Light Play–Musing on Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”)

Visitors observing Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf").

Visitors observing Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”).

The tower of fluorescent lights looms large at a tight triangular junction where the old building meets the new. On a quiet day at the museum, you can literally hear it hum.

Flavin’s signature use of ordinary fluorescent tubes gives the work both a straightforward familiarity and a strange magic. Up close, you can see the screws, the wires, the ordinariness of the fixtures. But stay a while—the colors start to work on your eyes. The red, yellow, and blue bulbs mix—sunset raspberry and a delicate melon sorbet splash on the walls. The entire room is noticeably flooded with a lavender glow.

The sensory experience beckons. I slowly look up and linger longer than usual on the exit sign which glows a gorgeous green. I look left and notice a dramatic yellow cast in the adjacent gallery which my intellect knows is a crisp white. My eyes have shifted. The world has become a complex tapestry of colored light. Experiencing Flavin’s piece is also about following the light out into the space occupied by the light. It is expansive and also quite mysterious.

One of the pleasures of sitting with light art is all the questions surrounding light—how does Flavin’s skillful work with light seduce the senses and alter one’s perception? What is causing my eyes to see a white room as yellow? Why does colored light create such suggestive moods and alter the character of space?

It is these questions and more that we’ll explore in the BMA’s Big Table Connections program on Saturday July 5, when light artist and lighting designer Glenn Shrum joins us for a session on Dan Flavin’s piece and the inner workings of light.

Shrum is the owner and founder of Flux Studio. He is an active member of the international lighting design and lighting education community and Assistant Professor of Lighting Design at Parsons The New School for Design. We invited him to lead a session of the BMA’s Big Table Connections program. Thankfully, Glenn very generously agreed. In June, he came to the museum for a fascinating planning session and developed a clever in-gallery project with his colored light tables. Participants will get to try their hand at color mixing with light. How might you mix light and reshape space. What marvelous effects will you generate? Be sure to bring your cameras or devices to document your experiments.

What do you think? Have you experienced Flavin’s work? How did it impact your senses? What other special experiences with light have you had?

The BMA’s Big Table Connections program is a great opportunity to unpack complex ideas in contemporary art from multiple perspectives. This year we have been presenting sessions on Minimalism and its offshoots. We could not finish the season in August without looking closely at the work of Dan Flavin in our Contemporary Wing.

Join us on Saturday, July 5 at 2 p.m., to hear Glenn discuss light art and lighting design, and provide valuable context for Flavin’s work. After Glenn’s talk, we’ll move into the galleries and try our hand at mixing colored light. Hope to see you there!

 

What do you wonder about African art?

D'mba Docent Tour

A BMA docent teaches a class of fourth-graders about the Great Mother Headdress (D’mba).

The BMA’s African galleries are currently under renovation, with a planned reopening on April 26, 2015. The new galleries will be filled with visitor favorites such as our Great Mother Headdress (D’mba), shined until she sparkles and fully dressed in a new full-length costume, plus never-before-seen objects. This creates an exciting opportunity to rethink how we can help visitors understand the art in the galleries, and why it is relevant in their lives.

During the last few months, we’ve spent a lot of time brainstorming different possibilities for how we might be able to share all the interesting information we have about the art, artist, or culture on display.

Now we have lots of ideas—everything from video projects to maps to iPad apps. But one thing that we’ve kept saying is, “That sounds interesting to me, but will our visitors be interested?”

What better way to answer that question than to ask?

Docent tour in the African gallery

Docent tour in the African gallery

We want to know what you care about when you’re looking at African art. Everyone looks at these artworks through different eyes—with different experiences and knowledge shaping how they see them.  What are your questions when you see a mask, a statue of a woman, a reliquary figure, a contemporary vase, or other objects?

If you have 7 minutes to spare, please fill out our visitor research survey at the bottom of this page and let us know what you care about. You can also leave us comments on this blog post. We’d love to hear from you.

Bonus Prize: If you add your contact information at the end of the survey, you will be entered into a draw for the prize, Museum Educator for a Day. You will receive a personal gallery tour with a BMA education staff person and then have the opportunity to write a blog post about it for the BMA blog! You can choose a particular artwork, gallery, media, or anything else you can think of to write about.

