BMA Voices: The many facets of Olafur Eliasson’s “Flower observatory”, 2004.

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle  Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson. Flower observatory. 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 2003.233. © Olafur Eliasson

Kristen Hileman, Curator & Dept. Head of Contemporary Art

While it may not be exactly what artist Olafur Eliasson had in mind, when I enter his kaleidoscopic Flower observatory, 2004, and look up at the complex arrangement of reflective triangles, I have a sensation similar to that of walking underneath the magnificent domes of old European churches. Undoubtedly, Eliasson looked to nature for inspiration, borrowing the form of a flower for his sculpture and allowing light to penetrate through openings within the network of polished metal plates. However, because the natural form is translated into an industrial material and blown up to such an enormous scale, the architectural qualities of the piece appear first and foremost to me. It is almost as if Eliasson’s piece operates as a 21st-century interpretation of the spectacular gold mosaic surfaces of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice. In both structures, the edges of overhead elements seem to vanish because of the play of light and shadow, and the result is simultaneously one of soaring space and an enveloping sanctuary.

I also like to contrast Eliasson’s sculpture to another work in the BMA’s collection: Donald Judd’s unornamented and untitled box of 1976. The stark 3-foot high by 5-foot wide by 5-foot deep untreated plywood construction contains a single tilted plain within its interior. All of the piece’s borders and corners are clearly defined and visually legible. The piece is beautiful in its rigorous purity. To continue the spiritual analogy, it seems to relate to the austere architectural vernacular and attitudes of American Puritanism.

Another way to compare Eliasson’s and Judd’s sculptures is to apply terms elaborated by Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945). Wölfflin assessed art and architectural form using two categories: Renaissance and Baroque. Although these words are typically associated with chronologically distinct historical periods, Wölfflin employed the terms more broadly to summarize stylistic strategies. The multi-faceted shape, dramatic effects of light, and disintegrating volume of Eliasson’s Flower observatory place it within a contemporary extension of Wölfflin’s Baroque, while the linear, highly rationalized composition of Judd’s sculpture connects it to the art historian’s notion of a Renaissance approach.

There are pitfalls to using dichotomies to analyze artworks. Eliasson’s and Judd’s pieces do not simply exist in opposition to one other. Both sculptures engage a viewer’s body and demand to be seen from multiple vantage points. One must walk underneath Eliasson’s observatory to discover it fully, and one must walk around Judd’s work to appreciate variations in the plywood and the different intersections of the interior plane and exterior box. These active spatial relationships with the viewer are an important commonality. However, contrasting artworks can encourage closer investigation of each piece in question. And, I’ve found that analogizing my experience of abstract works to feelings that I’ve had in other situations, like walking through a church, helps me find the words I need to communicate their emotional and psychological impact on me to others.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: Tauba Auerbach’s wedding of process, technique, and concept

Tauba Auerbach and Paulson Bott Press. Plate Distortion II. 2011. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2012 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2012.198. Courtesy of the artist and Paulson Bott Press

Tauba Auerbach and Paulson Bott Press. Plate Distortion II. 2011. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Print, Drawing & Photograph Society Fund, with proceeds derived from the 2012 Contemporary Print Fair, BMA 2012.198. Courtesy of the artist and Paulson Bott Press

Benjamin Levy, Prints, Drawings & Photographs Curatorial Assistant, speaks on the wedding of process and technique with the conceptual basis of Tauba Auerbach’s work.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: The Boxer.

Malick Sidibé. Boxer. 1966, printed 1980s, assembled 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2005.9. © Malick Sidibé

Malick Sidibé. Boxer. 1966, printed 1980s, assembled 2004. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, BMA 2005.9. © Malick Sibide. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

This post is by Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch, former Associate Curator for African Art and Dept. Head of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, Asia & the Pacific Islands. She recently took up a position as the Teel Curator of African and Oceanic Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

1966 : a year of blue jeans, Black Power, and James Brown, whether you found yourself in Baltimore or Bamako, Mali. Malick Sidibé was the photographer of hip young people, whether at dance parties, beach outings, or in his studio. From its opening in 1958, Studio Malick was a place to document changing fashions and take an informal picture in fun poses with friends. Snapshots taken over the weekend were posted in the window of the shop, creating a constant buzz in front of the studio. In this photograph, Sidibé captures a young man in a boxer’s pose. Whether mimicking a national or international star, or a boxer himself, the subject of the portrait is a cool, modern man.

Youth in newly independent Mali embraced the bell bottoms and other styles sweeping the globe in the 1960s and 70s. In Mali, as in the United States, parents and elders did not always appreciate these changing ideas of proper dress and behavior. In the early independence era, the Malian government considered “untraditional” clothing and hobbies dangerous for national unity. The government created a militia in the 1960s responsible for enforcing socialist ideas that included abolishing traditional leadership positions, but also championed markers of traditional culture. Youth caught wearing mini-skirts, tight clothing, bell bottoms, Afros, or breaking curfew were sent to ‘reeducation’ camps to discourage the adoption of trends seen as foreign, and therefore reminiscent of the colonizers. The young man’s defensive pose in this photograph, therefore, seems like an icon of youth struggles in the period.

