Author Archives: Kristen Hileman

About Kristen Hileman

The BMA’s Curator of Contemporary Art and Department Head since late 2009, Hileman oversaw the reinstallation of the museum’s Contemporary Wing in 2012 and has brought a diverse array of artists and their works to Baltimore through her Black Box, Front Room, and On Paper exhibition projects. She organized the major BMA survey Seeing Now: Photography Since 1960 (2011), and Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection (2009-10), the first full career museum retrospective of that artist’s work, for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

Meditating on water

Gabriel Orozco. Darth Vader. 2014. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alan and Carol Edelman Acquisition Fund, BMA 2014.114. © Gabriel Orozco

Gabriel Orozco. Darth Vader. 2014. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alan and Carol Edelman Acquisition Fund, BMA 2014.114. © Gabriel Orozco

Gabriel Orozco, like Felix Gonzalez-Torres, is a master at revealing the poignancy of humble materials and the significance of seemingly casual encounters. Orozco’s photograph, Darth Vader, 2014, is a recent gift to the BMA’s collection. In it, the world looks back at us as we gaze into a mirror-smooth puddle that has collected in an overturned umbrella. The trees that are reflected in the water drop their leaves, sprinkling a bright visual confetti over the black umbrella and brown and grey pavement. The remarkable aspect of this deceptively simple composition lies in Orozco’s ability to notice exceptional details within a common scene and present them so that we can recognize beauty in the most inconspicuous elements of our daily lives. We learn to appreciate the potential for humor and playfulness in the everyday as well.  Here, Orozco’s title clues us into the menacing black helmet of a pop culture villain that can be deciphered in the otherwise delicate shapes of the puddle and umbrella.

As an image that transforms the image of water into a broader meditation, Orozco’s photograph speaks to Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (Water), 1995, one of the most beloved works in the BMA’s collection.  Gonzalez-Torres created a sensation of the luminosity, movement, and therapeutic qualities of water by focusing on another seemingly modest item—plastic beads more conventionally seen as a cheap and somewhat tacky way to curtain off doorways and portions of rooms.  Through the artist’s vision, these beads—repeated in a specific sequence of blue, clear and silver strands and elongated to fill the given doorway of an exhibition space—transform into a delightful, interactive experience. People are invited to walk through Gonzalez-Torres’s sculpture, touching the undulating surfaces, listening to the rustle of the swinging of strands, and being enveloped in the light glinting off each small colored sphere. The piece so engages the senses that one is at least momentarily “cleansed” of concerns and distractions, and reminded that such pleasurable and celebratory sensations can be found in common objects.

Felix Gonzalez Torres. "Untitled" (Water). 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1995.73. © The Felix Gonzalez Torres Foundation

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. “Untitled” (Water). 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Saidie A.
May, BMA 1995.73. © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation

BMA Voices: Good Night Good Morning.

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

In 1976, American artist Joan Jonas created the 11-minute video work titled “Good Night Good Morning”. In this piece, Bianca Biberaj, Contemporary Curatorial Intern, and Kristen Hileman, Curator & Dept. Head of Contemporary Art, discuss Jonas’ piece, her relationship with the viewer and the camera, and the concepts behind the piece.

 

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Presenters: Kristen Hileman, Curator & Dept. Head of Contemporary Art
Bianca Biberaj, Contemporary Curatorial Intern
Audio recording and editing: Hannah Malloy
© The Baltimore Museum of Art 2014

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: Re-fabricating a beloved sculpture

Bruce Nauman. Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version). 1981 1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA 1984.2. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Nauman. Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version). 1981-1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA 1984.2. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Kristen Hileman, Curator & Dept. Head of Contemporary Art

One of the BMA projects that has most inspired me is the conservation of Bruce Nauman’s large neon Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version), 1981-1982. And interestingly, the project didn’t involve developing an exhibition or acquiring an artwork, elements often associated with a curator’s job.

Installed on the museum’s façade for over thirty years, this bold sculpture had become a signature piece for the BMA. But those decades also led to the aging of the work’s infrastructure and technology. By 2013, it was clear that a complete overhaul was needed in order for “VVS” to be operational into the future. In consultation with Nauman’s long time studio manager Juliet Myers, BMA Objects Conservator Christine Downie worked with Jacob Fishman, a highly skilled fabricator of Nauman’s neons since the 1980s, to have the sculpture removed from the building by crane and transported to Fishman’s Chicago studio. There, a template was created from the old piece so that all the neon letters could be re-made. The existing armature was stabilized, the work was re-wired, and the old transformers and timer were replaced with up-to-date models. Unlike a more traditional art object such as an oil painting, it was not important to repair and preserve the aged components of the piece. Rather the artist preferred that his sculpture be almost entirely re-fabricated so that it could best convey his idea in the vibrant and precisely sequenced manner he had originally envisioned.

