People’s Choice Award: No. 6

Dan Flavin. Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”). 1993‑1994. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 1993.210. © Stephen Flavin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

To celebrate our 100th Anniversary, we invited everyone to vote for their favorite artwork from a group of 100 selected by the Museum’s chief curator.

Your 6th favorite work in the BMA collection is Dan Flavin. Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”). 1993‑1994.

View our BMA Voices post on this work.

BMA Voices: Reflections on Christmas

Eugène Samuel Grasset (French, 1841‑1917). Drawing for Harper's Magazine: Christmas. 1889. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George  A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from  individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.48.13255

Eugène Samuel Grasset (French, 1841‑1917). Drawing for Harper’s Magazine: Christmas. 1889. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.48.13255

Suse Cairns, Digital Content Manager

It is strange to spend Christmas in a country on the other side of the world. In Australia, where I am from, Christmas means summer. It is sweltering hot days, and swimming at the beach. It is sunburn, and stickiness. It is sometimes a roast lunch, but just as often a barbeque outdoors, or a seafood platter. It is not a place where Christmas looks like the movies; like Home Alone or Love Actually, all snow and decorations. Rather, Santa Claus often dons shorts and goes surfing when I see him back in my sunburnt country.

Living in Baltimore, then, is a revelation. Here, December brings cool weather, and the possibility of snow. The lights of 34th Street in Hampden sparkle. The streets look and feel like every fictional Christmas scene I’ve ever imagined. It is like living in a dream.

Until I moved here to work at the BMA in May, I didn’t realize just how much my ideas and images of the world had come from America; from the films and fictions made here, from the artists, whose work I had grown up with, but rarely seen in the flesh before now. My ideas about what Christmas “should” look like are all grounded in America. I have friends who write from home, asking whether the streets and houses really are as decorated with lights and decorations as they always were in the media. And, of course, the answer is yes.

I find inspiration in Drawing for Harper’s Magazine: Christmas by Eugène Samuel Grasset for two main reasons. The first is that the image itself is beautiful in its simplicity, and its detail. The second is that it reminds me yet again of how close to the center of the world I moved when I came to Baltimore. Harper’s Magazine is “the oldest general-interest monthly in America,” dating back to 1850. So many important and influential writers have graced its pages; writers like Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, and Mark Twain. These are the people who have written books that shape the way we see the world – even in Australia.

The artists in the BMA’s collection, too, are those whose influence has traveled incredibly far. To be in a museum with the largest collection of Matisse’s in the world is humbling.

This Christmas will be unlike any I have ever experienced. No one will be out in the yard batting a cricket ball around. There won’t be kangaroos hopping through the paddocks. But I don’t think things will be too unfamiliar… I’ve grown up imagining a wintery American Christmas as long as I can remember.

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.

People’s Choice Award: No. 7

Georgia O'Keeffe. Pink Tulip. 1926. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Mabel Garrison Siemonn, in Memory of her Husband, George Siemonn, BMA 1964.11.13. © The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Georgia O’Keeffe. Pink Tulip. 1926. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Mabel Garrison Siemonn, in Memory of her Husband, George Siemonn, BMA 1964.11.13. © The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

To celebrate our 100th Anniversary, we invited everyone to vote for their favorite artwork from a group of 100 selected by the Museum’s chief curator.

Your 7th favorite work in the BMA collection is Georgia O’Keeffe. Pink Tulip. 1926.

BMA Voices: Good Night Good Morning.

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

In 1976, American artist Joan Jonas created the 11-minute video work titled “Good Night Good Morning”. In this piece, Bianca Biberaj, Contemporary Curatorial Intern, and Kristen Hileman, Curator & Dept. Head of Contemporary Art, discuss Jonas’ piece, her relationship with the viewer and the camera, and the concepts behind the piece.

 

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. Good Night Good Morning. 1976. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.37. © 2009 Joan Jonas

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA  2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA  2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA  2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Joan Jonas. My New Theatre VI, Good Night Good Morning. 2006. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Max Stern Trust Fund, BMA 2010.38. © Courtesy Wilkinson Gallery

Presenters: Kristen Hileman, Curator & Dept. Head of Contemporary Art
Bianca Biberaj, Contemporary Curatorial Intern
Audio recording and editing: Hannah Malloy
© The Baltimore Museum of Art 2014

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.