Take our survey

She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner), the final pages…

Painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir, On the Shore of the Seine, with man's hand and magnifying glass in foreground.

Pierre Auguste Renoir. On the Shore of the Seine. c. 1879. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Saidie A. May Bequest, Courtesy of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, BMA 2014.1

In March, acclaimed Baltimore-based writer and producer David Simon (The Wire) started She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner) – the first continuing story in our Renoir Returns story challenge. Now we return to the beginning of that tale, to see how it unfolded. Below, read the story as it played out from the beginning, with thanks to the multiple authors who contributed to it.

By David Simon
Nine months of loose-fitting robes and girlish misdirection were coming to a head, right here, at the low tide of morning.

“Hey,” said the princess to the most trusted handmaiden,  ”what’s that over by those white flowers.”

“It looks like a basket,” said her servant, dry as dirt.

“I wonder what’s in it?”

An infant’s cry answered, as if in reply.  Or, maybe, that was laughter.

By Peter O’Connor
The bulrushes rustled; the maiden tiptoed closer.

Newborns lay mewing, their eyes shut.

“Wolves!” she gasped.

The princess paused from washing off the mud to pull back the rushes.

“Coyotes,” she corrected, “My brother was raised by wolves. I recognize a coyote cry from a wolf any day.”

The handmaiden whispered, as to not startle, “Remember, a pirate wears a sombrero and does not lose his glasses. A man’s heart will pine until one gives him a swift kick in the ass to find his heart’s true deseo.” Her astronomy with animal totem beliefs became a quilt for Frida Kahlo’s memory.

By Ken James Guessen
Mauve shadows paint their faces.

Monet tells of her last days. Renoir interrupts. Degas squints, listening to the memory as if it were his own.
***
“Relax your arms like a ballerina.”

She’s goes under. He dives, surfaces.

“Aline!”

Tracing the rope to her waist, he lifts.

She arrives coughing, choking.

“A…line! You must learn to swim.”

“Get this off me!”

“La corda salvato la vita.”

“The rope was just long enough to hang me.”
***
The next morning he taps his razor. His reflection, an echo, his eyes reminiscing.

“I punched a hole in the wall,” he tells her.
***
Laughter erupts. Monet leaves abruptly.

By Jan Ryan
He stares down at the shore. He saved her, hoisted the carcass from the depths. The fabulous creature laughed at him, at all of them. The rest laughed too as if they understood erasure by water, mockingly floating a bubble up to the distant vague ship. How could she prefer to be hidden/lost/gone from them? Were we imbued to crave beauty only to deprive us… was creation not our assigned mission? Could one greedy, selfish lover, an ocean, incinerator, fireplace or thief be allowed to kidnap her?

By Jan Ryan
These kleptomaniacs would steal candles from a church. He pointed and she pocketed. With the ruckus behind the plants (Remus and Romulus basket kidnapping) you may wonder how anyone witnessed anything but I had a higher vantage point.

Newspapers were spread open across the carpet. They LOVED the publicity. They read the news coverage out loud to each other every day. Things were calm with Saidie May and the young lady but forget any peace with these basket cases. They were your feral children.

By Jan Ryan
Each day with no buyer, after optimism based on the serendipity that scored the Renoir, created a little more doubt as to how to escape from a Baziotes cocoon. If they could only sell the Renoir they could move to New York or putter in a propeller basket to the Caribbean. They read the Real Estate section, picking out an apartment that sold before they had the money to buy it, and the travel section, selecting their tropical island. Semi-consciously they floated, descending, through clouds.

By Jan Ryan
Picasso wasn’t in Mallorca in 1931 if that’s what you are thinking. He was up the coast in Southern France illustrating a Balzac story about a perfectionist artist who kills himself after being ridiculed by young artists.

When tourists assumed her paintings were no good Saidie May was ready to kill too.

“Don’t blab that you collect art. They will rob you.” warned the artistic sister.

