Author Archives: Suse Cairns

About Suse Cairns

Digital Content Manager @artBMA. I'm an Australian living in Baltimore, geeking out on museums, art and music. I podcast at

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Nick Cave. Detail, Soundsuit. 2013. © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Nick Cave. Detail, Soundsuit. 2013. © Nick Cave. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Today is Museums on Instagram day, where museums from all over the world share photographs that bring the museum to life, and for the first time The Baltimore Museum of Art is one of them. This morning, we posted our first photographs to Instagram, and we’ll continue to use the platform to share the moments and works of art that inspire us daily.

Joining Instagram is the latest in a series of steps we’ve recently taken to increase our social media presence, including renewed attention to our Twitter account, the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs’ Tumblr, and this blog. This is particularly important for us as we approach our 100th birthday because we’re focused on reconnecting with our communities ­– learning who you are, what you’re interested in, and how we can better connect with you. For us, being social really is about an exchange of ideas and opening up space for conversation, and we can only do that if we’re in the same places as our community.

The BMA has a long history of seeking to connect with its communities to gain their feedback. In 1937, the Museum’s Trustees surveyed 225 organizations in Baltimore. Their responses would go on to inform programming and the Museum’s approach for several years.

The 1937 museum questionnaire

The 1937 museum questionnaire

In coming days, we’ll be announcing another initiative that will further connect the work that happens inside the building to our communities. In the meantime, join us on our new Instagram account baltimoremuseumofart, on Twitter and Facebook, and follow the #InstaMuseum hashtag to see what museums all over the world are doing.

Let us know what you think. Which social media channels do you use for art, and why? What would you like to see us doing more of? We’d love to hear from you.

Artscape Day 2 and clues to the #BMABigThinker scavenger hunt

The BMA Booth at Artscape.

The BMA Booth at Artscape.

It’s Artscape Day 2, and we are having a great festival. The free 3D face scanning – inspired by our recent partnership with Direct Dimensions to scan Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker has given us lots of opportunities to meet people and say hi to festival goers. It turns out that everyone loves 3D selfies.

Photo of Rodin's The Thinker with invitation to find the sculpture at the Artscape fair, July 18-20, 2014 in Baltimore MD.

Be a BMA Big Thinker!
Five replicas of the BMA’s beloved Thinker are waiting to be found
at Artscape. Post a picture of yourself with the introspective icon to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter using #BMABigThinker for a chance to win a bust of yourself! The more replicas you find and post, the more chances you have to win.

Today, we’re dropping some clues to the #BMABigThinker Scavenger Hunt, so you have a chance to win a high resolution 3D bust of yourself (now that’s a cool selfie to get). There are five 3D Thinker replicas hidden around Artscape, and if you find one, take a photograph with it, and put it on social media with the #BMABigThinker hashtag, you’ll be entered into the draw to win.

So, where are the Thinkers? Here are some clues… You can them in the following locations:

1. Follow the bubbles. You can lower your heating costs when you find this Thinker.

2. There is something fishy about this Thinker’s location.

3. This Thinker will be easier to discover if you’ve got kids.

4. Obese felines and colored llamas guard this Thinker.

5. The final Thinker is found near an artist stall, with a bird keeping watch.

Win a 3D bust of yourself, by finding one of the 3D printed replicas of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker, photographing it, and putting it online with the #BMABigThinker hashtag.

Win a 3D bust of yourself, by finding one of the 3D printed replicas of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, photographing it, and putting it online with the #BMABigThinker hashtag.

Artscape is on in the Mt. Royal area of Baltimore City from Friday, July 18 through Sunday, July 20. You can find the BMA’s booth located on the plaza next to MICA’s Brown Center (1301 Mt. Royal Ave.

BMA and Direct Dimensions – bringing 3D technology to Artscape

A 3D replica of The Thinker, on the steps of the BMA. Find these around Artscape for your opportunity to win a high-resolution bust of yourself created by Direct Dimensions.

A 3D replica of The Thinker, on the steps of the BMA. Find these around Artscape for your opportunity to win a high-resolution bust of yourself created by Direct Dimensions.

