that objects can tell us?

We appreciate your interest in the BMA and hope to see you in the galleries.

 

Jay Fisher, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs
Anne Manning, Deputy Director for Education and Interpretation

Juried and Invitational Exhibitions at the BMA

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First Annual Exhibition of Maryland Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1933

As the recently announced 2015 Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize finalists prepare for their exhibition at the BMA this summer, I am working with the Archives’ Juried and Invitational Exhibitions Records and giving much thought to the incredible creative output of Maryland’s artists over the past century and the BMA’s role in displaying it.  From the moment the BMA opened its doors in 1923, opportunities for local artists to exhibit their work were a part of each year’s schedule of exhibitions.  With the opening of the John Russell Pope building in 1929, the BMA was able to develop its own exhibitions and expand its relationship with local artists.  The records I am processing as part of the Library and Archives’ NHPRC grant project document group exhibitions such as the BMA’s Maryland and Regional Artists Exhibitions, the Baltimore International Salon of Photography, and annual exhibitions of the work of members of the Baltimore Water Color Club and the Artists’ Union of Baltimore.

This week I am nearing the end of arranging and describing the largest part of the records, the Maryland and Regional Artists Exhibitions files (21 boxes of material).  The files document a long-running series of exhibitions of the work of local and regional artists organized by the BMA beginning in 1933.  Following a highly successful series of solo exhibitions at the Museum in 1930 to 1932, space considerations and the number of artists in the state interested in exhibiting work led to the decision to instead hold a major group exhibition for Maryland artists.  Although it wasn’t long before the solo exhibitions started up again, the Maryland and Regional Artists exhibitions continued for nearly 60 years.

Exhibition catalog, Maryland Artists Twentieth Annual Exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1952

Exhibition catalog, Maryland Artists Twentieth Annual Exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1952

The contents of the files for each exhibition vary, but most contain material about the logistics of bringing artwork into the BMA and hanging it on the walls, facilitating purchases, and returning the work that remained after the exhibition.  Cards or lists of entries provide information about the work each artist entered.  Some files also contain correspondence with artists, jurors, and museum visitors–complaints and praise for the most part.  Through these letters, it has been interesting to note how each year the challenges of coordinating the exhibitions shifted as the BMA’s staff worked to weather difficulties such as World War II and changes in artistic influences as new art movements made their way to Baltimore.

Perhaps surprising to those who aren’t from Maryland is the number of nationally-known artists who worked in the area between 1933 and 1992: Grace Hartigan, Morris Louis, Lowell Nesbitt, Martin Puryear, Amalie Rothschild, Anne Truitt, and May Wilson, to name a few.  All submitted work to the Maryland and Regional Artists Exhibitions at least once.  Jurors for the exhibitions also included influential artists, critics, and curators such as Max Weber, Betty Parsons, Richard Tuttle, Sam Hunter, and Dore Ashton.

MarylandArtist1968_001

Grace Hartigan, Maryland Artists Invitational exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1968

In an effort to please artists and visitors and to support its small staff, the BMA revised the format of the exhibitions several times.  A separate exhibition for Maryland crafts was held in 1952, 1953, and 1954.  Beginning in 1953, regional exhibitions including the works of artists from Washington, D.C. and Delaware alternated years with the strictly Maryland exhibitions.  An invitational was attempted in 1968, followed by a move to biennial exhibitions from 1974-1985.  The exhibitions ultimately ended with Maryland by Invitation in 1992 which featured the work of artists Jeff Gates and Lisa Lewenz, but the commitment to Maryland artists lives on through the Sondheim exhibitions, the Baker Artists’ Prize exhibitions, and the Front Room exhibitions in the Contemporary Wing—Baltimore-born artist Sara VanDerBeek’s work is on view now!

Great News for Landmark Matisse/Diebenkorn Exhibition

Today’s grant announcement from the National Endowment of the Arts brings BMA Senior Curator Katy Rothkopf another step closer to realizing her dream of pairing the work of French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and American artist Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993).

Katy first conceived the idea for the exhibition many years ago as part of the BMA’s ongoing commitment to studying Matisse’s work. She saw two drawings of a reclining woman in the BMA’s collection by both artists and noticed an unmistakable similarity between the Frenchman’s and American’s work. Yet these images were created four decades and two continents apart. Since then, Katy has examined many artworks that show resonances between the two painters. She also made several trips to California to meet with the Diebenkorn family, including the artist’s widow before she passed this year, and even got to see the Diebenkorn’s extensive personal collection of books about Matisse.

Matisse-RecliningModel

Henri Matisse. Reclining Model with a Flowered Robe, c. 1923. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, BMA 1950.12.52

Diebenkorn-WomanSeated

Richard Diebenkorn. Woman Seated in a Chair, 1963. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Thomas E. Benesch Memorial Collection, BMA 1970.21.3

Diebenkorn was introduced to Matisse’s work in the early 1940s, then immersed himself in the French master’s work in 1952 when a major retrospective of the artist’s paintings came to Los Angeles. He was completely taken by the color and structure of the oil paintings and inspired by Matisse’s willingness to show evidence of his creative process, and began to seek out examples of his work whenever he could. The effect on his work was transformational. A subsequent Matisse exhibition in 1966 captivated Diebenkorn even further.

