Category Archives: Works of Art

BMA Voices: Questions I have about “The Figure of Question”

James Lee Byars. The Figure of Question. 1989. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Mabel  Garrison Siemonn, in Memory of her Husband, George Siemonn; Bequest of Blanche Adler; Gift of Thomas A. Leahy; Gift of the Living  Arts Foundation, Inc.; and Gift from the Estate of Felicia Meyer Marsh, BMA 1990.117. © Estate of James Lee Byars

James Lee Byars. The Figure of Question. 1989. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Mabel Garrison Siemonn, in Memory of her Husband, George Siemonn; Bequest of Blanche Adler; Gift of Thomas A. Leahy; Gift of the Living Arts Foundation, Inc.; and Gift from the Estate of Felicia Meyer Marsh, BMA 1990.117. © Estate of James Lee Byars

Lauren Ross, Senior Conservation Technician

The Figure of Question by James Lee Byars is a totemic, gold form, which rests in the stairwell of the BMA’s West Wing for Contemporary Art. I have been taking care of this sculpture for a number of years now, and I always have these questions when I approach it:

#1. How can we keep people from touching this?
It must be irresistible, despite its proximity alarms. Visually, it is tempting, its form so appealing. Entirely covered in gold, so smooth and perfect, it must be a huge challenge for children and adults alike to keep themselves reigned in.

#2. How in the world did it get in here?
The sculpture weighs approximately 3 tons. Moving a piece like this requires riggers and a crane. The West Wing was literally built around the sculpture after its installation.

Installing The Figure of Question.

Installing The Figure of Question.

Installing The Figure of Question.

Installing The Figure of Question.

#3. Why did Byars love gold so much?
Why not something less heavy or valuable? Is it the idea of weight? Is it because gold leaf is made by being beaten on a stone like marble; the two media reunited in this single piece – an extravagant marriage that forms a luxurious object? I read an article about the artist by Dave Hickey published in Flash Art in 1994. Hickey writes of Byars’ objects of gold, fabric, and stone: “(he) presents them to us in the interrogative mode, as if to ask: What do you think? Do these things exist? Would we be better off without them? And is seeing enough?” In James Elliott’s book The Perfect Thought, there is another really great essay by Achille Bonito Oliva about Byars’ employment of gold: “a rare material that in a cultural sense refers to the alchemical process of its transformation from a base to a noble substance, brute material rising to the status of spiritual abstraction.”

Perhaps because it inspires so many questions, this object is one of my very favorite in the BMA’s permanent collection. I like the artist, I love gilded objects, and I get to take care of it.

We use soft brushes to remove loose dust that accumulates on its top, down the sides and near the base. It is satisfying to engage with it. Byars’ surface is intended to be pristine, showing only the marble’s texture beneath the gold leaf. Because there have been times the sculpture has been touched, it’s had to be regilded several times. Jim Brewster, a gilder in Baltimore, has worked with the Museum on this object, and I was fortunate to learn his method of applying the patent leaf to mimic the artist’s original crystalline, fractured pattern.

Gilding

Jim Brewster teaches me how to gild.

Gilding is a painstaking process, and costly. (The current standard of gold is about $1200/ounce.) It requires patience, precision, and a proper working environment: there should be no dust or breezes of any kind. During one gilding campaign, a plastic tent surrounded the object to minimize dust accumulation and wind. Intervention such as completely regilding a work of art is not undertaken lightly; in fact it was discussed as a predicted necessary maintenance when the object was purchased.

Before the West Wing Reinstallation in 2012, there were enough abrasions, scratches and disfiguring oil spots from people touching it that the work again needed to be ingilded in a few select places. 22-karat gold leaf sheets were attached to the surface with a very thin adhesive coating, placing them in a loose random fashion, so as to imitate the existing gilding scheme without appearing brand new. Sheets of gold are extremely thin, at “1/250,000” of an inch. You can imagine that such a very fine material would be easily marred by the oil in a hand or scratched by the slightest touching.

As an employee of the BMA and a person engaged in collections care, I mostly think about question #1. As a lover of art, I definitely linger on question #3.

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: “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”

Lepic Install shot

Installation of Ludovic Napoléon Lépic’s “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”, in the exhibition Print by Print: Series from Dürer to Lichtenstein, 2012.