Today is the first day of Artscape – America’s largest free arts festival. Always a major feature on the Baltimore cultural landscape, the annual event includes theater, dance, and opera performances; classical, a cappella, and experimental music; street theater, fine art and crafts; film; and children’s activities. This year, The BMA is offering multiple opportunities for visitors to Artscape to interact with us.

Inspired by our recent partnership with Direct Dimensions to scan Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, the BMA has three activities at the festival:

    • BMA Biggest Thinkers – Tell us your best memories, biggest ideas, and burning questions at the booth, on social media, or at  In appreciation, the top 100 participants will receive a mini replica of The Thinker created from Direct Dimensions’ high-resolution scan of the BMA’s sculpture.
  • Thinker Scavenger Hunt – Search for any or all of the five 9-inch 3D replicas of The Thinker placed around the festival, take your photo with it, and post it on Twitter or Instagram with #bmabigthinker for a chance to win a high-resolution bust of yourself created by Direct Dimensions.  The winner will be announced Monday, July 21.
  • Free 3D Face Scanning – Stop by the BMA booth to receive a free 3D face scan from Direct Dimensions with the option to purchase your likeness as a 3D selfie, Lego piece, bracelet charm, mug or other products from

We look forward to seeing you at Artscape! Drop by the BMA’s booth and get a fan or a face scan, and tell your stories of the BMA via social media using the #BMABigThinker hashtag. We’d love to hear from you.

Artscape is on in the Mt. Royal area of Baltimore City from Friday, July 18 through Sunday, July 20. You can find the BMA’s booth located on the plaza next to MICA’s Brown Center (1301 Mt. Royal Ave.)


What are your big thoughts for the BMA in its next 100 years?

In 2014, the BMA is commemorating its 100th anniversary, and we’re spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a museum turning 100 in the 21st century. How has the BMA changed in the past century, and how might we change into the future, to better serve the needs of our communities? What should our Museum look like and do in the coming 100 years?

Be a #BMAbigthinker

Be a #BMAbigthinker

The answers to such questions won’t be found only inside the Museum, of course. So we’re turning to you! As the BMA celebrates its 100th, we want to get to know you: your memories of the BMA, and your hopes, dreams, and your vision for its future. We also want to help you get to know us. What do you want to know about the BMA? Ask us anything!

Tomorrow at Artscape, we’ll be launching the #BMABigThinker campaign, inspired by Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, which we recently 3D scanned, we want you to:

  1. Share your best memory of the BMA.
  2. Give us your big idea for the BMA’s next century.
  3. Ask a burning question about the BMA.
  4. Send a message to the BMA’s Director in 2114.

We’ll use these memories, ideas, and questions, to help envision the BMA of the future. In appreciation, those who come up with the top ideas or memories will receive a mini replica of The Thinker created from Direct Dimensionshigh-resolution scan of the BMA’s sculpture.

Get involved! Drop by the booth at Artscape tomorrow or let us know using the #BMAbigthinker hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, comment on the blog, or get in touch! What are your best memories, your biggest ideas, and burning questions for the BMA? We’d love to hear from you.

3D scanning Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker

A 3D scan of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker

Direct Dimensions’ 3D scan of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker in The Baltimore Museum of Art collection

The BMA has one of only 21 authorized “heroic” sized casts of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker in the world, and in June this year, we partnered with Maryland-based Direct Dimensions, Inc. – a leader in 3D scanning technology – to do a 3D scan of the sculpture.

The move is part of the BMA’s initiative to increase its use of 3D scanning in the digitization of its collection. We were inspired to see how utilizing 3D scanning technologies might allow us to see The Thinker differently, and to discover what other people might be able to do with such scans if they were made available to scholars and the public via the Internet.

Museums are beginning to embrace the possibilities for digital scanning for multiple purposes, and the BMA has previously partnered with Direct Dimensions to scan works for scholarly research.  In 2004, Direct Dimensions was engaged to scan two separate castings of Antoine-Louis Barye’s Walking Tiger. By scanning the two tigers and overlaying the resulting 3D models, the BMA was able to dimensionally inspect and compare the two castings.

