Category Archives: Exhibitions

Interview with Matisse/Diebenkorn Curator Katy Rothkopf

In October, the BMA will present the first major exhibition to show the profound influence of French artist Henri Matisse (1869–1954) on the work of American artist Richard Diebenkorn (1922–1993). Co-organized with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, this ambitious exhibition builds on the BMA’s reputation for presenting new scholarship on Matisse inspired by the collection. More than 90 artworks—most loaned from museums and private collections in the U.S. and Europe— will reveal Diebenkorn’s deep connection to Matisse, and present a new view of both artists.

katy_sjs2875_cropSenior Curator of European Painting & Sculpture Katy Rothkopf tells us about her work on this landmark exhibition.

What inspired Matisse/Diebenkorn?
When I began to think about the influence of Matisse on subsequent generations, the first artist that came to mind was Diebenkorn, whose work I knew from The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. I began to explore the idea more seriously after seeing two drawings by each artist in the BMA’s collection, which were very similar yet created 40 years apart. Although the influence of Matisse on Diebenkorn had often been discussed in art literature, their works had never been presented together in a major exhibition.

Were you surprised by anything you found in your research?
Thanks to a wonderful colleague at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, we were sent a copy of a letter that Diebenkorn wrote to a graduate student in 1981 where he described all of his most important interactions with Matisse’s work starting in the 1940s. It confirmed that Diebenkorn had come to see the Cone Collection in Baltimore.

How would you describe Diebenkorn’s art?
Diebenkorn was unusual in that he effortlessly moved from abstraction to representation and back to abstraction over the course of a long and successful career. His paintings are beautiful and compelling because of his experimentation with color and structure in both his abstract and representational works.

Can you give some examples of Matisse’s influence on Diebenkorn?
Both artists loved color and composed paintings that explore the space where an interior and exterior meet within a window or doorway. Diebenkorn was also fascinated with the idea of flattening space and told his students to paint flat like Matisse.

What aspect of this exhibition are you most excited about?
The BMA’s exhibition will allow visitors to see Diebenkorn’s journey as he discovered Matisse, while juxtaposing his work with some of Matisse’s greatest paintings. Seeing how they look together side-by-side is going to be a thrill.

See more examples of both artist’s work side-by-side in this short video.

 

 

Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA and Beyond

In February of 1939, the Baltimore Museum of Art exhibited 116 works by 29 black artists. Contemporary Negro Art, co-organized by Harlem Renaissance philosopher Alain Locke and the Harmon Foundation, became one of the first exhibitions at a major American art institution to exclusively display the work of black artists, including Hale Woodruff, Jacob Lawrence, and Dox Thrash.

The BMA revisited the landmark exhibition this summer with 1939: Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA, showcasing work by seven of the 29 artists included in the original show. While the exhibition is indeed a celebration, the BMA isn’t historically immune to racial discrimination. Morgan Dowty, BMA Curatorial Assistant for Prints, Drawings and Photographs—and the exhibition’s curator—will sit down with Dr. Bridget Cooks, author of Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum, to dive into the story behind 1939 and examine contemporary representations of black art.

Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA and Beyond takes place Thursday, September 6 at 6pm. Here, Dowty shares her thoughts on the upcoming conversation.

What are you most looking forward to addressing?

I’m excited to talk with Dr. Bridget Cooks because she’s really put Contemporary Negro Art in the context of a larger history of predominately white institutions exhibiting black artists from the 1930s to the present day. Her book, Exhibiting Blackness, delves into several instances when black artists have been positioned in terms of their identity, and highlights key problems with this model of exhibition. Some of the issues that came up in 1939 are the same that we consider today when artists are grouped in exhibition based on race. Having done deep digging myself into this very local history at the BMA, I’m curious to discuss how the show fits into a larger trajectory of American institutions.

What do you hope visitors will take away from this conversation?

I think it is important to consider the BMA’s Contemporary Negro Art within a national context and an expanded sense of time—not just in the 1930s when these exhibitions of black artists are situated in segregation-era America and just starting to enter white institutions. I hope to examine how institutions and individuals play a role in telling these stories, who’s given a platform, and when. It’s also important to consider how this exhibition history carries forward, or how it doesn’t when there are gaps in representation at the BMA and at other institutions. Let’s not make it just a celebration of the fact that the show happened, but really take a critical look at the context. Contemporary Negro Art was an important exhibition, but we need to complicate the narrative, and I think that’s something we’ll do during the discussion.

Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA and Beyond happens Thursday, September 6 from 6pm-7:15pm at the BMA. This conversation is free and open to the public. Learn more.