The family never heard the details of Saidie’s trip but when the robbery happened much later they wondered.

By Jan Ryan
The thieves made contact. He explained that he was in the market for lesser-known artists like The Painter’s Window. He wanted it but a stolen Renoir from a museum? Too hot. “Not going to touch it but try this guy, he’s an idiot,” and “this guy” was an idiot. He bargained with all the same reasons to not buy then paid cash and disappeared.

They were dealt a better hand. The thieves dyed their hair brown, left their whole stolen collection in Baltimore, went by new names and never returned.

By Jan Ryan

“Did you seek protection? Couldn’t you find the museum or the May apartment?” berates the Interrogator.
“Do you understand simile?” she retorts, “Like a plant, someone has to move me.”
“… throw out some seeds or fall into a visitor’s lap?” the questioning continues.
“After I left the museum no one drew, photographed, no more art history analysis, no X-rays or Internet. There were dire consequences were they to admit they had me. Outside we could be chased through a land of video cameras.”

By Jan Ryan
He sacrificed much of the children’s tuition and his wife’s precious roasts for the Renoir for which the thieves considered him an idiot. He HAD TO bargain: How much cash did they think he could account for? He hated doing business with amateurs and their “buyer” was so condescending. He loved what he loved and he loved the Renoir. If you can’t see why you would have been nothing to him.

In a fit of nerves his wife gave the Renoir to the maid.

By Jan Ryan
The maid knew what “this guy” was all about. Research at the museum and libraries made her think the painting was real. There was no way to know for sure. She told her kids it was a copy of a corner of a real Renoir. They took crayons to paper to make their own replicas, thereby, in the maid’s opinion, leaving a trail. Uneasily she wiped it clean of fingerprints figuring otherwise her great grandkids would get themselves into trouble selling it thinking they were trying to pass it off as real.

By Jan Ryan
I would be happy to return to the museum with the school kids piping up with comments, the stoned teenagers dully saying, “Cool.Renoir,” the adults telling wise tales that aren’t true, the quiet ones (mysteries they are thinking) and intimidated visitors finally blurting out, “I like THIS one.” Thanks! What’s not to like? They all liked me but there was nothing to do but look at me so they looked and looked and I looked back.

This is the final post for She Poses for Moses. The Renoir Returns exhibition is on display in the Museum until 20 July 2014. Examine all the evidence in the Renoir Returns Flickr group, and visit the BMA to see the all the works of art shown in this story in person.

On W-120301 – Sarah Oppenheimer’s radical architectural intervention into space and time

Sarah Oppenheimer. W‑120301. 2012. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Nathan L. and Suzanne F. Cohen Contemporary Art Endowment; and gift of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art, BMA 2012.1. © Sarah Oppenheimer. Photo by James Ewing

Sarah Oppenheimer. W‑120301. 2012. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Nathan L. and Suzanne F. Cohen Contemporary Art Endowment; and gift of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art, BMA 2012.1. © Sarah Oppenheimer. Photo by James Ewing

The BMA’s Big Table Connections program brings together experts —from neuroscientists and engineers to choreographers and product designers— to explore ideas related to works of art in the Contemporary Wing. On June 7, Goucher College philosophy professor John Rose joined Baltimore-based artist Leah Cooper to discuss Sarah Oppenheimer’s W-120301, a radical architectural intervention that uses mirrors to provoke new experiences of space and time. Here are some of his thoughts:

Sarah Oppenheimer, Architectural Intervention W-120301 beckons to us from the open region of the timing of time and the spacing of space, from the open region of possibility.  This open region is the site of interaction of our conscious intentions and the resonances of the worlding objects around us.  The openness of the world is space/time where our consciousness and the world intertwine and meaning arises. Meanings have already arisen in that opening, and those meanings are our tradition and our history.  That tradition and history is often taken for the “truth” of the world.  The questions then arise, “How can we both engage and disrupt that tradition? How can we see the meaning arising in an opening of space and time, yet also step into other possibilities in that opening?”  Oppenheimer’s intervention achieves a rare opportunity to experience that opening by playing and subverting the ways in which we usually step into the meaningful space of a museum.