The Museum again worked with Direct Dimensions in 2007 and 2008, in support of the exhibition Matisse: Painter as Sculptor, which featured more than 160 sculptures, along with paintings and drawings from the artist. BMA curators were interested in utilizing the scanning technology to discover more about Matisse’s creative process as a sculptor. Their analysis of the scans led to the discovery that bronze casts of the same edition had considerable differences in their methods of construction, patination, finishing, and size, contributing to knowledge about how Matisse created various casts.

These kinds of scholarly and conservation-driven research projects offer some of the most tantalizing outcomes for 3D scanning and printing in museums today. For instance, conservators can use deviation analysis of 3D data to compare the condition of a collection item against a past state, or curators can use the technology to learn more about the techniques of artists, as the BMA did with the Matisse sculptures.

The addition of affordable 3D printing to the available technologies has expanded the possibilities for how such scans can be used. The Brooklyn Museum, for example, has scanned Randolph Rogers’s The Lost Pleiad to experiment with replicating a 19th-century statue with 21st century technology. The Museum has used this sculpture as an in-Gallery teaching tool. Similarly, the Semitic Museum has used 3D printing in the reconstruction of a Nuzi lion. A damaged version of Rodin’s The Thinker has even been scanned before, to enable repairs to the sculpture after thieves broke into the Singer Laren Museum and damaged the original.

The BMA’s The Thinker – a 6-foot, 6-inch sculpture – was presented to the museum in 1930 by Jacob Epstein, a collector and member of the first Board of Trustees, and displayed in front of the entrance to the John Russell Pope building until 1971 when it was moved inside for conservation.  Though originally intended to represent the poet Dante, The Thinker has become a symbol for thinkers and creators around the world.

We have plans to offer our scan of The Thinker to the world, by putting it into the public domain along with the nearly 9,000 images and related information about objects in the BMA’s collection that are already available on our website. This will be the first time we’ve made available a 3D scan of a BMA object, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it might be used by scholars and the public all over the world.

What do you think? How might you use a 3D scan of The Thinker? What would you like to see us do with this scan?

To find out more about 3D scanning, join us this weekend at Artscape, where we’ll be joined by Direct Dimensions for activities inspired by The Thinker.

Posts for print lovers

Christian Gottfried Schultze (German, 1749‑1819)
After Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577‑1640)
Neptune Calming the Tempest, 18th‑19th century
The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1946.112.13497

In June, the Department of Prints, Drawing & Photographs (PDP) at the BMA launched its first social media account with a Tumblr dedicated to highlighting captivating works on paper from the collection. With the Museum’s online collection constantly growing, this new space offers PDP a chance to give a more intimate glimpse into the Department’s daily meanderings through the collection. It is also a place for interaction and research where you can ask questions about the works you see on the site, or other works on paper from the BMA collection. What do you want to know?

Benjamin Levy Curatorial Assistant Department of Prints, Drawings & Photographs The Baltimore Museum of Art

Benjamin Levy
Curatorial Assistant
Department of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

To find out more about this new project, we spoke to Benjamin Levy, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Prints, Drawings & Photographs:

Ben, the BMA has more than 65,000 works on paper in the collection. What are some of the highlights of this collection? What might surprise me about the collection?
The size is normally the first thing that surprises people; works on paper make up about 70% of the collection. The works on paper collection ranges from the 15th century to yesterday. It is really a hidden gem. Every box and drawer has something unexpected, and that discovery is what is so exciting and surprising on a daily basis.

The core of the print collection, which you will see as the Tumblr chugs along, is made up of two collections – the Garrett and Lucas collections, both of which contain between 15,000 and 20,000 prints. They came to us in the 1930s. We are strong in Old Master, 19th century French, Modern and Contemporary works of art.

You’ve just started a Tumblr to share some of these works with the public. What can people expect from the Tumblr?
Because works on paper are sensitive to light they can’t be out in the galleries for extended periods of time. The way the public, classes, and scholars get access to the collection is through our Study Room. People can expect a parallel experience, showcasing works from the collection that are not regularly on display in the galleries for a personal viewing.