1939: Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA is on view through October 28, 2018.

The lasting impact of the Baltimore City and Baltimore County Public Schools Student Art Exhibition

Every year, the Baltimore Museum of Art teams up with schools around the area to highlight the talented young artists this city has to offer.

Every spring, the BMA hosts the Baltimore City and Baltimore County Public Schools Student Art Exhibitions with work from Baltimore students of all ages. Elementary students on up to seniors in high school are given the special opportunity to have their work displayed in a real art museum.

During my senior year, I was personally chosen to have one of my works showcased in the exhibition, just as I was starting to seriously think about my future and who I wanted to be in college and beyond. Four years later, I’m now an intern at the BMA and about to graduate from Towson University with an Art and Design Major and an Art History minor. I paint every opportunity I can and love being an artist.

I wasn’t, however, always so sure about which direction I wanted my life to head towards. I was always drawn to art and painting but never had the confidence in myself that I could make a career out of it. Having my painting chosen to be in a real exhibition at a respected art museum really helped boost my self-esteem and let me envision myself as a working artist. For one of the first times, I truly believed in myself and my ability to paint. I know through my own experience and struggles that this is such an important and vital feeling for a young student to have. This show is particularly special because kids of all ages and teenagers can seriously struggle with their self-image and identity.

Even if a student doesn’t decide to continue with art, gaining confidence in their skills and being able to proudly display their work has long-term benefits. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, studies have shown that students who have early and consistent access to the arts perform better academically and have better workforce opportunities. This is especially true for at-risk youth from a low socioeconomic background.

I’m so happy to be able to intern at a museum that realizes the importance art has on the lives of children and chooses every year to show them their work is just as significant and beautiful as any other piece of art in the museum.

Years after having my own art displayed in this exhibition, I have grown significantly as an artist and a painter and have chosen to pursue a career working in art museums. I’m excited to work at institutions that are committed to bringing art and education to the community around them, and the BMA is a great model for this commitment. The Baltimore City and Baltimore County Public Schools Student Art Exhibition is just one example of this commitment that personally had a significant impact on me. There is no doubt in my mind that this year it will also have an impact on another young student and hopefully inspire them to find their place in the art world.

Here is the painting that started it all from the 2014 BMA student show:

“Pulling My Hair Out.” 24in x 30in. Oil on canvas.

Here’s what I’ve been up to as a senior in college studying art:

“Caer Iborneith.” 30in x 40 in. Oil on canvas.

“marked by periods of great excitement, euphoria, delusions, or overactivity.” 30in x 40in. Oil and mixed media on canvas.

fyi…For Your Inspiration: Baltimore City Public Schools Art Exhibition, now in its eleventh year, will feature artwork by 400 students from 90 Baltimore City public schools from May 9-May 13, 2018.

The annual countywide student exhibition, Art is for Everyone: Baltimore County Public Schools Art Exhibition, runs from May 16-May 20, 2018.

More details on both exhibitions.

Behind the Dust: Conservation of a Gitenga Mask

When the Gitenga Mask (Fig. 1 and 2) came to the conservation lab for treatment it caused great excitement.  It was impressive in size at 33 ½ x 35 ½ x 19 inches, and had great presence.

Fig 1 and 2 Before Treatment. Photos of the Gitenga Mask by Senior Photographer Mitro Hood.

As one took a closer look it became apparent that the majority of the feathers, especially in the back, were deformed and covered in layers of dust (Fig. 3 and 4) and insect remains. Some feathers were bent, broken, and in many cases the “tip” (rachis and barbs) was missing especially around the base on the back and left-hand side. It was a very intimidating treatment prospect and one that would take hundreds of hours to complete. When the exhibition date was set for the fall of 2017, there was no turning back.

Fig 3 and Fig 4 Lab photographs showing the dust and deformed feathers.

Below are some of the interesting discoveries that emerged before and during the conservation treatment of this remarkable object.

The slow removal of the dust on the back of the mask revealed layers of striking blue feathers as seen in the lab photograph taken during treatment (Fig. 5). Kevin Tervala, Associate Curator of African Art, researched the various birds that exist in the Pende region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the mask originates, and discovered that the feathers are from the Great Blue Turaco Bird (Fig. 6).

Fig 5 A lab photograph of the back of the Gitenga Mask during treatment.

Fig 6 A Great Blue Turaco Bird.