Rena Hoisington, Curator & Dept Head of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

In 2012 I had the privilege of working with ten undergraduates from Johns Hopkins University and the Maryland Institute College of Art to organize the exhibition Print by Print: Series from Dürer to Lichtenstein. Out of the 29 series of prints selected for inclusion in the show, Ludovic Napoléon Lépic’s Views from the Banks of the Scheldt was among the students’ favorites. When this series was installed in the third gallery of the exhibition, the 20 prints, grouped in two horizontal rows, spanned a wall more than 25 feet in length.

All 20 of the prints in this series were created from the same etched copper plate depicting a tranquil river landscape. Only one impression, however, was printed by means of pure etching—that is, the artist worked ink into the acid-bitten lines, then wiped the surface of the plate clean before printing. For the other nineteen impressions, the artist worked directly on the plate’s surface, employing a range of inking and wiping processes to recreate the ever-changing effects of weather, various times of day, diverse topography, and the occasional dramatic event.

Look closely at the following images and you’ll see that certain compositional elements remain constant: the signal post and man in the foreground, the windmills and ships in the background. Ludovic Napoléon Lépic referred to this technique as “l’eau-forte mobile” or “variable etching,” though today it is usually referred to as monoprint. In his 1876 publication How I Became an Etcher, Lépic claims to have printed 85 variations of Views from the Banks of the Scheldt, but aside from the unique group of prints in the BMA’s collection, only one other impression of this composition is known.

The Print by Print exhibition provided the first opportunity for the BMA to exhibit this series in its entirety, and it was indeed revelatory and awe-inspiring to see the range of effects Lépic was able to achieve.

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). View from the Banks of the Scheldt. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of  the Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Garrett Collection, BMA 1979.201

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). View from the Banks of the Scheldt. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Garrett Collection, BMA 1979.201

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Sunrise. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore  Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.9

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Sunrise. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.9

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Rain. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore  Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.10

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Rain. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.10

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Willows. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore  Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.11

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Willows. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.11

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). The Moon through the Willows. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the  Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.12

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). The Moon through the Willows. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.12

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Night. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore  Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.13

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Night. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.13

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Dawn. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore  Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.14

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Dawn. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.14

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow in the Fog. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The  Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.15

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow in the Fog. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.15

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). A Shower. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The  Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.16

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). A Shower. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.16

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). After the Storm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The  Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.17

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). After the Storm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.17

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Calm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore  Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.18

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Calm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.18

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Storm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore  Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.19

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Storm. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.19

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Evening. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore  Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.20

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Evening. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.20

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Trunk of a Chestnut Tree. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the  Scheldt". The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.21

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Trunk of a Chestnut Tree. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.21

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore  Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.22

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.22

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Moonlight. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The  Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.23

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Moonlight. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.23

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Moonrise. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The  Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.24

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Moonrise. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.24

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Willows and Poplars. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt".  The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.25

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Willows and Poplars. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. he Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.25

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). The Mill Fire. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The  Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.33

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). The Mill Fire. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.33

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow. c. 1870‑1876. From the series "Views from the Banks of the Scheldt". The Baltimore  Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.34

Ludovic Napoléon Lépic (French, 1839‑1889). Snow. c. 1870‑1876. From the series “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.34

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: Finding an escape with Felix Gonzalez‑Torres

Felix Gonzalez Torres. "Untitled" (Water). 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Saidie A.  May, BMA 1995.73. © The Felix Gonzalez Torres Foundation

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. “Untitled” (Water). 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1995.73. © The Felix Gonzalez Torres Foundation

Helene Grabow, Contemporary Art Curatorial Assistant, finds an escape from the hectic pace of life in Felix Gonzalez‑Torres’ “Untitled” (Water), 1995.

To learn more about this piece, see The five artworks you can touch at the BMA!

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 enthralling and complicated work of Marcel Duchamp

Laura Albans, Curatorial Assistant for the departments of European Painting and Sculpture and Conservation, discusses the enthralling and complicated work of Marcel Duchamp, whilst looking through his impressive Boîte‑en‑valise (From or by Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy), 1958.

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.

