Category Archives: Works of Art

Spitting Images

For all of the spectators at the BMA and online who got a glimpse of last Saturday’s Areas for Action event with artist Oliver Herring, here is an interview with two of the participants, Lulu Bao and Kel Millionie, who share what the experience was like for them:

What inspired you to participate in this art event?

Lulu Bao - half-way through her Areas for Action experience

Lulu Bao – half-way through her Areas for Action experience

LULU: It was the email I received from BMA Volunteer Coordinator Rachel Sanchez mentioning the wall painting with Oliver Herring. The image of being part of the art project came in to my mind suddenly, then I thought I couldn’t miss the chance to have this unique life experience. I wanted to step a bit out of my comfort zone and embrace something I have never done before.

KEL: I’ve been an admirer of Oliver Herring’s work since before we acquired his Areas forAction portfolio of videos and portraits in 2011. I wanted to experience his art from the perspective of a participant vs. a spectator or viewer.

Were you surprised by how often you were directed to spit on each other? How would you describe that experience?

LULU: I was not very surprised because I watched some videos of Areas for Action on YouTube before the event. I think the experience created an intimate connection between us as volunteers, as well as with the artist and the audience. Some key words in my mind to describe my experience would be: excited, open-minded, and emotional.

KEL: I was not surprised at how many times I was spat upon or spat onto others.

Kellan Johnson (l) and Kel Millionie (r) in Areas for Action.

Kellan Johnson (l) and Kel Millionie (r) in Areas for Action.

I’ve watched many of Oliver Herring’s videos and they show this as part of the process. Regarding being spat upon: at first it is quite jarring, cold, and shocking to be spat upon so forcefully.  Many people have said they find it “gross” or “unsanitary,” but I did not feel it was either.

How has participating in the event as a volunteer change the experience for you?

LULU: Becoming part of the art performance gave me a chance to understand the artist’s thoughts from a different angle. By transferring my identity from an art viewer to a member in the performance, I felt more involved. I asked the artist about his thinking of controlling and losing control during the process because for most of the time we were trying to do the things as he wanted, but at some points we were able to choose colors or areas that we wanted to spray. There was some certainty and some uncertainty of this event outcome and I don’t think I would have considered that if I hadn’t been part of the experience.

KEL:  I find his process of directing volunteers to create his art familiar because I am a theater director and designer and often tell performers how to move and behave in controlled spaces.


Artist Oliver Herring directing Areas for Action volunteers.

What was your favorite moment?

LULU: I love the moment when I was asked to climb to someone’s shoulder, because at that moment I had to trust someone I just met.  I memorized the feeling of holding his hands and trusting the artist and my partner so well even several days after the event.

KEL: Looking in the mirror after the four-hour experience was over.

Do you have any advice for future Areas for Action volunteers?

LULU: I would suggest future volunteers to go to restrooms right before the performance and get ready for not going there for hours (like a half-day). 🙂  Also, it is necessary to get used to bare feet because wet socks won’t feel good if you have to step into the colored water. Trying not to laugh while having water in your mouth is important, otherwise, you may choke, which can be a bit unpleasant.

KEL: Give in!

Dressing Degas’ Little Dancer



One of the most popular works in the BMA’s collection is Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen by French artist Edgar Degas. The BMA recently received a query about her attire and we are delighted to share BMA Senior Registrar Melanie Harwood’s answers to these questions.

How frequently are the skirt and ribbon changed?
Only when necessary. It’s occurred twice for the skirt and once for the ribbon since the work entered the collection. The skirt that came with the figure in 1943 (presumably the original from the 20’s) deteriorated over time and was augmented with more fabric, cotton wadding and wire in an attempt to keep it somewhat tutu-like. The decision was made in 1979 to replace it entirely and to replace the ribbon which the BMA cast had been missing for some time. The fabric and color of skirt was matched as closely as possible to the remains of the original. The use of a green ribbon is based on a contemporary description of the wax original which refers to the color as “leek green.” Time has caused the green to change to more of a golden hue.  The only change was to lengthen the skirt to more closely resemble Degas’ sketches and the common tutus of the time. Classic short tutus were an invention of the 1880s and not commonly in use when Degas sculpted the figure in 1881. 
The skirt was replaced again in 1998 due to deterioration but the ribbon was not.