The clever way the feathers were attached to the mask during its construction is illustrated in the photograph below. The feather “base” (calamus or hollow shaft) was bent and inserted into a woven twine support (Fig. 7). A second piece of twine was passed through the bent bases of several feathers to create a “string” of feathers. The “strings” of feathers were then sewn onto the fabric head cap in layers (Fig. 8).

Fig 7 and 8 Interior photographs illustrating how the strings of feathers were attached to the head cap.

The beautiful neckline of the mask and a section of the back (Fig. 9 and 10) also illustrates the method in which the feathers are secured to the head cap. Notice all the missing feather “tips!”

Fig 9 and 10 Lab photographs of the neckline and a back section of the mask before treatment.

Fig 11 Preening the feathers one at a time.

Fig 12 and 13 After Treatment. Photos of the Gitenga Mask by Senior Photographer Mitro Hood.

One of the most satisfying discoveries a conservator can make is finding old repairs. In this case I wasn’t disappointed. Someone had carefully taken the top (vane) of a broken feather and adhered it to the remaining base (calamus or hollow shaft) of another broken feather that was missing its tip (rachis and barbs). So, this was not the first conservation treatment campaign for the mask, and will certainly not be the last.

Please note that in the case of ethnographic works with organic parts, it’s important to determine if there’s any evidence the piece has been treated with pesticides, some of which containe heavy metals (e.g. mercury) which can pose health risks. This was done in good faith by museums and collectors in the past to try and stop insect infestations.  In the case of this mask, there was no visual evidence of pesticide use. We are fortunate at the BMA to have a handheld Bruker X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometer (XRF), which can detect heavy metals. The XRF readings at the various sampling locations supported the visual observation that there were no heavy metals present.

A conservation treatment like the one of this Gitenga mask involves more than just the objects conservator. Shannen Hill, former BMA Associate Curator of African Art, encouraged me to take this treatment on and Kevin Tervala, BMA Associate Curator of African Art, encouraged me to finish it. Local objects conservators Angie Elliot, Diane Fullick, and Lara Kaplan, gave me valuable input along the way. Objects conservator Cheryl Podsiki, known for her work with handheld XRF pesticide analysis of ethnographic objects, was also a valuable resource. Senior photographer Mitro Hood and the BMA installation team helped show the mask to its best advantage, and the BMA conservation members were cheerleaders throughout the treatment. Many thanks to all!

The mask is on view in Beyond Flight: Birds in African Art through June 17, 2018.

 

Top 20 #HeartsForArt Picks

This year, we celebrated Valentine’s Day by joining museums across the country to spread love for #HeartsForArt. This is the fourth year visitors, staff, and volunteers wandered the galleries, leaving colorful paper hearts in front of their favorite works of art. More than 1,600 hearts were distributed and nearly 400 works received some love.

The votes are in! Here are this year’s top 20 picks:

  1. Tomás Saraceno, Entangled Orbits
  2. Phaan Howng, The Succession of Nature
  3. Tomás Saraceno, 80SW iridescent/Flying Garden/Air Port City
  4. Tomás Saraceno, Hybrid solitary semi social semi social SAO 90734 built by: a solo Nephila senegalensis one week, a duet of Cyrtophora citricola three weeks, a quartet Cyrtophora citricola juvenile two weeks
  5. Auguste Rodin, The Thinker
  6. Water-Moon Guanyin (Shuiyue Guanyin)Hebei province, China,
  7. Al Loving, Barbara in Spiral Heaven
  8. Jack Whitten, 9.11.01
  9. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Dwell: Aso Ebi
  10. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Dwell: Me, We
  11. Elizabeth Catlett, My right is a future of equality with other Americans
  12. Dave Eggers, Issue 16
  13. Eugene Kupjack, Domestic Interior in a Shaker Community, 1820-1860
  14. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled” (Water
  15. Auguste Rodin, The Kiss
  16. Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, Head of Medusa (Door Knocker)
  17. Annet Couwenberg, Heritage
  18. Annet Couwenberg, Backstitch
  19. Olafur Eliasson, Flower Observatory
  20. Sam Gilliam, Blue Edge

Thanks for playing along!

Timelapse video shows Tomás Saraceno’s Entangled Orbits

Watch as the brilliant colors in “Tomás Saraceno: Entangled Orbits” transform our East Lobby throughout the day in this time-lapse video captured by Mitro Hood. These iridescent-paneled modules suspended by a net of strings reminiscent of a spider web will be on view at the BMA through July 8, 2018.

Have you seen Entangled Orbits yet?