Reproduction, including downloading of ARS licensed works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

BMA Voices: A kimono six months in the making

Kimono Furisode 1912-1989, Taisho (1912-1926) or Showa (1926-1989) Japan. Gift of Mrs. D.M. Cheston, Baltimore  1990.113

Kimono Furisode 1912-1989, Taisho (1912-1926) or Showa (1926-1989). Japan. Gift of Mrs. D.M. Cheston, Baltimore 1990.113

Kimono Furisode 1912-1989, Taisho (1912-1926) or Showa (1926-1989) Japan. Gift of Mrs. D.M. Cheston, Baltimore  1990.113

Kimono Furisode 1912-1989, Taisho (1912-1926) or Showa (1926-1989) Japan. Gift of Mrs. D.M. Cheston, Baltimore
1990.113

Anita Jones, Curator of Textiles

The incredible skill and significant time that people from various cultures devote to the production of special textiles is a continuing source of amazement to me. This superb furisode, a kimono intended for a Japanese bride to wear at her wedding reception, is an illustrative example.

The ground fabric is a woven silk damask-like weave (rinzu) with the swastika or sayagata pattern – an ancient Buddhist symbol of longevity – along with wild orchid (ran), chrysanthemum (kiku), and bamboo motifs. This elaborately woven ground is almost overlooked with the addition of colorful surface patterns. The most prominent of these, known as “scattered fans” (semmen-chirashi), is composed of diverse multicolored, floral, and geometric motifs adopted from traditional Japanese textile designs.

kimono2 These designs are hand-painted using the yuzen-zome technique. The motifs were first drawn on the fabric in spiderwort juice – a fugitive or temporary blue dye. The yuzen artist then carefully covers the lines with a starch paste resist, sometimes on both sides of the fabric. Soybean extract (gojiru) was brushed over the fabric to stabilize both the paste and the dye which was then painted on with a brush. The resist prevented the colors from bleeding into one another. Next, the fabric was steamed to set the dyes and the resist paste was washed off. Afterward, gold and silver metallic paint would be added to complete some designs and to cover the white outlines left from the resist.

A secondary pattern “vertical seething with clouds” (Kumo-tatewaku), referring to the constant movement of clouds, was created by the application of silver and gold leaf to the surface of the silk. This same motif is also found on the robe’s red silk lining along the hem and on the edges of the lower half of the kimono opening.

kimonoAfter all the dyes and pigments were finished, embroidery was added in the form of multiple colored ribbons of silk floss that float across the open areas and weave through the slats of the fans forming tied bows on either side. Finally, metallic threads were couched down outlining and emphasizing the edges of motifs.

This kimono was the product of an organized workshop, with each process performed by a specialist. It probably took six months to complete. Considering that it would have been worn for only one occasion, the care and effort spent on this richly ornamented garment is phenomenal.

I would like to thank Japanese textile specialists Ann Marie Moeller and Ed Lagan for much of the information provided in this article.

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: “What makes this art, rather than compost?”

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

Helene Grabow, Contemporary Art Curatorial Assistant, delves into art history to shed light on Zoe Leonard’s Untitled, 1999-2000.

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 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 Mad Potter of Biloxi

George Edgar Ohr. Vessel/Cream Pot. 1903 1907. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Decorative Arts Acquisitions Endowment established by the Friends of the American Wing, and purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Marianne Hiller, BMA 2003.138

George Edgar Ohr. Vessel/Cream Pot. 1903 1907. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Decorative Arts Acquisitions Endowment established by the Friends of the American Wing, and purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Marianne Hiller, BMA 2003.138

Rob Morgan, Collections Database Administrator

At the beach resort of Biloxi, Mississippi, one of the tourist attractions during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was George Ohr’s pottery shop. A few blocks from the beach was a five story pagoda with signs stating “GREATEST ART POTTER ON EARTH” and “GET A BILOXI SOUVENIR BEFORE THE POTTER DIES”. If you were courageous enough to enter the shop you encountered a man with a mustache wrapped around his cheeks and tied behind his head.Self described as the mad potter of Biloxi, George Ohr’s studio contained thousands of twisted pots with brightly colored glazes. Not surprisingly, the pots went unsold and were kept in crates until their discovery in the late 1960s.

Born in Biloxi in 1857, Ohr learned how to throw pots from a friend in New Orleans. In the early 1880s, Ohr travelled the United States learning what he could about pottery. Returning to Biloxi in 1883, Ohr built a pottery shop next to his father’s house. After a fire destroyed his shop in 1894, Ohr built a new studio dedicated to his art pots. He found the clay for these pots in the Tchoutacabouffa River north of Biloxi. The make-up of this clay, and his skill as a potter, enabled Ohr to create pots with paper thin walls and twisted, pinched shapes.