People’s Choice Award: No. 8

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Paul Gauguin. Vahine no te vi (Woman of the Mango). 1892. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.213

To celebrate our 100th Anniversary, we invited everyone to vote for their favorite artwork from a group of 100 selected by the Museum’s chief curator.

Your 8th favorite work in the BMA collection is Paul Gauguin’s “Vahine no te vi (Woman of the Mango)“, 1892.

BMA Voices: William Henry Reinhart’s “Atalanta”

BMA American Wing installation 2014

BMA American Wing installation 2014

Nancy Proctor, Deputy Director for Digital Engagement and Communications

One of the things I love about the BMA’s renovated American wing is the way stories just jump off the walls at you. You don’t have to know anything about the art to start making connections and weaving your own narratives among the paintings, sculpture, and objects that are often juxtaposed in surprising and even provocative ways.

The pristine white marble sculptures in the Maryland Gallery are no exception, but that doesn’t mean these statues are easy to decode. What are we to make of the silent female figures who share our space – one clothed, one nude – both by native son, William Henry Rinehart (1825-1874)? Neoclassical sculpture has always puzzled me, and no less so now after I spent many years writing a doctoral dissertation on it. It seems to want to imitate ancient Greek and Roman art but never quite manages to look Classical, no matter how skilled the sculptor and his or her studio. Modernists considered much of this “Victorian” art cloying and clichéd, so advocated de-accessioning it or at least burying it in museum storage to make room for more contemporary work in 20th century galleries. Some of it looks almost prurient, and indeed 19th century audiences had strict rules about what made a nude “art” versus pornography: if it was carved in white Carrara marble, it represented a Classical ideal, so would elevate the minds of its audiences; tinted to look like human flesh, it was debased.

William Henry Rinehart. Atalanta. 1874. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Mrs. Winfield Henry, 1934, BMA 1983.67

William Henry Rinehart. Atalanta. 1874. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Mrs. Winfield Henry, 1934, BMA 1983.67

But rules are made to be broken, and as British sculptor, John Gibson (1790-1866), pointed out, the ancient Greeks and Romans painted their statues as well as their buildings: generally ancient sculptures are only monochrome today because the color has worn off with time. Nonetheless Gibson’s Tinted Venus caused a scandal when first exhibited at the London International Exhibition in 1862. For the leading London literary magazine of the day, the Athenaeum, the figure was no more than “a naked impudent English woman,” its color a vulgar stain on the purity of the white marble “to destroy all alluring power, and every sign of the goddess.” Sculptors’ fascination with the ancient practice of painting statues has continued to the present day; Italian artist, Francesco Vezzoli, has also researched and ancient sculpture painting techniques and re-painted a number of Classical heads in the exhibition, Teatro Romano, at PS1 in New York.

Francesco Vezzoli- Teatro Romano

From Francesco Vezzoli: Teatro Romano, On view at MoMA PS1 October 26, 2014–March 8, 2015

Rinehart, who had studied at MICA before immersing himself in the Classical tradition in Rome with the support of his patron, William T. Walters, did not push the boundaries of the acceptable so far. An accomplished stone mason (some are surprised to learn that many sculptors, then and now, did not do their own carving), Rinehart made sculptures of Classical subjects and contemporary dignitaries, as well as decorative bas-reliefs. His mythic heroines at the BMA, Clytie and Atalanta, are a study in opposites: one nude, one clothed; one rooted to the spot for her love, the other fleeing from it, literally.

Clytie was a water nymph who loved and was abandoned by Apollo, the sun god. She spent so long looking after him longingly as he passed through the sky overhead that she turned into a sunflower, always seeking the sun. In Rinehart’s sculpture, she has not yet transformed into a flower but the sunflower she is holding bows its head, echoing her sadness.