You can also expect to see the collection through my eyes, as an artist going through the boxes. Sometimes there is a visual theme that seems to come up often, like death and skulls, shipwrecks through the centuries, or just scrumpy mark making!

Have you been surprised by anything that you’ve found so far when choosing works to appear on the Tumblr?
My colleagues and I are surprised by the depth and variety of the collection daily, as we go about caring for it. This is exactly what we would like to share with a larger audience – a peek into what we see every day – the beautiful and the strange, and everything in between.

It’s probably the strange that catches my attention more than anything. Since prints are “The People’s Medium”, you can really get a sense of the popular culture and the sociopolitical currents of a place and time so far removed. Some things translate well, but others come off as completely alien, especially those involving scenes of everyday life, like Callot’s etchings of Italian street performers or Daumier’s lithographs caricaturing the people of 19th century Paris.

In the opening post for the Tumblr, you mention that you want the Tumblr to be a daily dose of inspiration, but I’d like to know what inspires you. What catches your attention and inspires you, online and offline?
What jumps out of the boxes and drawers most of the time will land on the Tumblr. The selection process is more or less visual, and while the works on the Tumblr are things that stand out for one reason or another, very few of them were specifically sought out for research.

What is inspiring is the amazing stories that arise when we go into research. It is so exciting learning about small moments in history, bits of biographies, myths and lore – not to mention the amazing diversity of artistic expression over the last 500 years or so.

The inspiration comes full circle when classes, especially studio art classes, come to the Study Room and that inspiration is shared and utilized to make new work. This is a working collection; not works entombed, but a vibrant place for learning and education that will inform the next generation of artists, art historians, and anyone who has a passing interest. We also get to make connections between historic works in the collection and contemporary works, and there is no better place to do that than the biennial Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair, scheduled for March 28-29, 2015.

What do you think? Is there anything you’d like to see on PDP’s new Tumblr? What kinds of works on paper inspire you?

Benjamin Levy is a native Baltimorian, printmaker, critic, and curator. He is a 2009 graduate of MICA and since then has been at the BMA in the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. At the Museum he works with the works on paper collection, teaching in the department’s study room and is also the co-organizer of the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair with Associate Curator Ann Shafer.

She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner), the final pages…

Painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir, On the Shore of the Seine, with man's hand and magnifying glass in foreground.

Pierre Auguste Renoir. On the Shore of the Seine. c. 1879. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Saidie A. May Bequest, Courtesy of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, BMA 2014.1

In March, acclaimed Baltimore-based writer and producer David Simon (The Wire) started She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner) – the first continuing story in our Renoir Returns story challenge. Now we return to the beginning of that tale, to see how it unfolded. Below, read the story as it played out from the beginning, with thanks to the multiple authors who contributed to it.

By David Simon
Nine months of loose-fitting robes and girlish misdirection were coming to a head, right here, at the low tide of morning.

“Hey,” said the princess to the most trusted handmaiden,  ”what’s that over by those white flowers.”

“It looks like a basket,” said her servant, dry as dirt.

“I wonder what’s in it?”

An infant’s cry answered, as if in reply.  Or, maybe, that was laughter.

By Peter O’Connor
The bulrushes rustled; the maiden tiptoed closer.

Newborns lay mewing, their eyes shut.

“Wolves!” she gasped.

The princess paused from washing off the mud to pull back the rushes.

“Coyotes,” she corrected, “My brother was raised by wolves. I recognize a coyote cry from a wolf any day.”

The handmaiden whispered, as to not startle, “Remember, a pirate wears a sombrero and does not lose his glasses. A man’s heart will pine until one gives him a swift kick in the ass to find his heart’s true deseo.” Her astronomy with animal totem beliefs became a quilt for Frida Kahlo’s memory.

By Ken James Guessen
Mauve shadows paint their faces.

Monet tells of her last days. Renoir interrupts. Degas squints, listening to the memory as if it were his own.
“Relax your arms like a ballerina.”

She’s goes under. He dives, surfaces.