Where does the fabric come from?
The fabric is a cotton “tarlatan” (gauze) dyed to a greenish brown and the ribbon is silk. The tarlatan is generally available through theatrical suppliers.

Do all Degas “Little Dancers” have skirts and ribbons?
All Degas “Little Dancers” have skirts, but not all have ribbons. In 1979 I conducted an informal survey of the “Little Dancers”. Out of eleven institutions contacted, four had the original skirts (in deteriorated condition, short, and augmented with cotton and wiring) and six had ribbons of varying colors. The only ribbon that was thought to be original was described as “yellowish” (also interesting as ours has faded from green to “yellowish).

 Who changes the skirt and ribbon?
In 1979 the museum did not have a conservator of sculpture so the designer and I took on the project with the oversight of the curators. The second change was handled by the conservators and they would direct any future re-dressings as well.

 Are there specifications regarding the way the skirt hangs or the ribbon is tied?
The bronzes were cast from the original wax (now in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington) after Degas’ death and Mlle Jean Fevre, the niece of the artist, dressed the figures in skirts to resemble those on the wax. I’ve never seen images or a contemporary description of these skirts and ribbons.  By this time the wax figure was forty years old and I’ve always wondered if the skirt Mlle. Le Fevre was imitating was shortened by age. It’s an interesting exercise as Degas never saw the bronze, but our aim has always been to maintain an appearance as close to the original wax of 1881 and his other dance images as possible.

Edgar Degas. Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen. Original model 1881; this cast 1919-1921. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alice Morawetz Bequest Fund. BMA 1943.1

Rarely Shown Aaron Douglas Watercolor Now On View

Aaron Douglas. Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery through Reconstruction. 1934. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased with exchange funds from The Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection, BMA 2004.179 © Heirs of Aaron Douglas/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Aaron Douglas. Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery through Reconstruction. 1934. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased with exchange funds from The Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection, BMA 2004.179. © Heirs of Aaron Douglas/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

The BMA’s stunning Aaron Douglas opaque watercolor, Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery Through Reconstruction, is now on view at the Museum for the first time in nearly a decade. This extraordinary work is being presented in conjunction with the Maryland Humanities 2016 “One Maryland One Book” All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The young adult novel has a character named Rashad who is a high school student inspired by Aaron Douglas’ art:

“Let me describe what his work looks like. Imagine The Lion King. But all the lions are people. Black people. So Simba and Mufasa, are, let’s say, a black king and a prince. Now, imagine that you’re looking at them through the thickest fog ever. So thick that you can’t make out any actual feature on their bodies, but you can still see their silhouettes. So it could be any king. Or any prince. But you can still tell they’re black. That’s Aaron Douglas’s work. And the first time Mrs. Caperdeen [Rashad’s teacher] showed us a slide from his series Aspects of Negro Life, I knew the kind of art I wanted to start making.” (All American Boys, pp. 143-144)

Aaron Douglas (1899-1979) was a pioneering African-American artist whose style contains a multitude of influences: Art Deco and Cubism, African and Egyptian art, spirituals, and jazz. Hailing from Topeka, Kansas with a fine arts degree from the University of Nebraska, Douglas made his way to New York in 1925. There he fell in with the artists, poets, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance, designing jacket covers and illustrations for publications by the likes of James Weldon Johnson and his good friend (and fellow Kansan) Langston Hughes. Douglas’s striking work led to mural painting—first for private and then for public spaces.

