Category Archives: Inspiration

Mapping Home at Mildred’s Lane

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Katie Bachler is an artist and the 2014 Meadows Fellow at The Baltimore Museum of Art. In July, she spent a week mapping notions of home at Mildred’s Lane – a contemporary art complex(ity), situated deep in the woods of rural northeastern Pennsylvania. These are her reflections.

I was invited to go make a map of the layers of a place; of the home as the natural world and all the tiny tendrils of what grow on the land – the ferns and the weeping moss walls – the blue Marsalis shale. The cups and bowls, the caring of the body, how the towels are hung over the edge of the sink, a garden for growing food, the places we walk in the morning, shared meals, the way that the counters get wiped with a sponge… All of these acts are part of the Mildred’s Lane complex, a home-space that is a laboratory and school about how to live, how to create systems of engagement that are unique and outside of the dominant modes of production in the art world as object making and exchanging. What if all of the parts of life are treated with as much care as the art objects themselves?

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I was invited to look at the complexity of this site, by talking with people and learning how to live in an intentional way, my hands holding objects in a new way; Mildred’s Lane became a home through the mapping of it. This is a story of that process.

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Through the many hills that make up the state of Pennsylvania – the marble of Wilkes Barre – the great Delaware River Gap where people live off the land and the Hudson River school painters felt the thrill of light – exist the possibilities of what could be around a bend or the edge of some far away hills, and the romanticism of what was not the city in a time of the industrial revolution. It prompts a question: Where do we go to feel like ourselves; a parallel need for a wild place as the urban becomes future-like, not stopping, not us, not now.

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Over a bridge that was a drawbridge painted green, and that rumbles underneath the tires as we drive, artists who wanted to make a life that was everything that a life is, moved up here in 1996 to build a home on some land; a home that started as a slab of concrete. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion, who had been a part of perhaps the last great swell of galleries and spaces in NYC in the early 1990s with American Fine Arts began making art to return to life; to all of the singular events and decisions that make up a moving life. A home is a place to learn about how to live together. A home is a shared intentional world. Puett calls it entanglement, workstyles, comportment. The creation of a language to name the specificity of a world.

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How to map what matters to people, to map a relationship between city and country, between land and people?  A map is a changing organism that responds to space and time, and to the people who relate to it, who create it, who feel the woods and the way the paint peels off of buildings, or the light hits a long table in the evening as we prepare a meal on zig-zag tables, with upside down cups, in a way that is called workstyles because everything is done with intention.

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Creating a map with people becomes about mapping a way of being, a specificity of a human intention to make a new sort of place, one with its own order and ways of investigating the components of a human existence, how we make decisions, how we live together in a world that is based on capitalist modes of production much of the time.

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What if all modes of life are self-determined? Is this kind of utopia possible? Maybe it is my job to map it, but then to think of the map as a shifting exploration of a place. A map of any kind of utopia has to be open to change, so I make a growing map, an open map.

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I will go back for a weekend in August to keep working on it, and for time after that as well, being in time and through time.

Posts for print lovers

Christian Gottfried Schultze (German, 1749‑1819)
After Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577‑1640)
Neptune Calming the Tempest, 18th‑19th century
Engraving
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.

Drawing with Her Eyes

I had the most wonderful conversation with a member of my church yesterday who reminded me why my work at the BMA matters. She recalled a conversation with me several years ago when she told me that she wanted to take her granddaughter to the BMA, but had to work on Thursdays when the museum was free. I said something to her about not doing my job very well because she didn’t know that the BMA had eliminated general admission fees since 2006. She was very excited to learn this and began taking her 2-year-old granddaughter Athena to the museum.

AthenaAthena was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is non verbal, but these physical challenges haven’t diminished her spirit. This extraordinary young girl has found ways to enjoy ice skating and horseback riding… coincidentally both activities that make me very nervous. Four years after her first visit to the BMA, Athena began making art using new technology that enables her to design using eye and finger movements. Her family was astonished to discover her works were not simple fingerpaintings or fanciful doodles, but beautifully rendered drawings that show movement and intention. Now 7-years-old, Athena’s artwork was featured in a recent exhibition at the Maryland Institute College of Art curated by graduate student Danielle Chi. You can see a video clip of Athena (the first child in the video) and Danielle’s graduate project on eyeartist.net. Her proud family has also published a book of Athena’s drawings on createspace.com.

Athena Storm. Chasing Ice. 2013

Athena Storm. Chasing Ice. 2013

You never know what will spark a child’s imagination. I think this little girl already had the innate talent and vision to create art, but perhaps didn’t realize it until she began visiting the BMA and then learned about the new technology. It gives me great joy to see how Athena’s creative expression has blossomed. I hope it will inspire others who wonder why they should visit a museum or who have any doubts about their abilities. It is extraordinary what you can accomplish with passion and vision.