Tracing the rope to her waist, he lifts.

She arrives coughing, choking.

“A…line! You must learn to swim.”

“Get this off me!”

“La corda salvato la vita.”

“The rope was just long enough to hang me.”
The next morning he taps his razor. His reflection, an echo, his eyes reminiscing.

“I punched a hole in the wall,” he tells her.
Laughter erupts. Monet leaves abruptly.

By Jan Ryan
He stares down at the shore. He saved her, hoisted the carcass from the depths. The fabulous creature laughed at him, at all of them. The rest laughed too as if they understood erasure by water, mockingly floating a bubble up to the distant vague ship. How could she prefer to be hidden/lost/gone from them? Were we imbued to crave beauty only to deprive us… was creation not our assigned mission? Could one greedy, selfish lover, an ocean, incinerator, fireplace or thief be allowed to kidnap her?

By Jan Ryan
These kleptomaniacs would steal candles from a church. He pointed and she pocketed. With the ruckus behind the plants (Remus and Romulus basket kidnapping) you may wonder how anyone witnessed anything but I had a higher vantage point.

Newspapers were spread open across the carpet. They LOVED the publicity. They read the news coverage out loud to each other every day. Things were calm with Saidie May and the young lady but forget any peace with these basket cases. They were your feral children.

By Jan Ryan
Each day with no buyer, after optimism based on the serendipity that scored the Renoir, created a little more doubt as to how to escape from a Baziotes cocoon. If they could only sell the Renoir they could move to New York or putter in a propeller basket to the Caribbean. They read the Real Estate section, picking out an apartment that sold before they had the money to buy it, and the travel section, selecting their tropical island. Semi-consciously they floated, descending, through clouds.

By Jan Ryan
Picasso wasn’t in Mallorca in 1931 if that’s what you are thinking. He was up the coast in Southern France illustrating a Balzac story about a perfectionist artist who kills himself after being ridiculed by young artists.

When tourists assumed her paintings were no good Saidie May was ready to kill too.

“Don’t blab that you collect art. They will rob you.” warned the artistic sister.

The family never heard the details of Saidie’s trip but when the robbery happened much later they wondered.

By Jan Ryan
The thieves made contact. He explained that he was in the market for lesser-known artists like The Painter’s Window. He wanted it but a stolen Renoir from a museum? Too hot. “Not going to touch it but try this guy, he’s an idiot,” and “this guy” was an idiot. He bargained with all the same reasons to not buy then paid cash and disappeared.

They were dealt a better hand. The thieves dyed their hair brown, left their whole stolen collection in Baltimore, went by new names and never returned.

By Jan Ryan

“Did you seek protection? Couldn’t you find the museum or the May apartment?” berates the Interrogator.
“Do you understand simile?” she retorts, “Like a plant, someone has to move me.”
“… throw out some seeds or fall into a visitor’s lap?” the questioning continues.
“After I left the museum no one drew, photographed, no more art history analysis, no X-rays or Internet. There were dire consequences were they to admit they had me. Outside we could be chased through a land of video cameras.”

By Jan Ryan
He sacrificed much of the children’s tuition and his wife’s precious roasts for the Renoir for which the thieves considered him an idiot. He HAD TO bargain: How much cash did they think he could account for? He hated doing business with amateurs and their “buyer” was so condescending. He loved what he loved and he loved the Renoir. If you can’t see why you would have been nothing to him.

In a fit of nerves his wife gave the Renoir to the maid.

By Jan Ryan
The maid knew what “this guy” was all about. Research at the museum and libraries made her think the painting was real. There was no way to know for sure. She told her kids it was a copy of a corner of a real Renoir. They took crayons to paper to make their own replicas, thereby, in the maid’s opinion, leaving a trail. Uneasily she wiped it clean of fingerprints figuring otherwise her great grandkids would get themselves into trouble selling it thinking they were trying to pass it off as real.