Atalanta had quite another spirit. She was raised by a she-bear after her father, who wanted a son instead, abandoned her on a mountaintop. Once she became a celebrity for her hunting prowess and participation in Jason’s crew as the only female Argonaut, her father decided to step into her life again to insist she get married. As cunning as she was fleet of foot, she agreed to marry only the man who could out run her. With the trickery of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, one of her old hunting companions managed to win the race and her hand. But Aphrodite is a fickle mistress: she got annoyed with the couple for not paying her proper respect, so caused them to be seized with an uncontrollable passion just when they were passing a temple of Zeus. The angry god cursed them for defiling his house with sexual intercourse by turning them into lions. The ancient Greeks thought that lions couldn’t mate with other lions, so this was effectively a condemnation to a chaste marriage.

When I look at Atalanta now I admire Rinehart’s “wet drapery” technique and use of the figure’s hand gestures to convey movement and – is that surprise that she has been bested for the first time? But I also like to imagine that there is another statue of Atalanta just outside the museum: which one of those lions do you think she might be?

Adoph A. Weinman. Lion. c. 1929

Adoph A. Weinman. Lion. c. 1929

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.

People’s Choice Award: No. 9

John Frederick Kensett. View on the Hudson. 1865. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. Paul H. Miller, BMA 1942.4

John Frederick Kensett. View on the Hudson. 1865. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. Paul H. Miller, BMA 1942.4

To celebrate our 100th Anniversary, we invited everyone to vote for their favorite artwork from a group of 100 selected by the Museum’s chief curator.

Your 9th favorite work in the BMA collection is John Frederick Kensett. View on the Hudson. 1865.

BMA Voices: The multi-purpose chair

Designer: Nils Holger Moormann. Manufacturer: Nils Holger Moormann GmbH. Bookinist. Designed 2007, this example 2008. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Jim Piper, Gift from the Estate of Aleeza Cerf‑Beare, and Bequest of Gertrude Rosenthal, BMA 2008.141. © Nils Holger Moormann GmbH

Designer: Nils Holger Moormann. Manufacturer: Nils Holger Moormann GmbH. Bookinist. Designed 2007, this example 2008. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Jim Piper, Gift from the Estate of Aleeza Cerf‑Beare, and Bequest of Gertrude Rosenthal, BMA 2008.141. © Nils Holger Moormann GmbH

Claire O’Brien, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Decorative Arts, Painting and Sculpture

Walking into a furniture store today, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with choice when looking at seating options. The showrooms tout impressive displays of objects devoted to leisure and relaxation. Some are straightforward and exquisitely comfortable, while others are stylish but unwelcoming. Perhaps my favorites are the ones that are utilitarian in nature, serving multiple purposes at once. Cup holders are almost mundane when looking at possibilities of built-in fridges, speakers and even massage capabilities; eliminating almost every reason for the lethargic to leave the chair’s warm embrace. This idea of multi-purpose furniture is hardly new, but it’s fascinating to see its evolution.

The recently reopened American Wing has two great examples of such chairs. Although lacking a built-in fridge, the 1835 Reading Chair is an early example that mixes comfort and utility. There’s a certain air of regality about it, which is only right as it was an imitation of a design made for the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III. The handsome armchair has a walnut frame and a black tufted leather cushion, adding to an appearance which seems to demand to have kingly work done in it. By far, the most interesting aspect of the piece is the adjustable bookstand which can be moved to accommodate both those left handed and right handed. The stand provides a convenient place for writing all of those laws and is a perfect rest for particularly heavy books. All that royal work has you toiling late into the evening? Fear not, it is equipped with a candlestick for all of those all-nighters.

Reading Chair. c. 1835. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of John Beverley Riggs, BMA 1997.459 s

Reading Chair. c. 1835. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of John Beverley Riggs, BMA 1997.459

Perhaps less comfortable, but equally fascinating, is Nils Holger Moormann’s Bookinist, 2008. The quirky chair is reminiscent of a push cart, sporting a large rubber wheel front and center, creating a portable workstation. It is very much a self-contained unit, full of hidden storage and whimsical objects. An estimated 80 paperback books can be shelved in the chair. Tired of reading? Then open the compartment containing a magnifying glass, notebook, bookmarks, pencils and a pencil sharpener. Getting too dark? Simply flip the switch for the jaunty lamp. Thirsty after all that reading? Take advantage of the handy cup holder.

