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 museopunks.org.

People’s Choice Award: No. 10

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzin. c. 1797. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Mary Frick Jacobs Collection, BMA 1938.192

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzin. c. 1797. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Mary Frick Jacobs Collection, BMA 1938.192

To celebrate our 100th Anniversary, we invited everyone to vote for their favorite artwork from a group of 100 selected by the Museum’s chief curator, with voting closing on December 21. From today, we’re counting down the top 10 works of art, one each day until the end of the year.

Your 10th favorite BMA artwork is Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzin. c. 1797.

BMA Voices: The impossibility of standing in the same river twice

Zoe Leonard. Untitled (detail). 1999-2000. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Katherine Hardiman, Baltimore, BMA  2000.154a g. © Zoe Leonard

Zoe Leonard. Untitled (detail). 1999-2000. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Katherine Hardiman, Baltimore, BMA 2000.154a g. © Zoe Leonard

Suse Cairns, Digital Content Manager

It was incomprehensible, I declared, that the thought of the transience of beauty should interfere with our joy in it… Nor can I understand any better why the beauty and perfection of a work of art or of an intellectual achievement should lose its worth because of its temporal limitation. A time may indeed come when the pictures and statues which we admire to-day will crumble to dust, or a race of men may follow us who no longer understand the works of our poets and thinkers, or a geological epoch may even arrive when all animate life upon the earth ceases; but since the value of all this beauty and perfection is determined only by its significance for our own emotional lives, it has no need to survive us and is therefore independent of absolute duration.
Sigmund Freud, On Transience, 1915

Sigmund Freud’s On Transience, written during wartime, and translated in the excerpt above by James Strachey, asks us to consider whether the transience of any object of beauty – be it an art object, a season, or human beauty – makes it less valuable; whether the fleeting nature of summer or an aging face destroys the worth of its beauty. Is something less precious if it is only short-lived?

It is an interesting question to ask when visiting an art museum, where through care and conservation the changes that time brings are slowed down or arrested, in order to allow generations to come to appreciate and study the objects. As institutions that enable cultural perpetuation, museums hold onto objects of great beauty and great significance, many of which are hundreds or even thousands of years old. Such objects gain value from the many meanings and lives and interpretations they’ve had. In museums, time slows down and collapses upon itself.

Perhaps because of this, one object that gives me pause every time I see it is Zoe Leonard’s Untitled, 1999-2000, located in the BMA’s Contemporary Wing. The piece, which Helene Grabow spoke about previously, is made up of seven fruit skins that, after the artist consumed their flesh, were sewn back into their original shapes. The peels now slowly decompose. It is impossible to know how long they will last, or whether the piece will look the same or be changed the next time you visit it.

I love this work of art, because it makes no pretence at permanence. Instead, Leonard has captured something vital; the notion that every moment is precious, even those that are challenging, precisely because they are fleeting. As the old saying goes, it is impossible to stand in the same river twice. I have rarely found an artwork that makes me so aware of the changing nature of time and life as this one.

Freud argues that transience increases the value of beauty, because such beauty becomes imbued with a scarcity value as well, and I think that’s true of Leonard’s work. While some works of art can seem unchanging each time you visit them, perhaps leading to a certain complacency – a sense that there is no urgency to again see a piece of art you once saw and loved, because it will be the same next time – the knowledge that Leonard’s work is going to change increases the attention I pay to it, and the frequency with which I visit it. Each time I look at it, I know that it is my only chance to experience the piece exactly as it is at that moment.

Of course, that is true of all art. The experience of seeing a work of art is always different, because even when it hasn’t changed, you have.

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.

Zoe Leonard. Untitled. 1999-2000. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Katherine Hardiman, Baltimore, BMA  2000.154a g. © Zoe Leonard

Zoe Leonard. Untitled. 1999-2000. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Katherine Hardiman, Baltimore, BMA 2000.154a g. © Zoe Leonard

BMA Voices: Learning about a 100 year old mask from Papua New Guinea

Biwat peoples (Papua New Guinea). Mask. Early 20th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Alan Wurtzburger, BMA  1955.251.40

Biwat peoples (Papua New Guinea). Mask. Early 20th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Alan Wurtzburger, BMA 1955.251.40

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.

As you climb the steps to the newly re-opened grand entrance of the Baltimore Museum of Art and enter Stone Court, it can seem that you are entering a kind of Temple of Knowledge. The atmosphere is often hushed, the architecture slightly imposing, and the sense of weighty ideas about art and history is palpable. But the Museum is not about imbibing knowledge so much as creating it. Each of the objects on display awaits your personal discovery. Each artwork can send you off on a tangent of new ideas.

When I first arrived at the BMA, I knew little about the art of the Pacific Islands. I soon learned that the BMA has one of best collections of art from the Pacific in the United States. Visitors can enjoy a number of artworks considered exceptional, including a Tongan Breast Ornament, a Hawaiian Royal Necklace, and this Biwat mask.

Learning more about the Biwat mask was not straightforward, however, as Biwat art has been studied little. Margaret Mead and her husband Reo Fortune spent three months in Kinakatem, a Biwat village, in 1932, when the BMA mask was already 100 years old. Despite the brief stay, their notes remain the primary resource on this area. An anthropologist who worked for the American Museum of Natural History, Mead did not share my primary focus on art. Instead, her comparison of male and female behavior among different cultures, including the Biwat, helped to document that gendered behavior—such as the idea that boys are more interested in play weapons and girls in dolls—is a cultural construct, not a biological trait. Her research became important beyond anthropological circles during the 1960s, as part of the societal push for women’s rights at school and in the workplace.