By Jan Ryan
I would be happy to return to the museum with the school kids piping up with comments, the stoned teenagers dully saying, “Cool.Renoir,” the adults telling wise tales that aren’t true, the quiet ones (mysteries they are thinking) and intimidated visitors finally blurting out, “I like THIS one.” Thanks! What’s not to like? They all liked me but there was nothing to do but look at me so they looked and looked and I looked back.

This is the final post for She Poses for Moses. The Renoir Returns exhibition is on display in the Museum until 20 July 2014. Examine all the evidence in the Renoir Returns Flickr group, and visit the BMA to see the all the works of art shown in this story in person.

On W-120301 – Sarah Oppenheimer’s radical architectural intervention into space and time

Sarah Oppenheimer. W‑120301. 2012. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Nathan L. and Suzanne F. Cohen Contemporary Art Endowment; and gift of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art, BMA 2012.1. © Sarah Oppenheimer. Photo by James Ewing

Sarah Oppenheimer. W‑120301. 2012. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Nathan L. and Suzanne F. Cohen Contemporary Art Endowment; and gift of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art, BMA 2012.1. © Sarah Oppenheimer. Photo by James Ewing

The BMA’s Big Table Connections program brings together experts —from neuroscientists and engineers to choreographers and product designers— to explore ideas related to works of art in the Contemporary Wing. On June 7, Goucher College philosophy professor John Rose joined Baltimore-based artist Leah Cooper to discuss Sarah Oppenheimer’s W-120301, a radical architectural intervention that uses mirrors to provoke new experiences of space and time. Here are some of his thoughts:

Sarah Oppenheimer, Architectural Intervention W-120301 beckons to us from the open region of the timing of time and the spacing of space, from the open region of possibility.  This open region is the site of interaction of our conscious intentions and the resonances of the worlding objects around us.  The openness of the world is space/time where our consciousness and the world intertwine and meaning arises. Meanings have already arisen in that opening, and those meanings are our tradition and our history.  That tradition and history is often taken for the “truth” of the world.  The questions then arise, “How can we both engage and disrupt that tradition? How can we see the meaning arising in an opening of space and time, yet also step into other possibilities in that opening?”  Oppenheimer’s intervention achieves a rare opportunity to experience that opening by playing and subverting the ways in which we usually step into the meaningful space of a museum.

We know from Husserl’s Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness that perception is always perspectival and temporal. We have to walk around an object to see it from various perspectives. We have to retain the previous perspectives and anticipate future perspectives as we weave together those perspectives in time into a meaningful object.  Opening the space between two floors and the stairwell, W-120301 plays with our spatial intentions towards objects by unfolding multiple perspectives.

When we first see it upon entering the third floor gallery, it appears as another two dimensional painting in a room of paintings of abstract, yet colored, geometrical space.  We see a black parallelogram on a wall; its four sides with opposite equal acute angles, opposite equal obtuse angles are an already familiar shape.  “Might it be a rhombus?” we might ask ourselves, if we were to bother.  We might not even bother to have a look at it right away, as we glance around the room.  Without fore-knowledge of the intervention, we might not wander closer.  But when we do, we realize that we can see into its space.

We get a question!  “What is there in here?”  But the “in here” of its space takes us elsewhere.  We are not sure where we are looking.  Usually, we move around an object to pick up further perspectives that we weave into the story we tell ourselves about that object.  Paintings on the wall don’t allow us to do that so much, but this is no longer a painting on a wall.  It is an inviting space, a hole in the wall, a rabbit hole to jump down?  The guard keeps us back from leaning over into and looking down.  But we see something: more geometric shapes, glimpses into other rooms.  But where are we looking?  The questions grow.

Oppenheimer’s wormhole reminds us it is impossible to take in an object all at once.  But here, to have an intention towards this space, you have to be two or more people.  We send our friend out to find the other ways into this space.  Is it above?  We are on the top floor.  Below?  How far?  It cannot be viewed all in one “space” or in one “time,” which perhaps reminds us that no object can be viewed in an exhaustive way from all perspectives all in one time and space.   As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Truth can surely stand on one leg, but with two it will be able to walk and get around.”