The serious expression of the portrait subject contrasts with the colorful frame. The frame was added in the 1990s by Sidibé’s dealer. It is a ‘sous-verre’ or ‘under glass’ painting, a popular 20th century art form from neighboring Senegal, and was not chosen by Sidibé.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: Seeing Leon Kroll’s “Landscape – Two Rivers” through the eyes of a child

Leon Kroll. Landscape -  Two Rivers. 1917. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss  Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.343. © Estate of Leon Kroll

Leon Kroll. Landscape – Two Rivers. 1917. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.343. © Estate of Leon Kroll

Laura Albans, Curatorial Assistant for the departments of European Painting and Sculpture and Conservation

Leon Kroll’s Landscape – Two Rivers was first brought to my attention by my then-10-year-old son, who discovered it in a 2001 visit to the Museum. I clearly remember him standing in front of this majestic painting extolling its beauty. It was amazing to see my young child completely engaged in a work of art, absolutely mesmerized by its magnificence and unable to take his eyes off the canvas—just standing in front of it and saying, “Now that’s a beautiful painting.”

Ever since that experience, Landscape – Two Rivers has remained very special to me. So, when I started working at the BMA, and later assisted with the Cézanne and American Modernism exhibition (2010)—where Leon Kroll’s composition was to be included in the project—it all came full circle. I distinctly remember where the painting was installed in the exhibition—holding the wall ever so strongly among the French master’s stunning works. Seeing the painting through my son’s young eyes and mine, Landscape – Two Rivers continues to resonate with me.

With its motif, rich palette, complex, yet mindful, execution, and monumental scale, Kroll has unmistakably created a very Cézanne-inspired composition—another reason as to why my attention is drawn to the painting. Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry is one of my favorite paintings in the BMA’s collection, not only because it is the best example of this motif, but mostly because it reminds me of my beloved state’s highest mountain—Mount Katahdin—in Northern Maine. Although Cézanne’s inspiration can be seen in its execution, Kroll made the composition his own, as he later wrote, “If you copy directly, it’s kind of a swipe, you know. It doesn’t belong to you, it’s a secondhand thing.”

Paul Cézanne. Mont Sainte Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry. c. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed  by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.196

Paul Cézanne. Mont Sainte Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry. c. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.196

Kroll, born into a family of musicians, began studying painting at a young age at the Art Students League under John Henry Twachtman in New York. He later attended the National Academy of Design, where he was quite successful, having his first solo exhibition in 1906. In 1908, following in the footsteps of Baltimore artist Charles Walther, Kroll traveled to France to study at the Académie Julian under Jean-Paul Laurens. It was during this time in Paris that Kroll was introduced to the work of Paul Cézanne, after stumbling upon a gallery window displaying a group of the French master’s paintings. The American artist was completely inspired by Cézanne’s technique and color palette, which can be seen in his landscape paintings from his expeditions to Eddyville, New York, and Monhegan Island, Maine.

Upon returning to the States, Kroll exhibited his Paris paintings in the famed 1913 Armory Show, successfully selling all of his works. In the 1920s, he taught at the National Academy of Design, as well as the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The American modernist is mostly known for his figurative works, and was commissioned to paint murals for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., Johns Hopkins University’s Shriver Hall in Baltimore, and a war memorial in Worcester, MA. Kroll had a successful career throughout his life.

The Cone sisters of Baltimore were not only patrons of Kroll, but had a close friendship with the artist and his wife. Between the two sisters, they collected one print, nine drawings, and three paintings by Kroll, including Landscape – Two Rivers. It should be noted that Claribel Cone purchased Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire, so one can easily see why Etta Cone would have purchased Landscape – Two Rivers.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: Painters and their palettes

Ludwig Knaus. Artist's Palette. 19th‑20th Century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds  from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations  throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.45.339

Ludwig Knaus. Artist’s Palette. 19th‑20th Century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.45.339

Mary Sebera, The Stockman Family Foundation Senior Conservator, reflects on the artist palettes in the Museum’s collection, and shows a range of different types of palettes that artists use in their work and processes.