Originally worn by a man in the East Sepik Province of what is now Papua New Guinea, the mask was likely sculpted in the early 19th century. I didn’t imagine that it would be somehow connected to the history of American feminism. This connection is only one of many stories, and a visit to the galleries certainly doesn’t require ‘homework’ of this sort—the finely carved surface and play of echoing geometric shapes is a fascinating view into the decisions one artist made, and so close looking tells yet another, perhaps more important, story about this artwork.

Art can take you unexpected places.

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: Three women connected by one piece of art

Pomo peoples (United States). Feathered Basket. Early 20th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Florence Reese Winslow, BMA 1953.220.B.230

Pomo peoples (United States). Feathered Basket. Early 20th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Florence Reese Winslow, BMA 1953.220.B.230

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.

Three women are intimately connected with this beautiful feathered basket. An unknown Pomo woman living in central California made the basket; an entrepreneurial art-dealer and hotel owner in Arizona sold it; and a dressmaker from Baltimore bought it as part of her extensive collection of Native American art.

The basket is so small that it is reminiscent of a thimble. Woven around a support of willow or hazel twigs, the artist wove tight coils of sedge or pine root and inserted oriole and mallard feathers to create a dazzling color play, with brown quail topknot feathers contributing to the shape. Pomo basket-weavers are renowned for their masterful work, and beginning in the 1890s, women began to make tiny baskets like this one as art objects to show off their skills. Professional basket buyers and individual connoisseurs collected their work and traded it far beyond the state. Moved from their land to reservations in the 19th century, basket-weaving provided Pomo women with much-needed income.

Anna Fullen, owner of the Suhuaro hotel in Chandler, Arizona, may have been one of these professional basket buyers. Fullen owned a small shop within the hotel and sold Native American objects during the 1920s to visitors and art enthusiasts. Florence Reese Winslow, born in Maryland in 1870, lived in Hayden, Arizona with her husband from 1924 to 1931. Living near the Tohono O’odham people, she amassed one of the most extensive collections of Tohono O’odham miniature baskets in the world. This Pomo miniature basket likely entered her collection through Fullen’s shop.

Arizona was not Winslow’s only adventure—she lived in Dresden, Germany from 1889 to 1891, and from 1898 to 1912, she was listed variously as an artist, ladies’ tailor and dressmaker in Baltimore. Winslow died in Baraboo, Wisconsin, where she had lived since her time in Arizona. Although she was not in contact with The Baltimore Museum of Art before her death, Winslow left 391 baskets, rugs, beadwork and pieces of jewelry to the Museum and its visitors. These include spectacular examples of Navajo rugs, Pomo baskets, Tohono O’odham baskets, and Aleutian art.

So small that it could fit on your thumb, this basket holds a connection between three savvy business women, whether artists or art lovers.

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: “Which artwork would you take home?”

Blanket/Furnishing Cloth (Kpokpo). Gola or Mende peoples (Liberia or Sierra Leone). Before 1928.  The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased with exchange funds from Gift of Edith Black, Potomac, Maryland, in Memory of Jack Black; Gift of Robert and Mary Cumming, Baltimore; Gift of Joseph B. France, Washington, D.C.; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel L. Hendler; Gift of  Gilbert and Jean Jac, BMA 1998.480

Blanket/Furnishing Cloth (Kpokpo). Liberia or Sierra Leone. before 1928. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Edith Black, Potomac, Maryland, in Memory of Jack Black; Gift of Robert and Mary Cumming, Baltimore; Gift of Joseph B. France, Washington, D.C.; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel L. Hendler; Gift of Gilbert and Jean Jackson, Washington, D.C.; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Howard A. Jackson, Massapequa, New York; Gift of Norman Jackson, New York; and Gift of the Jamosil Foundation, Alexandria, Virginia, BMA 1998.480 Gilbert and Jean Jac, BMA 1998.480

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.

When I first saw this furnishing blanket from Sierra Leone, I immediately wanted it for myself – I would love to hang the crisp gray-and-white, rectilinear pattern on my wall at home. The pattern is so au courant that it could easily provide inspiration for a mass retail chain, like Urban Outfitters or Crate & Barrel, or be highlighted on home décor blogs like Apartment Therapy. Contemporary in its appeal, this furnishing blanket dates from the 1920s or earlier.

The weaver who created this textile responded to fashions in home design among Mende homeowners that happen to be fashionable in the U.S. now. The two-tone graphic impact of the design seems simple, but belies its complex construction. The weaver first wove narrow strips and then sewed them together. When you look closely, you can see that the horizontal patterns were created by weaving darker threads on neighboring strips. This means that the weaver planned the entire pattern, wove it in perfectly measured 3.5 inch sections, and then aligned the gray areas during the sewing process. The high degree of planning and expertise that went into the execution of this pattern is a subtle assertion of skill. This tactile presentation of luxurious, careful, time-consuming craftsmanship makes this object as covetable today as it was in the past.

Art is distinctly not timeless. We art lovers treasure an object over a long time, and expect future generations to enjoy it as well, but the making of art and the pleasure in viewing it is time-bound. One of the great wonders of the museum is that it pulls together multiple different moments in time in a surprising way. The Museum collection is eclectic. The taste of many different ages is on display in this building, and all the different fashions compete with each other. The game some people play in a gallery—“Which artwork would you take home?”—is fantastic, because it places us on some common ground with the original owners and admirers of an artwork. Today, this Mende furnishing blanket is definitely my answer to the question!

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.

We’re on Instagram!

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.