Ohr created thousands of pots after the 1894 fire, including the two pots in the collection of the BMA. The pot above is typical of his earlier work – a pinched pot with a multi-colored glaze. Ohr’s later pots lacked glazing. To Ohr, glazes became superfluous as the form became the focus. The vessel walls became thinner and the forms more twisted. The pot below, also from the collection of the BMA, is from this later period.

George Edgar Ohr. Vessel. c. 1906. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Middendorf Foundation Fund, and Charlotte B. Filbert Bequest Fund, BMA 2002.210

George Edgar Ohr. Vessel. c. 1906. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Middendorf Foundation Fund, and Charlotte B. Filbert Bequest Fund, BMA 2002.210

Ohr quit making pots in 1909 after receiving a large inheritance from his parents. He died of throat cancer in 1918 at the age of 60. The pottery shop was turned into an auto repair shop run by George’s sons. The pots were crated and stored in a garage until James W. Carpenter, an antiques dealer from New Jersey, came across them on a trip in 1968. After several years of negotiation, Carpenter purchased the lot for $50,000. Thus, the pots reentered the marketplace and the story and work of George Ohr was rediscovered.

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 importance of looking beyond first impressions

Donald Judd. Untitled. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased in Honor of Edith Ferry Hooper, Trustee of The Baltimore Museum  of Art, 1957 1995, and President of the Board of Trustees, 1973 1975, with funds contributed by her Friends, BMA 1976.49. Art © Judd  Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Donald Judd. Untitled. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased in Honor of Edith Ferry Hooper, Trustee of The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1957 1995, and President of the Board of Trustees, 1973 1975, with funds contributed by her Friends, BMA 1976.49. Art © Judd Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Helene Grabow, Contemporary Art Curatorial Assistant

“Which work of art do you believe least belongs in these galleries?” It was 1998, and I had just begun training to become a BMA docent when this question was posed to me. Before we had an introduction to the contemporary collection, my docent class was set free in the Contemporary Wing with the assignment of choosing the work of art that we felt least belonged in the Museum. After setting off to explore the galleries, the group reconvened to share our answers.

When my turn came, I told the group that I had selected Donald Judd’s Untitled, 1976. I cringe when I think of it, but I clearly recall saying that I felt his plywood box looked like something that belonged on a construction site or a playground but not in an art museum. After each of us had shared our opinion, the instructor turned the tables on us. The assignment for the week was to research our chosen object and prepare a five-minute presentation designed to convince our classmates of the importance of the artist and the object.

Once I began my research, I soon learned that Judd was a seminal artist in the development of Minimalist art and is considered one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. Although he was trained as a painter during the peak of Abstract Expressionism, Judd was driven by a desire to create a new art form that was free of both illusion (images of things) and allusion (references to thoughts and feelings). Judd soon abandoned painting for the creation of non-referential, three-dimensional, geometric forms. “Actual space,” he wrote, “is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.”

In order to avoid any connotation associated with traditional sculptural materials such as bronze and marble and to eliminate any sign of the artist’s hand, he opted for industrial materials like plywood, anodized aluminum, and steel. He eventually took the step of turning to professional fabricators for production. This radical act shifted the emphasis of art-making from craft to concept. Finally, he placed the finished three-dimensional work directly on the floor or hung it on the wall and, in doing so, took the revolutionary act of freeing sculptures from pedestals and platforms. Judd believed his works defied the categories of painting and sculpture and referred to them as “specific objects.”

Through my research, I came to have great appreciation for the theoretical advances of Minimalism and the ground breaking role that Judd played in its development, both as an artist and critic. Approaching the Museum’s Untitled, 1976, with this new understanding, I became absorbed in the act of looking, and I was surprised to find that the plywood that had originally repelled me now mesmerized me with the beautiful waves of its wood grain. As I walked around the work, I was continually intrigued by the dynamic relationship between my body, the box, and the space around me.

I like to think that the presentation I made to my fellow docents helped open their minds to the power of Minimalism. (I even went so far as to have a carpenter build a miniature replica of the work.) Whatever the case, this assignment was the most important lesson of my docent training, not only because it prompted my profound appreciation of Judd’s work and the Museum’s remarkable collection of Minimalist art, but also because it serves as a reminder about the importance of looking beyond first impressions.

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.

Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

BMA Voices: George Rickey’s “Seesaw and Carousel”, 1956. A stopmotion animation.