We know from Husserl’s Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness that perception is always perspectival and temporal. We have to walk around an object to see it from various perspectives. We have to retain the previous perspectives and anticipate future perspectives as we weave together those perspectives in time into a meaningful object.  Opening the space between two floors and the stairwell, W-120301 plays with our spatial intentions towards objects by unfolding multiple perspectives.

When we first see it upon entering the third floor gallery, it appears as another two dimensional painting in a room of paintings of abstract, yet colored, geometrical space.  We see a black parallelogram on a wall; its four sides with opposite equal acute angles, opposite equal obtuse angles are an already familiar shape.  “Might it be a rhombus?” we might ask ourselves, if we were to bother.  We might not even bother to have a look at it right away, as we glance around the room.  Without fore-knowledge of the intervention, we might not wander closer.  But when we do, we realize that we can see into its space.

We get a question!  “What is there in here?”  But the “in here” of its space takes us elsewhere.  We are not sure where we are looking.  Usually, we move around an object to pick up further perspectives that we weave into the story we tell ourselves about that object.  Paintings on the wall don’t allow us to do that so much, but this is no longer a painting on a wall.  It is an inviting space, a hole in the wall, a rabbit hole to jump down?  The guard keeps us back from leaning over into and looking down.  But we see something: more geometric shapes, glimpses into other rooms.  But where are we looking?  The questions grow.

Oppenheimer’s wormhole reminds us it is impossible to take in an object all at once.  But here, to have an intention towards this space, you have to be two or more people.  We send our friend out to find the other ways into this space.  Is it above?  We are on the top floor.  Below?  How far?  It cannot be viewed all in one “space” or in one “time,” which perhaps reminds us that no object can be viewed in an exhaustive way from all perspectives all in one time and space.   As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Truth can surely stand on one leg, but with two it will be able to walk and get around.”

We find ourselves doing what we never do in a museum: playing, engaging the space/time of the exhibit.  To a degree, we become ek-static; we are outside ourselves.  Both the object itself as space/time whose properties elude us and the gestural movement through it to the larger space/time it reveals in this musing space it makes manifest, takes us away from our usual modes of gathering of intentional experiences and make sense of objects.  It gives us the opportunity to do what we rarely get to do afresh: participate with the opening of the world in letting meaning arise.

John M. Rose, Professor of Philosophy, Goucher College
13 June 2014

What do you think? Have you seen Oppenheimer’s work at the BMA or other institutions? How did you react to it? Are there other works of art that you’ve encountered that have left you thinking about time and space in new ways? Tell us about them below.

The Big Table Connections takes place on the first Saturday of every month at 2 p.m. Meet experts in related fields as they share their insights in the galleries, then participate in art-making activities that delve into the ideas behind the artwork. Join us on July 5th as master lighting designer Glenn Shrum addresses Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”). Participate in a hands-on exploration of color mixing with light.  

Contours of a Thief, the final pages…

Renoir magnifying glass on name

In April, Baltimore author Justin Sirois (So Say the Waiters) provided the opening text for Contours of a Thief - story two in our Renoir Returns story challenge. Now we return to the start of that story, to see how it unfolded. Below, read the story as it played out from the beginning, with thanks to the multiple authors who contributed to it. Now, we are seeking a final chapter, to pull the story together. 

By Justin Sirois
For thirty-eight years of its secret life, the painting hung in her study, above the hearth that was never lit—sitting there waiting for her cat’s tail dust the frame’s intricate cursive. The study door was always locked. No guests allowed. No husband around. There was a desk and hundreds of books on bookshelves and an austere, but hand-me-down leather chair for reading in. Curtains blocked nearly all daylight.

She, the bandit, would sip tea and stare beyond the painting’s warm foliage. How the gesture of breeze transported her. Prisms of pastel smeared beyond Eden. Men and women walked along the shoreline. Basking and kissing. The bandit sipped and reached into her pocket with her free hand, fingering the study door’s key. She slid the key out and brought her fingers to her lips, kissing the back of her hand.