We find ourselves doing what we never do in a museum: playing, engaging the space/time of the exhibit.  To a degree, we become ek-static; we are outside ourselves.  Both the object itself as space/time whose properties elude us and the gestural movement through it to the larger space/time it reveals in this musing space it makes manifest, takes us away from our usual modes of gathering of intentional experiences and make sense of objects.  It gives us the opportunity to do what we rarely get to do afresh: participate with the opening of the world in letting meaning arise.

John M. Rose, Professor of Philosophy, Goucher College
13 June 2014

What do you think? Have you seen Oppenheimer’s work at the BMA or other institutions? How did you react to it? Are there other works of art that you’ve encountered that have left you thinking about time and space in new ways? Tell us about them below.

The Big Table Connections takes place on the first Saturday of every month at 2 p.m. Meet experts in related fields as they share their insights in the galleries, then participate in art-making activities that delve into the ideas behind the artwork. Join us on July 5th as master lighting designer Glenn Shrum addresses Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”). Participate in a hands-on exploration of color mixing with light.  

Contours of a Thief, the final pages…

Renoir magnifying glass on name

In April, Baltimore author Justin Sirois (So Say the Waiters) provided the opening text for Contours of a Thief - story two in our Renoir Returns story challenge. Now we return to the start of that story, to see how it unfolded. Below, read the story as it played out from the beginning, with thanks to the multiple authors who contributed to it. Now, we are seeking a final chapter, to pull the story together. 

By Justin Sirois
For thirty-eight years of its secret life, the painting hung in her study, above the hearth that was never lit—sitting there waiting for her cat’s tail dust the frame’s intricate cursive. The study door was always locked. No guests allowed. No husband around. There was a desk and hundreds of books on bookshelves and an austere, but hand-me-down leather chair for reading in. Curtains blocked nearly all daylight.

She, the bandit, would sip tea and stare beyond the painting’s warm foliage. How the gesture of breeze transported her. Prisms of pastel smeared beyond Eden. Men and women walked along the shoreline. Basking and kissing. The bandit sipped and reached into her pocket with her free hand, fingering the study door’s key. She slid the key out and brought her fingers to her lips, kissing the back of her hand.

The cat curled around her ankle—dusting her off too. The painting hummed colorful. Sang inside the study. It was, in a way, a prison. A secret that could only be enjoyed when she fantasied about telling it. The people in the painting walked away.

By Jan Ryan
Honestly, you didn’t protect me well. You let me go out with anyone, the sick woman, anyone, acting like it would be a wonderful experience for me. The patriarch said I was the best thing that ever happened to them. And then I was with them. They were my people. How were you to know that the prettiest one would end up alone and impoverished, discarded in a box of knickknacks at a flea market? Well let me assure you I witnessed plenty of secret adventures before I became too much of a liability.

By Gabriella Russo
I remember the night that bandit came into the apartment, stealthily creeping among the Saints first and then making her way to me. She overlooked the beauty in the intricacy of their portraits and focused in on the vivid, beautiful brushstrokes in my foreground. She looked at me with envy, as if she wished she could be engrossed in my very canvas and that is when she stripped me from my home, carefully tip toeing out of Miss May’s apartment.

By Julia Fountain
The thieves will get their money, just as they always do. The police want to protect the people, but not the artist, nor their art.
135 years later pieces will hang on the cluttered walls of museums, boasting names of the histories renowned artists. Millions of eyes will trace the various strokes and contours, but little do they know that beneath the varnish and oil may simply be a rendition, a mere copy of an original.
The art is still being appreciated, the legacy sustained; no one got hurt.

By Jan Ryan
Yeah, Saidie May would fondly remember her time drinking in Mallorca and her family’s blind eye to it, making and collecting art. No one knew anything she didn’t tell him or her. If she told them how would she remember? How would they remember? Juan Gris’s Bottle and Glass painting could have reminded her of men’s smoky Spanish chats in that independent period in her life but were the spillage tremors an earthquake or a reaction to really good wine? At home wine tasted like a chemical brew.

By Jan Ryan
There is only an appearance of too little. Everything fits together simply. Some of the paintings are needlessly complicated. Black, white and primary colors. They fit. They do it all the time but no one has to create disorder. Timing matters.

