Category Archives: Inspiration

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.

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!

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]

Art Matters: BMA hosts new radio segment on WYPR FM

If you tune in to WYPR 88.1 FM regularly, you may have spotted a new segment hosted by BMA Director Christopher Bedford.

“Art Matters,” airing the first Friday of every month at 4:44pm, connects listeners with some of the most innovative artists creating today. Each four-minute interview finds Director Christopher Bedford in conversation with an artist, exploring his or her work, vision, and influences.

The series kicked off this fall with Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, who was selected to paint the official portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama. A conversation with artist Tomás Saraceno followed, where he discussed the inspiration behind Entangled Orbits, his new exhibition currently on view in the BMA’s East Lobby.

Listen to the latest chats HERE and tune in to 88.1 FM the first Friday of every month for more!

[Photo: Mitro Hood]

Top 6 Prints, Drawings, Photographs at The Baltimore Museum of Art

BMA Curatorial Assistant Morgan Dowty took over our Instagram feed this week to showcase some of her favorite images in our renowned Prints, Drawings & Photographs Collection.

In case you missed it, here’s a roundup of her top six picks from the BMA’s collection of 65,000 works on paper:

  1. Morgan Dowty, BMA Curatorial Assistant, signing on from the Department of Prints, Drawings & Photographs to bring you some of my favorite works on paper this week. With 65,000+ works on paper in the collection, there are plenty to choose from! I’ll begin with a favorite suite of engravings by Wenceslaus Hollar, “Diversa insectorum aligerorum,” c. 1646.

[Wenceslaus Hollar (Bohemian, 1607-1677) “Diversae insectorum aligerorum,” c. 1646. Eight etchings. Each approximately: 115 × 180 mm. (4 1/2 × 7 1/16 in.) Garrett Collection. BMA 1946.112.2413-20]

2. Tantalus, Icarus, Phaeton, and Ixion are four mythological figures whose hubris caused them to fall from Mount Olympia. In this suite of the “Four Disgracers,” Hendrick Golzius, master engraver of the 16th century, captures the falling body from all angles.

[Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558-1617) after Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem (Dutch, 1562-1638). “The Four Disgracers,”1588. Four engravings. Gift of Ruth Cole Kainen, in Honor of Jay McKean Fisher, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, BMA 2005.47 / Gift of James and Leslie Billet, Baltimore, BMA 1983.11 / Blanche Adler Memorial Fund, BMA 2013.357 / Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.137]

3. This album by Charles Norman Sladen is a new one of my favorites. On each page, Sladen includes photographs from a family vacation in 1916 to Great Chebeague Island, which he expands through imaginative pen and ink drawings. Scroll right to see some detail shots!

[Charles Norman Sladen (American, 1858-1949). “Great Chebeague Island, Maine,” 1916. Album of black ink drawings and gelatin silver print collages, bound with leather and fabric cover. The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund. BMA 2001.289]

4. In this self-portrait, Käthe Kollwitz captures her own likeness in just a few precise marks.

This image is owned by The Baltimore Museum of Art; permission to reproduce this work of art must be granted in writing. Third party copyright may also be involved.

This image is owned by The Baltimore Museum of Art; permission to reproduce this work of art must be granted in writing. Third party copyright may also be involved.

[Käthe Kollwitz (German, 1867-1945). “Self-portrait,” 1924. Woodcut. Blanche Adler Memorial Fund, BMA 1956.176]

5. Printmakers often pull working proofs, or test prints, as they develop an image to track their progress. Swipe to compare these two states of Felix Bracquemond’s portrait of the French literary critic Edmond de Goncourt.

[Félix Bracquemond (French, 1833-1914). “Edmond de Goncourt,” 1879-1882. Etching. Purchased as the gift of Mrs. Fenwick Keyser, Reisterstown, Maryland, BMA 1997.19 / Purchased as the gift of the Print & Drawing Society, BMA 1983.76]

6. It’s been a treat to share a few of my favorites this week! If you’re interested in exploring more works on paper, consider making an appointment to visit the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Study Room of Prints, Drawings & Photographs by emailing PDP@artbma.org.

[Arthur Wesley Dow (American, 1857-1922) “Group of Buildings, Dow’s Compound, Ipswich,” /”Garden, Dow’s Home, Ipswich,” / “City Island, New York,” c. 1885-1897. Three cyanotypes. Gift of Susan Ehrens, Oakland, California, in Honor of Jay McKean Fisher, BMA 2015.343-345]

Which image is your favorite? Follow us on Instagram at @BaltimoreMuseumOfArt.

Seeing Color: A Conversation About Race & Art 

Alison Saar. Strange Fruit. 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Contemporary Art Endowment Fund. BMA 1995.122

Alison Saar. Strange Fruit. 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Contemporary Art Endowment Fund. BMA 1995.122

Numerous events throughout the country and in our own city this past spring have challenged our staff to think about race and its representation in art. In Baltimore and other cities we have been prompted to reexamine symbols such as Confederate monuments, while elsewhere confederate flags glorifying the racial injustice advocated by the Confederacy are finally being removed from some public buildings, addressing a painful chapter in history—and a continuing reality—for many Americans. With its important collections of African and African-American art, The Baltimore Museum of Art seeks to bring conversation about this topic through a panel discussion at the Museum on Saturday, November 14 entitled Seeing Color: A Conversation About Race & Art.