The cat curled around her ankle—dusting her off too. The painting hummed colorful. Sang inside the study. It was, in a way, a prison. A secret that could only be enjoyed when she fantasied about telling it. The people in the painting walked away.

By Jan Ryan
Honestly, you didn’t protect me well. You let me go out with anyone, the sick woman, anyone, acting like it would be a wonderful experience for me. The patriarch said I was the best thing that ever happened to them. And then I was with them. They were my people. How were you to know that the prettiest one would end up alone and impoverished, discarded in a box of knickknacks at a flea market? Well let me assure you I witnessed plenty of secret adventures before I became too much of a liability.

By Gabriella Russo
I remember the night that bandit came into the apartment, stealthily creeping among the Saints first and then making her way to me. She overlooked the beauty in the intricacy of their portraits and focused in on the vivid, beautiful brushstrokes in my foreground. She looked at me with envy, as if she wished she could be engrossed in my very canvas and that is when she stripped me from my home, carefully tip toeing out of Miss May’s apartment.

By Julia Fountain
The thieves will get their money, just as they always do. The police want to protect the people, but not the artist, nor their art.
135 years later pieces will hang on the cluttered walls of museums, boasting names of the histories renowned artists. Millions of eyes will trace the various strokes and contours, but little do they know that beneath the varnish and oil may simply be a rendition, a mere copy of an original.
The art is still being appreciated, the legacy sustained; no one got hurt.

By Jan Ryan
Yeah, Saidie May would fondly remember her time drinking in Mallorca and her family’s blind eye to it, making and collecting art. No one knew anything she didn’t tell him or her. If she told them how would she remember? How would they remember? Juan Gris’s Bottle and Glass painting could have reminded her of men’s smoky Spanish chats in that independent period in her life but were the spillage tremors an earthquake or a reaction to really good wine? At home wine tasted like a chemical brew.

By Jan Ryan
There is only an appearance of too little. Everything fits together simply. Some of the paintings are needlessly complicated. Black, white and primary colors. They fit. They do it all the time but no one has to create disorder. Timing matters.

The idiot had me restored. That means dirty original paint was removed and repainted. Won’t future generations love that. Makes my reds boil but that is individualism.

By Jan Ryan
Maybe you can paint. Maybe you can’t paint but Saidie May could paint. This is one of her landscapes.
For decades the May family repeated that the theft goes back to 1930s Mallorca. Family members visited the Mediterranean many times with one eye watching for the painting. Rooms were unlocked and cellars searched on a hunch. As soon as a guest named May checked into a hotel word went out, “Hide the painting!” not that anyone had any idea who had it.

By Jan Ryan
The children knew that their father had done something terrible and that their mother had also done something terrible to keep the family together. With teenage friends they pieced together that their father had probably had an affair, a serious affair, with an expensive prostitute who gave him that small painting as a celebration of their love and that he had had the nerve to hang it behind a secret panel in his man cave library and that their mother had gotten away with killing the woman.

The maid was living with a grown child in Virginia. She found a cleaning job to put some cash in her pocket. She had a feeling the Renoir belonged in the master bedroom so bracing for a lecture on how lowbrow her taste in art was she hung it there. The woman she cleaned for dropped her towel when she saw it. Never one to pause and think she said, “Holy sh*t. WTF. How? I suppose you want money.” It was not the response the maid expected but she nodded. Wahoo! The grandkids were going to college.

I don’t know where the he-maniac went or why the she-maniac bought me back. A grown daughter eventually pretended she was returning Nazi looted art. Couldn’t anyone leave me in a bathroom or closet at the museum? Video cameras. Bag searches. They help and they hurt. I will now probably be hanging for centuries at the museum like a vampire bat. All we have are our adventures. If there is ever an opportunity to loan me out, descendants of those barflies in Majorca have been expecting to see me.

