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

Exhibit L: Renoir Police Report

Renoir Police Report

Renoir Police Report

This is the final piece for She Poses for Moses, one of two stories in the Renoir Returns Story Challenge that have taken us on a journey inspired by weekly “evidence” inspired by the purloined painting.

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.

Illuminating Bruce Nauman’s Career and Influence

Bruce Nauman Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version) 1981-82   © 2014 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. © 2014 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In Fall 2013, one of the BMA’s most iconic works – Bruce Nauman’s Violins Violence Silence – was removed from its place on the BMA’s East Wing. Over time, natural wear and tear had begun to take their toll on the piece, so in consultation with the Bruce Nauman studio and the BMA’s conservation and curatorial staff, the sculpture was removed from its normal location, in order that it could be refabricated with more up-to-date and durable neon technology.

Deinstalling Nauman's Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

Deinstalling Nauman’s Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

Deinstalling Nauman's Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

Deinstalling Nauman’s Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

The large piece was Nauman’s first public neon work, and it came to the BMA as a gift of the artist’s galleries, in recognition of the Museum’s pioneering 1982 exhibition Bruce Nauman: Neons – the first survey of the artist’s works in that medium. Wrapped around a corner of the BMA’s façade, the words Violins Violence Silence share letters and form a poetic string of similar sounds. The meanings of the individual words appear unrelated, suggesting that the physical structure behind verbal communication can be surprisingly arbitrary. Alternatively, read as a sequence describing cause and effect, the work relates an aggressive act against art and beauty, and the somber consequence.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the gift of Violins Violence Silence and the 100th anniversary of the Museum in 2014, the BMA’s Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art (FoMaCA) organized a series of events to raise the $120,000 needed to restore the beacon-like presence of this 20th-century masterpiece to the BMA and the city of Baltimore.

This summer, the newly refabricated Violins Violence Silence will be restored to its former home on the East Wing of the BMA. See more shots of the deinstallation on Flickr.

To mark the occasion, the BMA is tonight hosting Illuminating Bruce Nauman’s Career and Influence, a special event moderated by Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman. The lively discussion will bring together Juliet Myers, Bruce Nauman Studio Manager for the past three decades; Paul Schimmel, former Chief Curator of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Vice President and Partner of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery whose essay Pay Attention appeared in the 1994 Nauman retrospective catalog; and Peter Plagens, celebrated art critic, Newsweek Contributing Editor, and author of the new biography, Bruce Nauman: The True Artist. Plagens currently contributes to The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times among several other prominent publications.

Illuminating Bruce Nauman’s Career and Influence is on tonight, Thursday, June 12, 6 p.m. The event will be held at Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Knott Auditorium, 4701 N. Charles Street, Baltimore. Use campus entrance on Homeland Avenue for easier access to parking. Entry is $15 FoMaCA Members, $20 general admission. Free at the door for students with ID.

Exhibit K: Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919.

Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919.

Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.292

Theo van Doesburg was a founding member of the Dutch art movement De Stijl (The Style), formed in 1917. The group, which included artist Piet Mondrian, sought to express ideal spiritual harmony by radically simplifying form and color. This idea led to compositions based exclusively on vertical and horizontal elements and a palette limited to the three primary colors, as well as black and white. “Interior” appears more relaxed and painterly than many De Stijl works, and includes diagonals and curves, as well as strong earth tones. These features have led some scholars to date the work earlier than its 1919 inscription (which would place it in the period just prior to the self-imposed restrictions of full-fledged De Stijl).

“Interior” is one of only two works of the important De Stijl movement in the BMA’s holdings. Both were purchased by Saidie May in the late 1940s, proving her foresight as a collector of modernism.

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.

Exhibit 6: Saidie A. May. Landscape with Cypress Trees. n.d.

Saidie A. May. Landscape with Cypress Trees. n.d.

Saidie A. May. Landscape with Cypress Trees. n.d.. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The
Baltimore Museum of Art: E. Kirkbride Miller Research Library

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.