It is especially meaningful to convene such a conversation within the context of an art museum. Whether intentionally or less deliberately, artists have frequently addressed challenging topics such as race, identity, and social justice. Artistic expression brings personal interpretation to the consideration of such issues.  Our own points of view are challenged as new interpretations are brought forward challenging our pre-conceptions.   

Rodney Foxworth, advisor for social impact ventures, will moderate a discussion that brings fresh insights to this larger discourse and sheds new light on challenging artworks at the BMA. These include artworks that appear uncritical about racial inequality such as a portrait by John Hesselius of Charles Calvert and His Slave and artworks that confront us by calling attention to racism and social injustice such as Alison Saar’s sculpture Strange Fruit.

The scholars and artists who are participating in the panel will bring a variety of perspectives to the conversation. The panelists are Dr. Sheri Parks, Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities at University of Maryland, Dr. James Smalls, art historian and professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County, Ailish Hopper, poet and professor at Goucher College, and Susan Harbage Page, artist and professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

We hope you will join us for this important conversation on November 14, if not in person, then here on the blog. What would you like to know about these artworks and others at the BMA? 

Jay Fisher
Interim Co-Director

Writing in Response to Gedi Sibony’s All Her Teeth Are Made of Slate

Gedi Sibony (American, born 1973) All Her Teeth Are Made of Slate, 2013 Wood, paint, and screws 96 x 40 3/4 x 8 in. (243.8 x 103.5 x 20.3 cm.) The Baltimore Museum of Art: Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2013.287 Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Gedi Sibony (American, born 1973). All Her Teeth Are Made of Slate, 2013. Wood, paint, and screws, 96 x 40 3/4 x 8 in. (243.8 x 103.5 x 20.3 cm.) The Baltimore Museum of Art: Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2013.287
Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York


delicately placed
or carelessly misplaced    Wood
made slate    Walls made mouths

 

Danika Myers, poet and recent speaker at the BMA’s Big Table Connections

As a poet, I often find that writing in response to other art helps me to both sort through my thoughts about the work I’m interacting with and takes me writing in new directions. A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to work with Pam Stiles from The Loading Dock and several members of the community to consider and respond to Gedi Sibony’s sculpture All Her Teeth are Made of Slate. The writing exercise we incorporated into the event is a variation on one I often use to begin to respond to something in the world that compels me. If you have a chance to spend some time with Sibony’s sculpture, perhaps this exercise will help you find words to sort through your own responses to the evocative piece.

  1. Spend at least five minutes looking at and thinking about Sibony’s sculpture. Write down any thoughts that come to you–descriptions of the sculptural components, judgements, associations. Think about the title of the piece as well as its appearance and the material used to construct it.
  2. Find a quiet place to sit and write a bit more. You don’t necessarily need to be able to see Sibony’s work in order to move through the next steps. Try to move quickly and without over-editing or worrying about whether you are coming up with anything “good”—you’re just warming up.
  3. First close your eyes and think about your teeth. Run your tongue over them, open and close your jaw a few times and feel your upper and lower teeth connect, clench your jaw and then release it. When you open your eyes, list the first 3-8 words that occur to you in a column.
  4. Now think about your mother’s, your grandmother’s, or another woman’s teeth–preferably someone you know well and have strong feelings for. Picture her teeth, then add another 3-8 words to your list.
  5. Think about your daughter, your niece, or another person you knew as a child; think about her teeth when she was a baby, a child, and an adolescent. Add another 3-8 words to your list.
  6. Go to the top of your list, and next to each word, jot down the word that seems to you to be the opposite of the first word.
  7. Opposites are easy, but sometimes they aren’t all that interesting; let’s go someplace more interesting! Now, next to the word that is the opposite of the first word, write a word that sits just next to that word–a word that is somehow still in tension with the first word, but not directly opposing it.
  8. Finally, one more list: this time, use sound to help you come up with one more list of words. Choosing a word that sounds like the opposite but means something more like the original word might evoke both. Choosing a word that sounds like the original and means something only slightly different might just get you to a word that’s more precise and interesting. Ultimately, you might end up with a bunch of lists like these:

Original        Opposite        Tension            Sound
ivory                grey                faded                green (sounds like grey)
crooked          straight          polite                stacked (sounds like both straight and crooked)
filled                pristine          silver-lined       phony (sounds like both filled and pristine)

At this point you have a fairly large bank of words that you can use to move yourself in interesting directions as you return to All Her Teeth are Made of Slate. Go take another look at the piece, and then write a short poem or a paragraph that collects one response to it. Try to include at least one of the words from your word bank in each line of your poem, or at least two words from your bank in each sentence of your paragraph.

Still not sure how to start? Try using several of your words in a haiku, like the one created above! I’d love to see you share your poem or short response in the comments below.


headshot_danikaMyersDanika Myers is a poet and is a member of the First Year Writing Program faculty at the George Washington University. Her work has appeared in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, and in Forklift, Ohio.