In 1934, Douglas received a commission—the most important of his career—from the Public Works of Art Project, a new federal program, to paint a mural cycle for the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, now known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Douglas’s four-part mural cycle, completed by the year’s end, numbered among 1,400 murals depicting “the American scene” that were created under this New Deal initiative for public spaces throughout the United States. Douglas embraced the challenge. Entitled Aspects of Negro Life, Douglas’s four oil paintings depict an ambitious narrative of black progress, encompassing slavery, Reconstruction, the Great Migration, and the Depression while contending with issues of black identity, the search for freedom, and the power of education.

In 2004, the BMA acquired an extraordinary study for the second mural in this cycle, From Slavery through Reconstruction. Although Douglas made several changes between this drawing and the final painting—a more complex composition with twice as many figures—the narrative arc of rising up from oppression and suffering remains the same.

The frieze-like composition of silhouetted, stylized figures is bookended by scenes of horror and sadness: to the left are shackled, toiling slaves; to the right is a family grieving the loss of a loved one to lynching. These groups frame scenes of emancipatory struggle: at center left, we see a woman with broken shackles and a rifle in hand, none other than Harriet Tubman, conductor of the Underground Railroad; at center right marches a group of helmeted Union soldiers with bayonets over their shoulders, an allusion to the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, one of the first African-American regiments. At the work’s luminous center, a man stands holding a book and pointing to a mountaintop vision with twin symbols of modernity: a skyscraper and a smoke-spewing factory. The entire composition is overlaid with an abstract pattern of translucent, concentric circles, the centermost focusing the eye on the pointing man’s confident stance and gesture.

In his powerful treatment of historical, political, and racial themes, Douglas looked back in time, and also cast his gaze at the Depression-era world around him. Some eight decades later, his work—giving visual form to the hardships and aspirations of African-Americans—still speaks to us with its indelible passion and hope.

Due to the light-sensitive nature of works on paper, Study for Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery Through Reconstruction will be on view for a limited time in the BMA’s Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing 20th-century gallery. Stop by and see it through December 4, 2016.

An eye for detail: Walking through Imagining Home with Associate Curator Oliver Shell

Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage. From the journal "291" (Nos. 7-8, September-October 1915). 1907, published 1915. Photogravure, Sheet: 465 x 318 mm. (18 5/16 x 12 1/2 in.), Image: 333 x 264 mm. (13 1/8 x 10 3/8 in.) The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Cary Ross, BMA 1988.565

Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage. From the journal “291” (Nos. 7-8, September-October 1915). 1907, published 1915.
Photogravure, Sheet: 465 x 318 mm. (18 5/16 x 12 1/2 in.), Image: 333 x 264 mm. (13 1/8 x 10 3/8 in.)
The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Cary Ross, BMA 1988.565

Images contain details that can be enlightening or senseless, or whose import may be lost due the passage of time.  In an exhibition like Imagining Home with so many big themes, I find myself fixated by particulars. The passengers in Alfred Stieglitz’s classic photograph The Steerage almost universally wear hats or head gear. The women wear head scarves while among the men we see workers caps, fancy bowler hats, and one very prominent straw boater. What did it mean to wear a straw boater or bowler hat while traveling in steerage in 1907? Was there any difference? The larger point may be that in this era nobody left his or her home without some form of head covering–a practice that died out somewhere in the mid-20th century. My grandmother still wore a hat when she went to town. I do not! Lost rituals of propriety create a separation between their world and ours.