Angie Elliott, Associate Objects Conservator

George Rickey’s Seesaw and Carousel (1956) is the artwork that I’m most excited for you to see when the American Wing reopens. This large, colorful, and delicate mobile has been in storage for decades and in the conservation lab for over a year. Commissioned by the Museum in 1955, it was last seen by the public during the Guggenheim’s Rickey retrospective exhibition in 1979. The fragile paint surfaces had to be carefully stabilized and preserved before it could be reassembled. Using the artist’s hand written and drawn instructions, we put it together as a trial run to make sure that it was ready to go for the big installation. Make sure you stop and look up when you visit the newly installed galleries in November.

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.

Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

BMA Voices: The politics of printmaking

Honoré Daumier. Transnonain Street, April 15th, 1834. 1834. Plate 24 from 'l'Association mensuelle'. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Blanche Adler Memorial Fund, BMA 1957.103

Honoré Daumier. Transnonain Street, April 15th, 1834. 1834. Plate 24 from ‘l’Association mensuelle’. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Blanche Adler Memorial Fund, BMA 1957.103

Thomas Primeau, Director of Conservation and Paper Conservator

The early 19th century was a turbulent time, both politically and socially, for the citizens of post-revolutionary France. Advances in scientific and industrial technologies were changing the way people lived, worked, and communicated. An innovation in printing technology that had a significant impact on the politics and social lives of people at this time was the introduction of lithography, which allowed for the mass production and circulation of finely detailed images.

Lithography was developed in Germany around 1798 and was well established in France by 1818. Unlike earlier printing processes such as woodcut or engraving, lithography is a planographic process, meaning that the ink design is impressed on paper from a flat surface that has been chemically altered rather than from an incised, carved, or otherwise irregular surface. The process is based upon the physical incompatibility of oil and water. To make a lithograph, an artist draws with oil-based crayons and inks on the smooth porous surface of a limestone block. The stone is then sent to a printer who chemically prepares it in order to hold ink on the drawn lines and repel it in non-image areas. Printing a lithograph requires a special flat-bed press that forces the paper in contact with the inked stone at high, even pressure. One significant advantage that lithography had over other printing processes at the time was that nearly 3000 impressions could be made of each image.

A successfully printed lithograph conveys the line, texture, and immediacy of a chalk or crayon drawing and, in Paris at this time, no artist was more adept at using the process than Honoré Daumier (1808 -1879). Daumier was an expressive painter, as well as an accomplished sculptor. However, his most notable artistic achievements were his observant and exuberantly drafted lithographs, which were printed in the popular journals of the day. Throughout his career, Daumier created thousands of lithographs that affectionately satirized the domestic lives of French society; he also drew scathing caricatures that ridiculed the excesses and hypocrisies of government officials. In 1832, he was imprisoned and fined on the charge of “contempt for the King’s government” after publishing the lithograph Gargantua, which depicted King Louis-Philippe as a monstrous glutton devouring the wages of the working class.

Daumier’s most important lithograph was also his most somber, the print Rue Transnonain, 15 April 1834, is neither whimsical nor sarcastic, rather, it is an unsettling illustration showing the aftermath of a brutal massacre in Paris. The atrocity occurred after rioters, protesting the suppression of a cloth workers revolt, confronted the National Guard. A regiment of soldiers, in search of a sniper, charged into the house at No. 12 Rue Transnonain and killed 11 innocent residents, including a child. Daumier’s portrayal of the incident is not an eye-witness account – the print was not published until months after the event – but a carefully composed and precisely drawn indictment on the cruelty of the military and the indifference of the monarchy for the lives of the public. He presents the senseless violence of the event through a solemn commemoration of the victims, imagining how they would have appeared as dawn broke on the scene. Highlighted in the foreground, a man in his blood-stained night shirt lies on the floor, legs splayed and his head bent awkwardly against his bed. He is framed by other bodies and blood spills from the head of a small child that somehow became trapped beneath him.

Daumier’s figures have presence, weight, and volume that he created through an advanced understanding of anatomy and control of light and shade in the drawing. Close examination of the print reveals that after Daumier drew his image in black crayon, he added texture and modulated highlights and shadows by scraping the surface of the lithographic stone with a needle or a knife. In this print – an image that would have been seen throughout Paris and is still preserved in many surviving impressions – Daumier’s masterful technique and humane sensibilities combined to produce one of the most powerful and compelling images of modern life.

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.