Among Nauman’s many influential accomplishments is broadening the subjects and forms that are considered part of art’s scope. Starting in the late 1960s, he created works that appeared like neon signs, flashing text and schematic images in vivid hues. In addition to provoking viewers to consider the aesthetic dimensions of a format associated with advertising, Nauman called attention to the idea that visual art can be a means for exploring language. Looking back to art made before the middle of the 20th century, it is difficult to think of an example made up entirely and exclusively of words the way Violins Violence Silence is. It is as if the introduction of written language into visual art threatened the integrity of both forms of expression. But by the 1960s, artists began to cultivate this creative “contamination” in response to a culture in which words and pictures were coupled almost everywhere else—newspapers, television, movies, billboards, comic books, etc.

In addition to affording an opportunity to research Nauman’s career, the conservation of the piece allowed me to interact with a remarkable group of experts and art lovers. I find the contemporary focus of my job rewarding not only for the connections I make to innovative artworks, but also because of the relationships I develop with those who make, care for, and appreciate art. The BMA’s Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art, a membership group for people passionately interested in 20th and 21st century works, marshaled its impressive forces to raise funds for and awareness of the project. Downie and Fishman’s thoughtful technical oversight and caring stewardship of Nauman’s piece was admirable, as were the gracious contributions of the dynamic and knowledgeable Myers. As a culminating celebration, acclaimed art critic Peter Plagens and distinguished curator Paul Schimmel joined Myers for an insightful panel about Nauman’s work. The dedication of this group has insured that an important contemporary sculpture will illuminate the BMA campus for years to come.

The conservation of Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version) in 2014 was made possible through the generous support of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art, Stuart and Sherry Christhilf, Suzanne F. Cohen, The Cordish Family Foundation, Inc., Nancy L. Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff, Janet E. and Edward K. Dunn, Jr., Katherine M. Hardiman and The Hardiman Family Foundation, Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, Mary and Paul Roberts, The Thalheimer-Eurich Charitable Fund, Inc., and donors to the Illuminate campaign.

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.

Reproduction, including downloading of ARS licensed works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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: Hearing Art

Nick Cave. Soundsuit. 2013. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Ellen W. P. Wasserman Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2013.325. © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Nick Cave. Soundsuit. 2013. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund, and Ellen W. P. Wasserman Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2013.325. © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Kristen Hileman, Curator & Dept. Head of Contemporary Art

I wonder what people hear when they see one of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, like the BMA’s example from 2013. Can a silent piece of visual art really elicit an auditory response? In order for me to imagine what the artist’s suits might sound like, I have to invoke a third sense…that of touch. I think about how it would feel to put a suit on and move around, perhaps even dance the way that the artist himself and others have in Soundsuit performances.

The BMA’s particularly elaborate piece was not created to be worn. The bodysuit of crocheted doilies is stitched on to a mannequin and the stunningly ornate headpiece is too heavy and fragile to allow any mobility if a person could manage to lift it onto his or her head. Nevertheless, if it were possible to dress in this sculpture, the lively rustling of the many beads would proclaim one’s presence. And being suited in such fantastical garb might give the wearer the permission and audacity to say things that he or she might otherwise keep silent. An old-fashioned gramophone speaker seems positioned by the artist for just such a purpose—the annunciation of bold ideas or projecting shouts of joy.

Cave has talked about how the Soundsuits relate to issues of identity and expression. By covering one’s body with such an otherworldly suit, one disguises skin color (and in some cases gender), creating an opportunity to express oneself free from the prejudices of others. The works also suggest the tradition of Carnival—a period during which certain practitioners of Catholicism dress in costumes or masks and engage in mischievous behavior before the arrival of Lent and with it a time of reflection and penance. Other cultures also use masks and dance for performance and rituals. Throughout Africa and the Diaspora, for instance, costumes are employed to transform their wearers into spiritual figures, empowered to covey religious or moral ideas, or into satirical representations of familiar cultural and political personae.

Cave, who has a background in both modern dance and visual art and is a Professor in the Department of Fashion Design at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, only realized the importance of sound to his art after he tried on his first sculptural suit made from twigs that he had collected in a park. That recognition has led to an exciting and unique practice that combines actual and implied sound and movement with Cave’s one-of-a-kind visual sensibility.

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.