Designer: Nils Holger Moormann. Manufacturer: Nils Holger Moormann GmbH. Bookinist. Designed 2007, this example 2008. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Jim Piper, Gift from the Estate of Aleeza Cerf‑Beare, and Bequest of Gertrude Rosenthal, BMA 2008.141. © Nils Holger Moormann GmbH

Designer: Nils Holger Moormann. Manufacturer: Nils Holger Moormann GmbH. Bookinist. Designed 2007, this example 2008. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Gift of Jim Piper, Gift from the Estate of Aleeza Cerf‑Beare, and Bequest of Gertrude Rosenthal, BMA 2008.141. © Nils Holger Moormann GmbH

Both of these diverting chairs have made me drastically re-evaluate my expectations for furniture. I now appreciate a certain versatility in furniture’s function, wanting more than mere places of rest for the weary. It will definitely be interesting to see how the latest innovations influence future designs. Maybe we really will never have to get up – a dangerous idea indeed.

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.

People’s Choice Award: No. 10

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzin. c. 1797. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Mary Frick Jacobs Collection, BMA 1938.192

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzin. c. 1797. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Mary Frick Jacobs Collection, BMA 1938.192

To celebrate our 100th Anniversary, we invited everyone to vote for their favorite artwork from a group of 100 selected by the Museum’s chief curator, with voting closing on December 21. From today, we’re counting down the top 10 works of art, one each day until the end of the year.

Your 10th favorite BMA artwork is Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzin. c. 1797.

BMA Voices: The impossibility of standing in the same river twice

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

Suse Cairns, Digital Content Manager

It was incomprehensible, I declared, that the thought of the transience of beauty should interfere with our joy in it… Nor can I understand any better why the beauty and perfection of a work of art or of an intellectual achievement should lose its worth because of its temporal limitation. A time may indeed come when the pictures and statues which we admire to-day will crumble to dust, or a race of men may follow us who no longer understand the works of our poets and thinkers, or a geological epoch may even arrive when all animate life upon the earth ceases; but since the value of all this beauty and perfection is determined only by its significance for our own emotional lives, it has no need to survive us and is therefore independent of absolute duration.
Sigmund Freud, On Transience, 1915

Sigmund Freud’s On Transience, written during wartime, and translated in the excerpt above by James Strachey, asks us to consider whether the transience of any object of beauty – be it an art object, a season, or human beauty – makes it less valuable; whether the fleeting nature of summer or an aging face destroys the worth of its beauty. Is something less precious if it is only short-lived?

It is an interesting question to ask when visiting an art museum, where through care and conservation the changes that time brings are slowed down or arrested, in order to allow generations to come to appreciate and study the objects. As institutions that enable cultural perpetuation, museums hold onto objects of great beauty and great significance, many of which are hundreds or even thousands of years old. Such objects gain value from the many meanings and lives and interpretations they’ve had. In museums, time slows down and collapses upon itself.

Perhaps because of this, one object that gives me pause every time I see it is Zoe Leonard’s Untitled, 1999-2000, located in the BMA’s Contemporary Wing. The piece, which Helene Grabow spoke about previously, is made up of seven fruit skins that, after the artist consumed their flesh, were sewn back into their original shapes. The peels now slowly decompose. It is impossible to know how long they will last, or whether the piece will look the same or be changed the next time you visit it.

I love this work of art, because it makes no pretence at permanence. Instead, Leonard has captured something vital; the notion that every moment is precious, even those that are challenging, precisely because they are fleeting. As the old saying goes, it is impossible to stand in the same river twice. I have rarely found an artwork that makes me so aware of the changing nature of time and life as this one.

Freud argues that transience increases the value of beauty, because such beauty becomes imbued with a scarcity value as well, and I think that’s true of Leonard’s work. While some works of art can seem unchanging each time you visit them, perhaps leading to a certain complacency – a sense that there is no urgency to again see a piece of art you once saw and loved, because it will be the same next time – the knowledge that Leonard’s work is going to change increases the attention I pay to it, and the frequency with which I visit it. Each time I look at it, I know that it is my only chance to experience the piece exactly as it is at that moment.

Of course, that is true of all art. The experience of seeing a work of art is always different, because even when it hasn’t changed, you have.

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.

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