Membership at the BMA – curing septic stomachs since 1940

Grace Smith in "Temperance" Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940  Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm  Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

Grace Smith in “Temperance” Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940
Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm
Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

We’ve always suspected the healing properties of a BMA membership, but a recent find by colleagues at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art confirms that joining the BMA will make you well…

Illustrations associated with the exhibit A souvenir of Romanticism in America at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940. Leslie Cheek papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Two weeks ago, we received an email from staff at the Archives, noting that they had “uncovered an object in one of our collections which refers to the BMA.” The object – part of the Leslie Cheek papers, 1940-1983 – was an unusual one – a fold-out triptych that depicted three cartoon stomachs, each of which was in a different state of health. The top stomach was a septic stomach, “gangrened by rum and tobacco”; the second one was a sick stomach, “relieved by abstinence but unsatisfied”; finally, the stomach at the bottom of the triptych was a sound stomach, a state achieved “after joining the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

Our interest was piqued. Where had this object come from, and what did it refer to? Could we get any more information on it? Would joining the BMA still heal an ailing stomach?

To the BMA Archives!

To solve this mystery, we turned to Emily Rafferty, the BMA’s Head Librarian and Archivist. In short order, she uncovered the wonderful image above, which depicts Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, holding the triptych. In addition, the full description for the piece in our files gives far more context to the stomach cartoon:

Two images from the exhibition, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America (May 10 – August 10, 1940) at The Baltimore Museum of Art. At right is Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, dressed as a woman protesting the consumption of alcohol. The exhibition turned the museum top to bottom into a nineteenth century institution – publications were written in the florid style of the period, costumed actors were hired to greet museum-goers, and a Godey’s Ball was held for the opening. One of the publications was titled, “Popular Poisons, Tract No. 4: Rum and Tobacco” and it appealed to museum-goers to pledge temperance and membership in the Museum. On the left is likely Joseph Katz, a trustee at the time also in costume and holding a sign advertising the exhibition.

There you have it. Not only was the mystery unraveled, but we also get to take a delightful wander down memory lane. It seems like a perfect moment for #throwbackthursday.

What do you think? Does art cure what ails you? Do you have a favorite #throwbackthursday moment? Share it with us. We’d love to hear about the mysteries you’ve uncovered when looking into the past.

 

Stealing History

FBI's Most Wanted Art TheftsWere the hands that lifted the Renoir painting off of the Museum’s walls shaking? Or were they steady, swiftly raising the small landscape off of a hook without hesitation?

Was it a woman? Did she uncouthly slip the painting under her skirt—maybe into a pocket within her bulky crinoline made for just such an occasion? Or did she gently tuck it into her coat’s fashionable large balloon sleeve?

And was the Renoir her first choice? Or just a consolation prize when the intended loot was too difficult to take?

We may never know the answers to these questions now that the FBI has officially closed its investigation, but what we do know, thanks to an FBI video, is how the agency determined the painting’s provenance and rightful owner.

Special Agent Gregg Horner interviewed is one of 14 FBI special agents who investigate art thefts throughout the world. Created in 2004 partly because of looting in Iraq’s Baghdad Museum, his team knows all too well:

  • The US is the preferred place among criminals to sell stolen art;
  • Billions of dollars of art go missing every year;
  • Art theft is one of the highest grossing criminal trades in the US, following only drugs and arms; and
  • Fundamentalist terror groups rely on looted antiquities as a major source of funding.

So that’s why you should care. But what can you do about it?

  •  If you’re looking to buy antiques or art work, only buy from reputable dealers and auction houses who have researched the chain of ownership and who will guarantee that the artwork has not been stolen.
  • Help spread the word about thefts, leads, and recovery efforts.
  • Stop by the temporary entrance after seeing The Renoir Returns (closing July 20) to read about the top ten works of art still missing from museums around the world.
  • And last but not least, help protect and display Baltimore’s great treasures by becoming a BMA member. Your membership matters.

 

 

Exhibit L: Renoir Police Report

Renoir Police Report

Renoir Police Report

This is the final piece for She Poses for Moses, one of two stories in the Renoir Returns Story Challenge that have taken us on a journey inspired by weekly “evidence” inspired by the purloined painting.