Matisse’s emphasis on geometric structure, spatial relationships, and a bold, colorful painting style was of great importance to Diebenkorn. Both artists loved to show both the inside and outside in their compositions, often focusing on windows or doorways that include views beyond. In Window, Diebenkorn pays homage to Matisse at his most radical, combining a subject that was a favorite of both artists with pared down detail and broad, geometric fields of color. The decorative wrought iron grille and solitary chair in Window further link the composition to Matisse, who made many paintings of his home and studio that included these elements, such as in Goldfish and Palette of 1914.

Matisse-Goldfish

Goldfish and Palette, 1914. The Museum of Modern Art, New York: Gift and bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn and Samual A. Marx, 507.1964

Diebenkorn-Window

Window, 1967. Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Diebenkorn and anonymous donors, 1969.125 CR1414

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fast-forward a decade later, the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibition is now being co-organized by the BMA and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) for presentations on each coast in 2016-2017. This landmark exhibition will bring together more than 80 paintings and drawings by Matisse and Diebenkorn from museums and private collections around the world. Seeing these two great artist’s works paired side-by-side for the first time is an event everyone wants to be a part of.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a color catalogue with images of all of the works featured, as well as additional illustrations for the introduction by the distinguished Matisse scholar John Elderfield and essays by Katy Rothkopf and SFMOMA Curator Janet Bishop.

In addition to works from the BMA’s and SFMOMA’s collections, stellar examples of each artist’s work are being loaned by the Musée National d’Art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Albright-Knox Art Gallery in New York.

Generous support for the exhibition has come from The Henry Luce Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art in addition to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Interview with traditional Yoruba carver Lukman Alade Fakeye

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Photo of Lukman Alade Fakeye in front of doors carved by his uncle Lamide Olonade Fakeye. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

Born into a famous family of West African master carvers, Lukman Alade Fakeye continues the legacy, creating traditional Yoruba wood carvings. His great grandfather’s Epa Society Mask is on view in the new presentation of the BMA’s African Art collection—one of the most important African collections in the United States.

Lukman recently spoke with museum educator Jessica Braiterman about growing up in his father’s studio and the Epa Ceremonial Mask that represents women’s reproductive and spiritual powers during Epa festivals.

JB: How would have the BMA’s Epa Society Mask by your great-grandfather been used?

LAF: It was a ceremonial mask worn during my great grandfather’s life time. When the time for the Epa festival arrives, the mask would be worn by one of the priests to dance and bless people with prayers. The carving of the mother depicted on the mask was used to acknowledge the important role of women in our community and to pay homage to our ancestors. The mask is always kept in a shrine when not in use for the festival and elders bring offerings for the mask and say prayers.

JB: Tell me about your training as a wood carver? When did you begin to learn wood carving and who taught you?

LAF: I spent my childhood playing with my late father, Akin Fakeye, in his workshop and at the same time studying him and my brothers, Sulaiman and Akeem, who were also working in the studio. As a young kid I didn’t realize that this was part of learning process for me. The more I stayed and played in the studio, the more I absorbed. It was like storing information in a computer memory. I used to play in the studio with abandoned tools and wood with some childhood friends and my father used to tell us stories about his grandfather and his father and other great carvers. All the stories he used to tell us inspired me to learn the family tradition.

Photo of Lukman's father Akin Fakeye. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

Photo of Lukman’s father Akin Fakeye. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

By the time I was 9-12 years old, I would head to the studio around 6 a.m. to sweep and clean the studio before going to school. After school, I would return to the studio to eat and study my father while carving. That was my daily routine as a young boy and I was determined to learn the family tradition. Over time, my father taught me how to use different kinds of carving tools and many other things about traditional Yoruba wood carving.

Photo of Lukman working in his studio. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

Photo of Lukman working in his studio. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

JB: What were some of the hardest things to learn?

LAF: As a beginner every aspect of learning is always hard. During this stage, everything is made by hand, we don’t use machine tools. For me [personally], the hardest thing to learn was to make the base balance on the floor.

JB: What’s it like being part of a prestigious wood carving family? Was there lots of pressure to carry on the family tradition?

LAF: I am very proud to be born into the Fakeye family and be one of the carvers of the Fakeye dynasty. I think there is some pressure to carry on the family tradition, because my brother and I need to take it to the next level and maintain the family legacy and tradition to the fullest.

JB: What piece are you most proud of?

I am very proud of every Fakeye carving, especially my father’s and my uncle Lamidi Fakeye’s work because they are all beautiful masterpieces. A few of my favorites are the 13’ statue of Oduduwa at Obafemi Awolowo University at Ile Ife, Nigeria and the carved doors by my father at the Catholic mission house in Ibadan, Nigeria. As for my work, I am most proud of the 7’ long carved dining table with 6 chairs.

Photo of Lukman's recent hand-carved dining room table and chairs. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

Photo of Lukman’s recent hand-carved dining room table and chairs. Courtesy of Lukman Alade Fakeye.

 

JB: What are your future aspirations?

LAF: To continue the family legacy and take it to the next level. I want to be able to teach youth and adults around the world about traditional Yoruba wood carving techniques and the Fakeye family history.

I would love to have a Fakeye Museum of Yoruba Art and an institute to teach Yoruba art and the Fakeye dynasty so that the family tradition continues.

The expanded and renovated African galleries debut on Sunday, April 26 during a free day-long celebration, with musical performances, art-making, gallery conversations that highlight the diversity of contemporary and traditional African art, and more.