Marguerite Gérard. Motherhood. c. 1795-1800 Oil on wood panel, 24 x 20 in. (61.0 x 50.8 cm.) The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Elise Agnus Daingerfield, BMA 1944.102

Marguerite Gérard. Motherhood. c. 1795-1800. Oil on wood panel, 24 x 20 in. (61.0 x 50.8 cm.)
The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Elise Agnus Daingerfield, BMA 1944.102

Marguerite Gérard. Motherhood (detail). c. 1795-1800 Oil on wood panel, 24 x 20 in. (61.0 x 50.8 cm.) The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Elise Agnus Daingerfield, BMA 1944.102

The oil lamp depicted in Marguerite Gerard’s Motherhood is among the most exquisitely complex light fixtures that I have ever seen. Symbolically, this may be fitting for a work produced in the ‘age of enlightenment.’ Unfortunately, this lamp sheds little light onto the purpose of some of the other props in this room.  For instance, what are we to make of the large panel leaning against the wall, behind the mother? It depicts three rows of hand-written yet indecipherable words. My sense is that it would have been a recognizable object in its day, otherwise why include it? Perhaps it may serve some pedagogical function in the child’s upbringing—perhaps an aid to reading? The child seems too young for such instruction, and yet, it could signal a future intention to nurture and educate the child at home.

It is not purely by chance that Frances Benjamin Johnston’s photograph, Sophia’s Dairy, Harford County, Maryland, showing a double staircase in a seemingly vacant house, appears to dance as though liberated from any architectural rule. It is as though the photographer were channeling Giovanni Battista Piranesi, who’s Imaginary Prisons prints included staircases leading madly in pointless directions.

Frances Benjamin Johnston. Sophia's Dairy, Harford County, Maryland. 1936-1937. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase Fund. BMA 1938.37

Frances Benjamin Johnston. Sophia’s Dairy, Harford County, Maryland. 1936-1937. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase Fund. BMA 1938.37

A closer look reveals that Johnston has most deliberately chosen the single angle and camera elevation where the ascending stairs, at left, seem parallel to the top 4 stairs, which are in fact at a 90 degree angle to the lower 9 stairs.  This creates a seemingly uninterrupted ascent and obscures the shared landing at the level of the top of the door.  Not only does one have to turn 90 degrees to ascend further, but one has to do so twice in order to reach the second floor.  The turning motif is architecturally expressed through the rolled terminal volute of the bannister; but the true direction of the rising dark bannister is obscured (just where it turns 90 degrees for the first time) through its carefully planned visual intersection with the bottom rail of the second floor bannister.  Johnston’s game is to confuse the eye and liberate the architectural components from their structural duties with joyous irrational effect. Her play is achieved through the manipulation of details.

Imagining Home brings together more than 30 works from across the BMA’s collection to explore the universal theme of home. The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between Director of Interpretation and Public Engagement Gamynne Guillotte and Associate Curator of European Painting & Sculpture Oliver Shell.


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

Baker Artist Awards 2014 & 2015

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Today The Baltimore Museum of Art opens an exhibition of 12 artists who represent the Mary Sawyers Baker and b-grant prize winners from both 2014 and 2015.

Established in 2009 by the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund and managed by the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA), the Baker Artist Awards recognizes the excellence of artists in the Baltimore community. Through significant monetary prizes for winners, the Baker Artist Awards serves artists of all disciplines who live and work in Baltimore City and its five surrounding counties. Area artists nominate themselves by uploading their portfolios onto the Baker Artist Awards website, which has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of art lovers in nearly every country around the globe. The winners are selected by a panel of jurors.

The BMA has hosted exhibitions of the winners since the inception of the Baker Artist Awards. The artworks presented this year embrace a diverse range of media that includes sculpture, photography, video, music, and mixed media installations, some of which reference the difficult issues of our time.

Each of these artists explores a facet of the world in which we live . We know artworks can evoke many reactions and we invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below about how an artwork in the exhibition changed your thoughts or feelings about contemporary life. The Museum will share these comments with the exhibition organizers—the GBCA and the Baker Foundation.

– Jay Fisher

Images, top to bottom:
Installation views of artworks by Chris Bathgate, Paul Rucker, and Brent Crothers at the BMA. Photos by Mitro Hood.

Another famous race horse: Iroquois

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion (detail). 1881-1889.

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion (detail). 1881-1889.