Explore the beauty of birds in Beyond Flight: Birds in African Art

Need an art break? Take a quick tour of the new exhibition, Beyond Flight: Birds in African Art with Associate Curator of African Art Kevin Tervala.

Watch Below:

Beyond Flight presents approximately 20 works from sub-Saharan artists who drew inspiration from the birds that occupied their world. This exhibition explores the varied roles of birds across 19th and 20th-century African states, societies, and cultures. From the largest ostrich to the smallest warbler, the works on view highlight the symbolic meaning and aesthetic appreciation of birds in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Uganda.

Which work is your favorite?

Beyond Flight: Birds in African Art is on view at the BMA through June 17, 2018.

Los Tres Grandes on view in Crossing Borders: Mexican Modernist Prints

A new exhibition opened this fall at The Baltimore Museum of Art, highlighting our rarely shown collection of prints and drawings by renowned Mexican artists from the 1930s to the 1940s.

Crossing Borders: Mexican Modernist Prints features 30 works on paper by artists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, known as “Los Tres Grandes,” or the Three Great Ones, as well as images by Elizabeth Catlett. The works on view document the political, social, and cultural shifts that took place in the years following the Mexican Revolution.

Take a quick tour of the exhibition in this short clip with Senior Curator Rena Hoisington:

Crossing Borders: Mexican Modernist Prints is on view through March 11, 2018.

WATCH: Njideka Akunyili Crosby discusses new exhibition at The Baltimore Museum of Art

Artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby invited art enthusiasts inside her creative process the same day her new exhibition, Front Room: Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Counterparts, opened at The Baltimore Museum of Art.

On the heels of being named a 2017 MacArthur Award winner, Crosby sat down with BMA Senior Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman at The Maryland Institute College of Art to discuss culture, technique, and the beauty of breaking the rules.

WATCH BELOW:

Front Room: Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Counterparts is on view through March 18, 2018. 

[Photo: Mitro Hood]

Fairy Tale Etchings by David Hockney

"THE OLDER RAPUNZEL" FROM ILLUSTRATIONS FOR SIX FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM 1969 ETCHING IN BLACK 9 1/2 X 10" © DAVID HOCKNEY PHOTO CREDIT: RICHARD SCHMIDT

David Hockney. “The Older Rapunzel” from “Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm,” 1969. Etching Edition of 100 Portfolio and 100 Book-C. 17 3/4 x 16 1/4″ © David Hockney

In the spring of 2016, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs Rena Hoisington taught the course “Paper Museums: Exhibiting Artists’ Books” to 11 students in Johns Hopkins University’s Program in Museums and Society. The students’ work resulted in Off the Shelf: Modern & Contemporary Artists’ Books, now open.

The exhibition presents more than 130 artists’ books—artworks conceived of and produced in book form—and prints by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Kiki Smith, David Hockney, and Ed Ruscha. Stephen King, Frank O’Hara, and Robert Creeley are among the 30+ authors represented. More than half of the artists’ books and related prints in the exhibition have never before been on view at the BMA.

In addition to determining the exhibition’s checklist and organization, Rena’s students wrote descriptions of the artworks featured for wall labels as well as blog posts that explore individual artworks featured in Off the Shelf. The first in the blog series is by Julia Raphael on David Hockney’s etchings:

In 1970, Petersburg Press published Six Fairy Tales, a collection of stories by the Brothers Grimm with etchings by David Hockney. The six stories that Hockney chose to include are: The Little Sea Hare, Fundevogel, Rapunzel, The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear, Old Rinkrank, and Rumpelstilzchen.  Upon first viewing Six Fairy Tales, I was immediately struck by what a distinctly different and innovative approach Hockney took to illustrating the tales contained in this book. I, and I might venture to say most readers, have become accustomed to encountering publications of fairy tales that are elaborately illustrated in bright colors with fantastic ornamentation. We’ve developed this conception from many of the other illustrated versions that exist of these same stories and even from the popular Disney films based on tales by the Brothers Grimm.

It is well known that Hockney has a great affinity for the Brothers Grimm’s work, having read more than 200 of their folktales. Regarding their tales Hockney said that, “They’re fascinating little stories, told in a very, very simple, direct and straightforward language and style; it was their simplicity that attracted me. They cover quite a strange range of experience from the magical to the moral.”[1]  His etchings reflect much of what Hockney himself said he admires most about the stories.