Eugène Delacroix. Artist's Palette. 19th Century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds  from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations  throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.45.316

Eugène Delacroix. Artist’s Palette. 19th Century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.45.316

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

 

BMA Voices: A Grab Bag for Good Fortune

A Grab Bag for Good Fortune 1858, 4th month Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japanese, 1797-1861) Publisher: Ebisuya Shôshichi Block cutter: Hori Chu Color woodcut; oban diptych, 359 x 244 mm. (each sheet) The Baltimore Museum of Art BMA 2001.104

A Grab Bag for Good Fortune 1858, 4th month. Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japanese, 1797-1861). Publisher: Ebisuya Shôshichi. Block cutter: Hori Chu. Color woodcut; oban diptych, 359 x 244 mm. (each sheet) The Baltimore Museum of Art: BMA 2001.104

Frances Klapthor, Associate Curator for Asian Art

This curious scene is a diptych, printed on two sheets of paper, and crowded with a circle of figures – each one holding the end of a rope. Fukurokuju – the god of happiness (fuku), wealth (roku) and longevity (ju) – holds the ropes’ other ends. He is immediately recognizable by his large bald head and beard. All manner of objects, animals, people, and deities are participating in his fortune pull. The potential rewards to the lucky participants are shown at the upper left: longevity, symbolized by the three cranes; happiness, embodied by Mt. Fuji, which for many Japanese represented the heart of their country; and wealth, conveyed by the treasure ship. The dragon boat is loaded with many items of its standard treasure-laden cargo, including numerous wish-granting jewels, the lucky mallet, and rolls of valuable brocade fabric.

Those vying for good luck include gods – the fierce blue Fudo Myoo (a Buddhist guardian surrounded by flames, who holds his demon-subduing sword in his right hand), and Fukusuke (a lesser God of Good Luck); people – courtesan, princess, and pearl diver; birds and fish – shark, frog, scallop shell, bream, sparrow, and puffer fish; vegetables and flowers – pot of geraniums, sweet potato, radish, gourd squash, and lotus bulb; and a special category of household animated objects and tools. Tsukumogami are objects that are so old they have become alive and self-aware. Here these various spirit figures – the pack of tissue paper, pillow, bottle, kettle, calligraphy brush, lacquer letter box, and sandal – compete as equals.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi is regarded by many as the last great artist of Japan’s Edo Period (1615-1868). His work was notably diverse, ranging from more standard material such as battle scenes, depictions of everyday life, kabuki dramas, and portraits of actors, to supernatural subject matter. Kuniyoshi was especially fond of cats, and incorporated them into his work or featured them as his subjects often engaged in human activities. His evident sympathy for non-human elements is apparent throughout his career, beginning as early as the 1820s and continuing to the end of his life, with prints such as The Ghost of Yoshihira Strikes Down his Slayer (c. 1825), Animated Cherry Petals (c. 1840-42), Sparrows Killing a Black Crow (c. 1843-1845), and The Gathering and Gossiping of Various Tools (c. 1849-1853). Interestingly another print concerned with good luck, and featuring Fukurokuju, Fukusuke, Fudo Myoo, an animated piece of paper and birds, was issued in the same month and year as the BMA’s diptych – April of 1858 – shortly before Japan’s adoption of its first international trade treaty.

Perhaps Kuniyoshi drew on the country’s anxiety as it faced the unknown with the hope that good luck would prevail for all the occupants of the Japanese world, whether humans, plants, animals or tools. Certainly, as a museum curator focused on objects – many of great age – I respond strongly to the idea of an animating spirit within them!

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Announcing the BMA Outpost – a mobile museum and project space!

OUTPOST

The BMA Outpost

Keep your eyes open for a small museum in your neighborhood.

The BMA Outpost is a roving public space that will be exhibiting reproductions of works from the BMA’s collection, all related to the idea of home through time and across cultures. This small museum-on-the-move will also have content created by you – the residents of Baltimore. It is a museum about place, about home, and about why this city matters to all of us.

What does ‘home’ in Baltimore mean to you? Is it egg custard sno-balls, sitting on the stoop in front of a brick house, the way the clouds look over the Inner Harbor, or your grandmother’s collection of cups and bowls?  You can contribute to a map of the neighborhood with places and memories that are meaningful to you!

The Outpost is an exchange, a conversation, a dinner table.  You bring life and meaning to this space, then we decide together how it grows. We will be visiting places all over the city and partnering with organizations already working in your neighborhood.

In October, the BMA Outpost will be set up from 1-5 Tuesday-Friday at The St. Francis Neighborhood Center at 2405 Linden Ave.

I look forward to visiting your neighborhood, and making a museum with you.

KatiesDwg

A drawing of the BMA Outpost

BMA Voices: Rediscovering a rare David Smith sculpture

David Smith. Head with Cogs for Eyes. 1933. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Ryda and Robert H. Levi Collection, Gift under the Will of  Ryda H. Levi, BMA 2009.194. Art © Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

David Smith. Head with Cogs for Eyes. 1933. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Ryda and Robert H. Levi Collection, Gift under the Will of Ryda H. Levi, BMA 2009.194. Art © The Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Oliver Shell, Associate Curator of European Painting & Sculpture

Late in 2009, the BMA received a remarkable gift from the Estate of Ryda and Robert Levi, the same family whose generosity in the 1980s led to the creation of one of the Museum’s great treasures, the Levi Sculpture Garden. It included eight modern sculptures of the highest quality by artists including Alexander Archipenko, Naum Gabo, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, and David Smith.