American Pharaoh has won the Triple Crown of American horse racing—the first thoroughbred to do so in 37 years. His name will be remembered alongside that of Secretariat, Affirmed, and other great horses. However, he will not be commemorated in a Stevengraph.

Stevengraphs were woven silk pictures made during the later decades of the 19th century at the firm of Thomas Stevens in Coventry, England. Stevens was a ribbon manufacturer, who faced possible bankruptcy when fashion dictated that feathers rather than ribbons were the proper trim for ladies’ hats. To avoid this fate, Stevens turned his looms to producing woven bookmarks and small pictures in silk. These depicted famous people and events, including the winning of the Epsom Derby in 1881 by Iroquois, an American bred horse. Iroquois and his jockey Fred Archer continued on to win the St. Leger, the second of three races in the English Triple Crown. Despite a second place showing in the first of the three races (the 2,000 Guineas), the horse and jockey enjoyed fame both in England and America. Iroquois’ reputation even boosted attendance at American racetracks. Perhaps that is why Kate Mattingly Edwards of West Virginia had a Stevengraph depicting Iroquois and included it in her elaborate crazy quilt, which is currently on exhibition in the Jean and Allan Berman Textile Gallery at the BMA.

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion. 1881-1889. Silk, including velvet, ribbons, and Stevengraph; silk embroidery threads, cotton lining Origin: West Virginia, United States. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. A. Taylor Bragonier. BMA 1956.201

Maker: Attributed to Kate Mattingly Edwards.Crazy Quilt with Peacock Medallion. 1881-1889.
Silk, including velvet, ribbons, and Stevengraph; silk embroidery threads, cotton lining
Origin: West Virginia, United States. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. A. Taylor Bragonier. BMA 1956.201

Grappling with Challenging Topics in Art Museums: Sande Society masks at the BMA

Installation view. (L-R) Artist Unidentified. Sande Society Helmet Mask (Ndoli Jowei). 1930-1940, Sherbro Region, Sierra Leone, 1984.251 Artist Unidentified. Sande Society Helmet Mask (Ndoli Jowei). Early 20th century, Mende Region, Sierra Leone 1987.149 Artist Unidentified. Sande Society Helmet Mask. Early 20th century, Sherbro Region, Bonce Island, Sierra Leone 1989.389 Nguabu Master, Sierra Leonian, birth and death unknown . Sande Society Helmet Mask. 1920’s-1940’s. Mende Region, Sierra Leone, 1984.50 Nguabu Master, Sierra Leonian, birth and death unknown. Sande Society Helmet Mask. 1920’s-1940’s. Mende Region, Sierra Leone, 1991.127.

Sande Society helmet masks on view in the BMA’s newly reopened African Art galleries.

Earlier this week, the Baltimore Sun published an editorial on an important and controversial issue—female circumcision (sometimes referred to as female genital mutilation)—and its relationship to a group of Sande Society helmet masks on view in the BMA’s new African art galleries. The masks are worn by senior Sande Society women in Liberia and Sierra Leone during initiation ceremonies for young girls that mark their transition into adulthood.

Like most museum objects, the helmet masks tell multiple and complex stories. For example, their refined carving and harmonious design demonstrate the incredible variety, innovation, and artistic excellence of their makers. Displayed together––as they are in the BMA––the masks counter the prevalent notion of African art as static and uniform.

A second story highlights concepts of idealized female beauty within the Sande Society and the individuality of the masks’ patrons. The broad forehead represents character and wisdom while the sensuously ringed neck signifies fertility and good health. Narrow eyes show focus and introspection and suggest demure behavior, while sealed lips indicate an ability to keep secrets. The smooth, glossy black surface not only evokes good health and grooming but also refers to the dark forest streams in which spirits reside. The elaborate coiffure serves as a personal statement of style and a reflection of social prestige. While all Sande Society masks carry these standard features, each is highly individualized according to its patron’s taste. One mask wears glasses and earrings while others are adorned with birds, cooking pots, cowrie shells and other symbolic motifs that refer to Sande traditions, proverbs, or teachings. In Africa where masks are typically a male tradition, the helmet masks speak to the power and artistic influence of women in the Sande Society.