Each story is accompanied by a number of illustrations – as few as four and as many as 11. Interestingly, when illustrating the stories, Hockney did not always choose to illustrate the passages that were the most dramatic or significant for the advancement of the plot. Instead, he chose those parts of the text that most inspired his imagination or presented artistic challenges. For example, Hockney chose to illustrate the glass mountain from Old Rinkrank because it was not immediately clear how one would go about drawing such a mountain and he wanted to explore that graphic dilemma.  He chose to include “The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear” because it is such a strange, imaginative story that presented a breadth of artistic opportunities. [2]

Additionally, Hockney chose to portray a much less idealized version of the stories in which even the princesses are not strikingly beautiful, as is shown above in his etching “The Older Rapunzel.”  This unusual presentation challenges the viewer to think about the tales in a different light and emphasizes some of the darker themes present in the stories.

Hockney’s etchings—simple in composition, yet incredible detailed—offer the reader a different way of engaging with these popular fairy tales, effectively leaving their creative interpretation up to the reader.

[1] Robert Flynn Johnson, “David Hockney and the Brothers Grimm,” David Hockney: Six Fairy Tales, Landau Traveling Exhibitions, 2010.

[2] “David Hockney: Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm,” Christies, http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/prints-multiples/david-hockney-illustrations-for-six-fairy-tales-5532594-details.aspx.

Books for Art Lovers

This is a print of a snow scene at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. People dressed in dark clothes carry umbrellas and shoulder against the wind.

Henri Rivière (French, 1864-1951) and Georges Auriol (French, 1863-1938). Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower. 1888-1902, published 1902. Bound volume of 36 color lithographs. Purchased as the gift of Louis Berman, Glyndon, Maryland, BMA 2001.290

The BMA recently received a grant of $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts toward a new exhibition on artists’ books scheduled for the spring of 2017.

Artists’ books, according to a common definition, are “works of art in the form of a book.” The simplicity and broadness of this description encompasses works that are as multifarious, complex, and expressive as art in any other medium.  By nature a collaborative project at the crossroads of bookmaking and art-making, the artist’s book brings artists together with writers, printers, and publishers in a melding of perspectives that can lead to exciting and unexpected outcomes.

The exhibition will feature a selection of approximately 120 artists’ books and related prints by Jasper Johns, Barbara Kruger, Pablo Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many others from the BMA’s superlative collection of late 19th-century, modern, and contemporary art.  It will be the capstone of a two-part, collaborative project between the BMA and the Program in Museums and Society at Johns Hopkins University that is funded in part by a grant to JHU from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  This spring, Rena M. Hoisington, BMA Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs, taught the course “Paper Museums: Exhibiting Artists’ Books at The Baltimore Museum of Art” for 11 undergraduates from JHU, Loyola University Maryland, and the Maryland Institute College of Art.  The students met weekly in the BMA’s Samuel H. Kress Foundation Study Room of Prints, Drawings & Photographs, where they had the opportunity to work directly with the artists’ books.  In addition to writing label texts and blog posts for these books, the students helped to determine the checklist and thematic organization of the exhibition.  More than half the works they chose have never been exhibited before at the BMA.

With checklist in hand, Hoisington and her BMA colleagues can now move forward with more detailed planning of the exhibition itself.  The generous funding from NEA and Mellon will help to defray the costs of the installation, digitization, and programming—all three of which are essential to creating a visually stimulating exhibition that will provide access to these rarely seen works while educating audiences about this important artistic medium.

One of the earliest books that will be included in this exhibition is Henri Rivière’s 1902 publication Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower, which was inspired by a series of color woodcuts entitled Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by the 19th-century Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai.  With this elegant publication, Rivière sought to equate the importance of the Eiffel Tower, a marvel of modern French industrial design completed in 1889, with the spiritual significance of Japan’s Mount Fuji.  Rivière’s inventive compositions not only document the construction of the tower—based in part on photographs he took from within the heights of the structure itself—but also reveal its impact on the cityscape of Paris.  In the same way that Hokusai had presented Mount Fuji, each page shows the Eiffel Tower from a different vantage point, in varying weather conditions and times of year.

A landscape with leaves in the foreground and clouds and the top of the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Henri Rivière (French, 1864-1951) and Georges Auriol (French, 1863-1938). Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower
1888-1902, published 1902. Bound volume of 36 color lithographs. Purchased as the gift of Louis Berman, Glyndon, Maryland, BMA 2001.290

This is a print of men working on the Eiffel Tower, perched precariously on wooden planks.

Henri Rivière (French, 1864-1951) and Georges Auriol (French, 1863-1938). Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower. 1888-1902, published 1902. Bound volume of 36 color lithographs. Purchased as the gift of Louis Berman, Glyndon, Maryland, BMA 2001.290