I would be happy to return to the museum with the school kids piping up with comments, the stoned teenagers dully saying, “Cool.Renoir,” the adults telling wise tales that aren’t true, the quiet ones (mysteries they are thinking) and intimidated visitors finally blurting out, “I like THIS one.” Thanks! What’s not to like? They all liked me but there was nothing to do but look at me so they looked and looked and I looked back.

Illuminating Bruce Nauman’s Career and Influence

Bruce Nauman Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version) 1981-82   © 2014 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. © 2014 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In Fall 2013, one of the BMA’s most iconic works – Bruce Nauman’s Violins Violence Silence – was removed from its place on the BMA’s East Wing. Over time, natural wear and tear had begun to take their toll on the piece, so in consultation with the Bruce Nauman studio and the BMA’s conservation and curatorial staff, the sculpture was removed from its normal location, in order that it could be refabricated with more up-to-date and durable neon technology.

Deinstalling Nauman's Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

Deinstalling Nauman’s Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

Deinstalling Nauman's Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

Deinstalling Nauman’s Violins Violence Silence November 5, 2013

The large piece was Nauman’s first public neon work, and it came to the BMA as a gift of the artist’s galleries, in recognition of the Museum’s pioneering 1982 exhibition Bruce Nauman: Neons – the first survey of the artist’s works in that medium. Wrapped around a corner of the BMA’s façade, the words Violins Violence Silence share letters and form a poetic string of similar sounds. The meanings of the individual words appear unrelated, suggesting that the physical structure behind verbal communication can be surprisingly arbitrary. Alternatively, read as a sequence describing cause and effect, the work relates an aggressive act against art and beauty, and the somber consequence.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the gift of Violins Violence Silence and the 100th anniversary of the Museum in 2014, the BMA’s Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art (FoMaCA) organized a series of events to raise the $120,000 needed to restore the beacon-like presence of this 20th-century masterpiece to the BMA and the city of Baltimore.

This summer, the newly refabricated Violins Violence Silence will be restored to its former home on the East Wing of the BMA. See more shots of the deinstallation on Flickr.

To mark the occasion, the BMA is tonight hosting Illuminating Bruce Nauman’s Career and Influence, a special event moderated by Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman. The lively discussion will bring together Juliet Myers, Bruce Nauman Studio Manager for the past three decades; Paul Schimmel, former Chief Curator of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Vice President and Partner of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery whose essay Pay Attention appeared in the 1994 Nauman retrospective catalog; and Peter Plagens, celebrated art critic, Newsweek Contributing Editor, and author of the new biography, Bruce Nauman: The True Artist. Plagens currently contributes to The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times among several other prominent publications.

Illuminating Bruce Nauman’s Career and Influence is on tonight, Thursday, June 12, 6 p.m. The event will be held at Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Knott Auditorium, 4701 N. Charles Street, Baltimore. Use campus entrance on Homeland Avenue for easier access to parking. Entry is $15 FoMaCA Members, $20 general admission. Free at the door for students with ID.

Exhibit K: Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919.

Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919.

Theo van Doesburg. Interior. 1919. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1951.292

Theo van Doesburg was a founding member of the Dutch art movement De Stijl (The Style), formed in 1917. The group, which included artist Piet Mondrian, sought to express ideal spiritual harmony by radically simplifying form and color. This idea led to compositions based exclusively on vertical and horizontal elements and a palette limited to the three primary colors, as well as black and white. “Interior” appears more relaxed and painterly than many De Stijl works, and includes diagonals and curves, as well as strong earth tones. These features have led some scholars to date the work earlier than its 1919 inscription (which would place it in the period just prior to the self-imposed restrictions of full-fledged De Stijl).

“Interior” is one of only two works of the important De Stijl movement in the BMA’s holdings. Both were purchased by Saidie May in the late 1940s, proving her foresight as a collector of modernism.

The maid knew what “this guy” was all about. Research at the museum and libraries made her think the painting was real. There was no way to know for sure. She told her kids it was a copy of a corner of a real Renoir. They took crayons to paper to make their own replicas, thereby, in the maid’s opinion, leaving a trail. Uneasily she wiped it clean of fingerprints figuring otherwise her great grandkids would get themselves into trouble selling it thinking they were trying to pass it off as real.