Yet another narrative addresses the social and cultural context of the masks. Masks like these are performed at masquerades during significant civic events in society including funerals, honoring important visitors, and the initiation of young women into adulthood. A centuries-old tradition, during the initiation process senior members instruct young initiates in their roles as women: proper sexual behavior, childbearing, and child rearing. Some initiations also include the removal of some or all of the external female genitalia, an operation that is seen by some as a sacred rite of passage and by many others as a human rights violation. Some societies have stopped this practice of their own accord or because the country has made it illegal, in some cases to help stem the spread of the ebola virus.

Female circumcision has been a topic of international discussion. Just this week, Nigerian President Goodluck Johnson signed a bill that criminalizes female genital mutilation or cutting. According to the World Health Organization, more than 125 million girls have experienced female circumcision, to varying degrees, in the 29 countries where this procedure is concentrated. The practice is also on the rise in the U.S., where according to Newsweek, more than half a million woman are at risk of undergoing the procedure or have already experienced it.

How do we as viewers hold these stories—stories of beauty and creativity, culture and tradition, individuality and self-efficacy, pain and suffering—simultaneously? And what is the museum’s role in negotiating and presenting multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings? How do we tell balanced stories that address both the artistic context and potential contentious human experiences that these objects touch? How do we share controversial information without feeding into negative stereotypes or narrow frameworks often associated with African cultures? These are some of the questions BMA staff are grappling with as we strive to be a responsible, reflexive, and relevant museum.

Works of art embody multiple, complex, and sometimes difficult narratives that span the spectrum of human experience. They speak of beauty and joy, pain and sorrow, love and loss—often at the same time. As stewards of cultural heritage, museums are uniquely positioned to provide a space for inquiry, reflection, and dialogue on important historical and contemporary issues.

Much thought, research, and consultation with experts went into the presentation and interpretation of the Sande Society helmet masks. Our discussions have included how to provide information about the masks that highlights their artistic value and how to provide broader insights about the culture from which they came that extends beyond this one practice. We have also discussed the best format to use in presenting the information. Museums have a variety of tools at their disposal, from printed wall texts, workshops, and lectures to newer technologies and social media.

With every exhibition our goal is to provide accurate, complete, and accessible information on works of art and the ideas that surround them, and at the same time honor the interpretations and narratives that our visitors bring to their experiences with objects. We are taking a closer look at how we present information about the Sande Society masks and other challenging issues in art throughout the museum in order to create the best possible experience for all our visitors. As we work toward finding new and better ways of communicating difficult information, we welcome your response to the questions below.

  • What role should art museums play in presenting difficult historical and contemporary issues?
  • How can we address the different stories that objects can tell us?

We appreciate your interest in the BMA and hope to see you in the galleries.


Jay Fisher, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs
Anne Manning, Deputy Director for Education and Interpretation

The BMA acquires Magritte’s ‘Delusions of Grandeur’, 1967.

René Magritte. Delusions of Grandeur. 1967. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Sylvia de Cuevas, New York. BMA 2014.139

René Magritte. Delusions of Grandeur. 1967. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Sylvia de Cuevas, New York. BMA 2014.139

While we’re always excited to acquire new works of art, some additions to the collection are particularly meaningful. Today, we’re very pleased to share the news that René Magritte’s 1967 sculpture Delusions of Grandeur was recently added to our collection of modern art.

The work came to the BMA as a gift of National Trustee Sylvia de Cuevas, and is the first sculpture by Magritte to enter the collection. The Belgian artist created this monumental bronze during the last year of his life and there are very few casts of it. It will be displayed, beginning this week, in a gallery with works by Magritte’s contemporaries: Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, André Masson, and Joan Miró.