I started researching these works, in order to present them to the Accessions Committee, beginning with a whimsical sculpture by Smith named, Head with Cogs for Eyes. One of the Levi heirs had alerted me to the fact that the Estate of David Smith listed the work as “Lost” on its website. The Estate tracks the current whereabouts of over 675 sculptures by the artist. I had not yet fully understood the importance of the work when I shot off a quick email to the address listed on the website informing them that the work was no longer lost and that we had just received it as a gift.

Thinking that I would hear back from them in a week or so I was surprised when ten minutes after hitting the send button my phone rang. It was the Susan Cooke from the Smith Estate calling and obviously excited that the work had been located. As I soon discovered, Head with Cogs for Eyes is not just any David Smith. It is one of only four heads that make up the first of Smith’s completely metal sculptures–combinations of forged and found parts that he first produced in 1933. The catalogue of Smith’s earliest retrospective exhibition, held at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum a year after the artist’s death in 1965, lists Head with Cogs for Eyes prominently as plate number one. I started to understand Cooke’s excitement.

Head with Cogs for Eyes had special significance for Smith; he created a series of photographs of the head, carefully shot from multiple angles, and set against the open sky of the Bolton Landing, New York landscape where he spent most of his later life.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

See also Melanie Harwood’s post on installing Ellsworth Kelly’s Untitled 1986 in the Levi Sculpture Garden.

BMA Voices: Who is the lady in this embroidery?

After William Hamilton. The Lady as Shepherdess. 1790 1820. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dorothy McIlvain Scott Collection, BMA 2012.452

After William Hamilton. The Lady as Shepherdess. 1790-1820. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dorothy McIlvain Scott Collection, BMA 2012.452

Who is the lady in this embroidery? Anita Jones, Curator of Decorative Arts for Textiles, shares the mystery behind this skillfully-created work of art. 

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: When sculptures fly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Melanie Harwood, Senior Registrar

In the years I’ve been here I’ve moved a lot of art – of all sizes, weights and description. Art handling mainly requires focus, common sense and teamwork. Occasionally though there is an opportunity to install really big art, art that is so large and heavy that it involves specialized riggers and equipment. Relinquishing direct control of the installation process is difficult enough, but the added variables of weather, equipment and municipal permits involved in outdoor sculpture gardens make them particularly memorable adventures. On the positive side, however, there are moments of sheer exhilaration when it all comes together – as happened for me on May 25, 1988.

May began well enough with construction on the Levi Sculpture Garden proceeding on schedule in spite of an April 28 snowstorm. Arrangements were in place for the simultaneous move of works from the Levi’s Lutherville property to the BMA and delivery of new pieces from New York, Connecticut and Vermont. City permits for street closures were obtained as the only 100 ton crane on the East Coast was reserved to lift the largest single piece, Ellsworth Kelly’s, Untitled, from the Charles Street service drive. All was in readiness. Then, sometime in mid-month things got complicated. It began to rain, mostly at night. Work slowed and in one case, newly poured footings were washed down the hill in a downpour. The 100 ton crane blew a gasket and its arrival was delayed – which was just as well as there were last minute adjustments to Kelly’s piece at the Connecticut foundry and its delivery was delayed as well.

Finally on May 25, a cold, windy and drizzly day, we were ready to place two of the largest sculptures in the garden: Tony Smith’s Spitball and the Kelly. Just as the mammoth blue crane began to lift Untitled from the flatbed, Ellsworth Kelly himself appeared with our deputy director, Brenda Richardson. They watched nervously beneath dripping umbrellas as 35 feet of stainless steel wrapped in blue plastic rose 100 feet in the air over the trees. In spite of wind and a daunting tangle of large branches, the crane operator skillfully lowered the sculpture until the waiting crew was able to guide it onto pins submerged in the cold muck and water. Kelly was positively euphoric once the sculpture was safely in place. I know the sculpture was conceived as a fragment of a huge disc but I’ll always see it as an airborne fin!

Ellsworth Kelly’s "Untitled" being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s “Untitled” being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s "Untitled" being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s “Untitled” being lowered through the trees.

The Levi Sculpture Garden opened on June 17, 1988. Visitors strolled the paths enjoying the sculpture and freshly established landscaping. Among the invited guests I saw Ellsworth Kelly and Mark DiSuvero chatting in front of the latter’s sculpture, Sister Lu, Kelly inquisitively sticking his head into the bucket!

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly