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Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA and Beyond

In February of 1939, the Baltimore Museum of Art exhibited 116 works by 29 black artists. Contemporary Negro Art, co-organized by Harlem Renaissance philosopher Alain Locke and the Harmon Foundation, became one of the first exhibitions at a major American art institution to exclusively display the work of black artists, including Hale Woodruff, Jacob Lawrence, and Dox Thrash.

The BMA revisited the landmark exhibition this summer with 1939: Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA, showcasing work by seven of the 29 artists included in the original show. While the exhibition is indeed a celebration, the BMA isn’t historically immune to racial discrimination. Morgan Dowty, BMA Curatorial Assistant for Prints, Drawings and Photographs—and the exhibition’s curator—will sit down with Dr. Bridget Cooks, author of Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum, to dive into the story behind 1939 and examine contemporary representations of black art.

Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA and Beyond takes place Thursday, September 6 at 6pm. Here, Dowty shares her thoughts on the upcoming conversation.

What are you most looking forward to addressing?

I’m excited to talk with Dr. Bridget Cooks because she’s really put Contemporary Negro Art in the context of a larger history of predominately white institutions exhibiting black artists from the 1930s to the present day. Her book, Exhibiting Blackness, delves into several instances when black artists have been positioned in terms of their identity, and highlights key problems with this model of exhibition. Some of the issues that came up in 1939 are the same that we consider today when artists are grouped in exhibition based on race. Having done deep digging myself into this very local history at the BMA, I’m curious to discuss how the show fits into a larger trajectory of American institutions.

What do you hope visitors will take away from this conversation?

I think it is important to consider the BMA’s Contemporary Negro Art within a national context and an expanded sense of time—not just in the 1930s when these exhibitions of black artists are situated in segregation-era America and just starting to enter white institutions. I hope to examine how institutions and individuals play a role in telling these stories, who’s given a platform, and when. It’s also important to consider how this exhibition history carries forward, or how it doesn’t when there are gaps in representation at the BMA and at other institutions. Let’s not make it just a celebration of the fact that the show happened, but really take a critical look at the context. Contemporary Negro Art was an important exhibition, but we need to complicate the narrative, and I think that’s something we’ll do during the discussion.

Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA and Beyond happens Thursday, September 6 from 6pm-7:15pm at the BMA. This conversation is free and open to the public. Learn more.

1939: Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA is on view through October 28, 2018.

The lasting impact of the Baltimore City and Baltimore County Public Schools Student Art Exhibition

Every year, the Baltimore Museum of Art teams up with schools around the area to highlight the talented young artists this city has to offer.

Every spring, the BMA hosts the Baltimore City and Baltimore County Public Schools Student Art Exhibitions with work from Baltimore students of all ages. Elementary students on up to seniors in high school are given the special opportunity to have their work displayed in a real art museum.

During my senior year, I was personally chosen to have one of my works showcased in the exhibition, just as I was starting to seriously think about my future and who I wanted to be in college and beyond. Four years later, I’m now an intern at the BMA and about to graduate from Towson University with an Art and Design Major and an Art History minor. I paint every opportunity I can and love being an artist.

I wasn’t, however, always so sure about which direction I wanted my life to head towards. I was always drawn to art and painting but never had the confidence in myself that I could make a career out of it. Having my painting chosen to be in a real exhibition at a respected art museum really helped boost my self-esteem and let me envision myself as a working artist. For one of the first times, I truly believed in myself and my ability to paint. I know through my own experience and struggles that this is such an important and vital feeling for a young student to have. This show is particularly special because kids of all ages and teenagers can seriously struggle with their self-image and identity.

Even if a student doesn’t decide to continue with art, gaining confidence in their skills and being able to proudly display their work has long-term benefits. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, studies have shown that students who have early and consistent access to the arts perform better academically and have better workforce opportunities. This is especially true for at-risk youth from a low socioeconomic background.

I’m so happy to be able to intern at a museum that realizes the importance art has on the lives of children and chooses every year to show them their work is just as significant and beautiful as any other piece of art in the museum.

Years after having my own art displayed in this exhibition, I have grown significantly as an artist and a painter and have chosen to pursue a career working in art museums. I’m excited to work at institutions that are committed to bringing art and education to the community around them, and the BMA is a great model for this commitment. The Baltimore City and Baltimore County Public Schools Student Art Exhibition is just one example of this commitment that personally had a significant impact on me. There is no doubt in my mind that this year it will also have an impact on another young student and hopefully inspire them to find their place in the art world.

Here is the painting that started it all from the 2014 BMA student show:

“Pulling My Hair Out.” 24in x 30in. Oil on canvas.

Here’s what I’ve been up to as a senior in college studying art:

“Caer Iborneith.” 30in x 40 in. Oil on canvas.

“marked by periods of great excitement, euphoria, delusions, or overactivity.” 30in x 40in. Oil and mixed media on canvas.

fyi…For Your Inspiration: Baltimore City Public Schools Art Exhibition, now in its eleventh year, will feature artwork by 400 students from 90 Baltimore City public schools from May 9-May 13, 2018.

The annual countywide student exhibition, Art is for Everyone: Baltimore County Public Schools Art Exhibition, runs from May 16-May 20, 2018.

More details on both exhibitions.

Timelapse video shows Tomás Saraceno’s Entangled Orbits

Watch as the brilliant colors in “Tomás Saraceno: Entangled Orbits” transform our East Lobby throughout the day in this time-lapse video captured by Mitro Hood. These iridescent-paneled modules suspended by a net of strings reminiscent of a spider web will be on view at the BMA through July 8, 2018.

Have you seen Entangled Orbits yet?

WATCH: Njideka Akunyili Crosby discusses new exhibition at The Baltimore Museum of Art

Artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby invited art enthusiasts inside her creative process the same day her new exhibition, Front Room: Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Counterparts, opened at The Baltimore Museum of Art.

On the heels of being named a 2017 MacArthur Award winner, Crosby sat down with BMA Senior Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman at The Maryland Institute College of Art to discuss culture, technique, and the beauty of breaking the rules.

WATCH BELOW:

Front Room: Njideka Akunyili Crosby | Counterparts is on view through March 18, 2018. 

[Photo: Mitro Hood]

BMA Outpost finds Home in Remington, Upton neighborhoods

The BMA Outpost is the mobile museum of the Baltimore Museum of Art, a flexible and nomadic art making space that works with different communities across Baltimore City for three months at a time.

Every day the Outpost sets up, it builds a Museum around the idea of “Home” and encourages residents to contribute drawings, paintings, ideas, and conversations. It becomes a space where the unrecorded conversations and dialogue are just as important as the ideas documented and contributed through art.

This fall, the BMA Outpost has been in residence in the city’s Remington and Upton neighborhoods, working with Church of the Guardian Angel, R. House, and the Union Baptist Church as host sites.

The BMA Outpost at the Church of the Guardian Angel in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood.

BMA Outpost at the Church of the Guardian Angel in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood.

Talking about the idea of home quickly becomes complex and loaded for everyone. Home is a relationship that can bring up feelings of happiness, confusion, anger, frustration, love, and everything else that could fall on the spectrum of human emotion.

Individuals can have many different associations with the idea, thinking about their nuclear family and place of residence, as well as a more expanded view of how they relate to their community. While our communities are constantly in flux and changing—sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse—art-making and dialogue can help us envision ideal futures and different realities.

Art can be a catalyst for us to ask, “What would a better future look like?” while also recognizing and honoring past histories.

In Remington, the Outpost has been working with Church of the Guardian Angel every Saturday from 10am to 2pm, in conjunction with the Church’s Thrift Store hours, as well as at R. House for “Remington Night” every Thursday from 3pm to 7pm.

Remington as a neighborhood has vastly changed in the last decade, with a major influx of development from companies like Seawall Development. As change happens rapidly, how does a community work together to envision a brighter future that includes everyone? The Outpost poses this question to Remington residents to encourage dialogue across the boundaries of age, gender, class, and others, to not only think about what that brighter future sounds and looks like, but to also develop real actions to move towards those goals. The Outpost strives to create a space for both agreement and dissent, as art-making can be a powerful tool to bring people together and find commonalities.

The BMA Outpost at Union Baptist Church in Baltimore's Upton neighborhood.

BMA Outpost at Union Baptist Church in Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood.

In Upton, the Union Baptist Church and the BMA Outpost have created a pop-up museum called “Art and Spirit,” which nods to the longstanding histories of the Upton neighborhood, the Church’s home since 1905.

The Upton neighborhood has deep ties and major contributions to African American liberation and autonomy, Civil Rights era activism, community building, and boasts many past residents and architectural structures of historical significance. Dr. Harvey Johnson’s pastoral and civic achievements, and the childhood home of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American individual to serve on the Supreme Court, are just pieces of Upton’s history.

Art and Spirit is inspired by past Soul Schools of the neighborhood, which were unofficial places of thought, organizing, and support in the Upton community. They were places where young people learned from their elders with a deep sense of community as the social fabric. Art and Spirit is a reflection of the creative community of the past, present, and future of Upton. Art and Spirit is open every Tuesday and Wednesday from 1pm to 5pm and Thursdays from 8am to 12pm.

BMA Outpost visitors with City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke in Remington.

BMA Outpost visitors with City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke in Remington.

The BMA Outpost’s collaborations with the Remington and Upton communities will culminate in an exhibition at R. House highlighting the work created. The exhibition will be on view and open to the public in December 2017.

Beginning in January 2018, the Outpost will begin new collaborations with the Cherry Hill Town Center in south Baltimore, and the Loch Raven VA Clinic in northeast Baltimore through March 2018.

Find the BMA Outpost online HERE.

(Author: Dave Eassa, Manager of Community Engagement at the BMA)