We are thrilled to welcome this remarkable sculpture into the BMA’s celebrated collection of modern art. This imaginative artwork so well represents Magritte’s unique vision and is sure to become one of the most memorable artworks on view here.
BMA Director Doreen Bolger

René Magritte (Belgian, 1898-1967) is best known for his surrealist paintings, which place ordinary objects in unusual contexts, often giving new meanings to familiar things. Delusions of Grandeur is one of a series of large bronzes that Magritte produced at the end of his life with the encouragement of his friend and dealer Alexander Iolas, who was the uncle of de Cuevas.

Much like his 1962 painting on the same theme, the work appears as a classical torso of a female figure emerging as though in telescopic form, or like a Russian matryoshka doll, each of the three segments nestled within one another. He has incorporated the theme of enlargement and reduction in this bronze with more of the figure seen in the smallest segment and less in the largest, creating a strong image of the female form.

Earlier this week, the Guardian published a piece on Magritte to mark the anniversary of his birth. Describing the artist as a “surrealist comic”, it explores the humor found in Magritte’s work. Does Delusions of Grandeur carry on this comedic tradition? You’ll have to come in and see for yourself.

Delusions of Grandeur is on display now at the BMA.

BMA Voices: Using art to explore language

Bruce Nauman. Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version). 1981 1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA 1984.2. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Nauman. Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version). 1981 1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA 1984.2. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Lauren Ross, Senior Conservation Technician

This artwork is compelling and it confuses me. I like crossword puzzles, cryptograms, brainteasers in general, etymology, and games of language manipulation. It seems obvious that playing with language is a significant part of Bruce Nauman’s artistic practice. Our Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman recently wrote:

In addition to provoking viewers to consider the aesthetic dimensions of a format associated with advertising, Nauman called attention to the idea that visual art can be a means for exploring language.

Especially in his language-based work, Bruce Nauman is SERIOUSLY funny. But he’s serious, too.

It’s easy enough to grasp the progression (spelling and rhyming) of the words in the title. How did he come to those particular words though? Which one came first? Or was it just an immediate kind of thing where the words mentally landed one after the next? I’ve wondered if you’re intended to think of the sad cliché of violins playing? It’s easy then to think of something that might really be sad. VIOLENCE and SILENCE together = what? It could be death. Is the word SILENCE intended to get you to think about the silent nature of the neon itself, flashing in the dark? Or is SILENCE to make you think about VIOLENCE being under-reported or ignored? Could it just be that Nauman heard a great piece of violin music that had a violent crescendo and then got really quiet? Or, maybe the cadence of the words has a natural incline and decline as you think them or say them. But I doubt it’s that simple.

What about the colors? The sequence of words goes like this:  VVSand then the same words, only completely backwards:

Do the specific individual colors or their transitions make you feel the ideas of the words differently? I think they must. I’m not sure it’s fair to say it, but maybe Nauman assigned the specific colors to each word for a specific conceptual reason, manipulating the gases as if using physics to harness synesthetics. Nauman studied mathematics and physics in college, so I assume his use of the noble gases is pretty well-informed. The sequencing of the words, too, is another aspect entirely that is mathematically specific.

When I moved here in 1989 as a young art student, I first saw this piece and was absolutely astounded by it. I hadn’t seen any of Nauman’s work before then, and it introduced to a whole new genre of artwork. Everything I’ve seen of his since has moved me.

Now that I’ve lived here for 25 years, the way I experience this work is slightly different. I think it’s because it’s located in Baltimore. It’s not pleasant to admit that Baltimore has a reputation for violent crime. Maybe any city where it was installed would summon up the same ideas. Yet there is an impact or echo of a city’s identity on a work of public art. Language manipulated in this way is suggestive politically. Figuring out the suggestion is part of the intellectual challenge in looking at Nauman.

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.