The idiot had me restored. That means dirty original paint was removed and repainted. Won’t future generations love that. Makes my reds boil but that is individualism.

By Jan Ryan
Maybe you can paint. Maybe you can’t paint but Saidie May could paint. This is one of her landscapes.
For decades the May family repeated that the theft goes back to 1930s Mallorca. Family members visited the Mediterranean many times with one eye watching for the painting. Rooms were unlocked and cellars searched on a hunch. As soon as a guest named May checked into a hotel word went out, “Hide the painting!” not that anyone had any idea who had it.

By Jan Ryan
The children knew that their father had done something terrible and that their mother had also done something terrible to keep the family together. With teenage friends they pieced together that their father had probably had an affair, a serious affair, with an expensive prostitute who gave him that small painting as a celebration of their love and that he had had the nerve to hang it behind a secret panel in his man cave library and that their mother had gotten away with killing the woman.

The maid was living with a grown child in Virginia. She found a cleaning job to put some cash in her pocket. She had a feeling the Renoir belonged in the master bedroom so bracing for a lecture on how lowbrow her taste in art was she hung it there. The woman she cleaned for dropped her towel when she saw it. Never one to pause and think she said, “Holy sh*t. WTF. How? I suppose you want money.” It was not the response the maid expected but she nodded. Wahoo! The grandkids were going to college.

I don’t know where the he-maniac went or why the she-maniac bought me back. A grown daughter eventually pretended she was returning Nazi looted art. Couldn’t anyone leave me in a bathroom or closet at the museum? Video cameras. Bag searches. They help and they hurt. I will now probably be hanging for centuries at the museum like a vampire bat. All we have are our adventures. If there is ever an opportunity to loan me out, descendants of those barflies in Majorca have been expecting to see me.

Membership at the BMA – curing septic stomachs since 1940

Grace Smith in "Temperance" Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940  Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm  Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

Grace Smith in “Temperance” Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940
Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm
Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

We’ve always suspected the healing properties of a BMA membership, but a recent find by colleagues at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art confirms that joining the BMA will make you well…

Illustrations associated with the exhibit A souvenir of Romanticism in America at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940. Leslie Cheek papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Two weeks ago, we received an email from staff at the Archives, noting that they had “uncovered an object in one of our collections which refers to the BMA.” The object – part of the Leslie Cheek papers, 1940-1983 – was an unusual one – a fold-out triptych that depicted three cartoon stomachs, each of which was in a different state of health. The top stomach was a septic stomach, “gangrened by rum and tobacco”; the second one was a sick stomach, “relieved by abstinence but unsatisfied”; finally, the stomach at the bottom of the triptych was a sound stomach, a state achieved “after joining the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

Our interest was piqued. Where had this object come from, and what did it refer to? Could we get any more information on it? Would joining the BMA still heal an ailing stomach?

To the BMA Archives!

To solve this mystery, we turned to Emily Rafferty, the BMA’s Head Librarian and Archivist. In short order, she uncovered the wonderful image above, which depicts Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, holding the triptych. In addition, the full description for the piece in our files gives far more context to the stomach cartoon:

Two images from the exhibition, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America (May 10 – August 10, 1940) at The Baltimore Museum of Art. At right is Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, dressed as a woman protesting the consumption of alcohol. The exhibition turned the museum top to bottom into a nineteenth century institution – publications were written in the florid style of the period, costumed actors were hired to greet museum-goers, and a Godey’s Ball was held for the opening. One of the publications was titled, “Popular Poisons, Tract No. 4: Rum and Tobacco” and it appealed to museum-goers to pledge temperance and membership in the Museum. On the left is likely Joseph Katz, a trustee at the time also in costume and holding a sign advertising the exhibition.

There you have it. Not only was the mystery unraveled, but we also get to take a delightful wander down memory lane. It seems like a perfect moment for #throwbackthursday.

What do you think? Does art cure what ails you? Do you have a favorite #throwbackthursday moment? Share it with us. We’d love to hear about the mysteries you’ve uncovered when looking into the past.